Zoot Suit Riot (song)

"Zoot Suit Riot" is a song by the American ska-swing band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, written by vocalist and frontman Steve Perry for the band's 1997 compilation album of the same name on Mojo Records.

"Zoot Suit Riot"
Single by Cherry Poppin' Daddies
from the album Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies
ReleasedOctober 1997
GenreJazz, swing
LabelMojo Records
Songwriter(s)Steve Perry
Producer(s)Steve Perry
Cherry Poppin' Daddies singles chronology
"Zoot Suit Riot"
"Brown Derby Jump"
Audio sample
"Zoot Suit Riot"

First issued as a single in October 1997, "Zoot Suit Riot" slowly gained radio momentum with the commercial growth of the late-1990s swing revival before ultimately hitting its peak in the summer of 1998, reaching #41 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #15 on the Modern Rock chart, while a surrealist music video became one of MTV's most played of the year, earning the Daddies a nomination for "Best New Artist in a Video" at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.

As of 2018, "Zoot Suit Riot" remains the only single of the Daddies' career to place on the Billboard charts.



By the end of 1996, the formerly underground swing revival began drawing mainstream recognition following the success of bands including the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the hit film Swingers. As a result, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, who were then at that time largely associated with the West Coast ska punk scene, began attracting a separate and sizable following for the prominent swing influences in their music. As means of having something new to sell on their next tour while the band was writing their next studio album, the Daddies quickly put together a compilation album of only the swing tracks from their first three albums, recording four new songs—including "Zoot Suit Riot"—to round out a full-length record.[1][2] The album, titled Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, was released independently on Space Age Bachelor Pad Records in March 1997.

"Zoot Suit Riot" is written in the musical style of 1940s jump blues. Lyrically, the song's narrative is based around the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots of the 1940s, a series of racially-motivated assaults between American servicemen and Mexican-American youths. Although the Daddies have explored issues of race, violence and politics in their music, "Zoot Suit Riot" expresses no overt political or social commentary: in a 2009 interview, songwriter Steve Perry elaborated on its significance as an intended "anthem" for the swing scene, saying "I guess it seemed like a Pachuco rallying cry that could double as a dance anthem for those of us interested in swing music and culture at a time when nobody else was. It was an expression of a proud marginalism. That's not that deep, but there you go."[3] In discussing the appropriation of the actual Zoot Suit riots, he wrote "To me, the simplified duality I used as I wrote the song was: we swingers were in solidarity with our counter cultural ancestors the 'Zoot Suiters' and we were opposed to the 'sailors' who represented the squares who weren’t yet hip to our growing communal jive".[4]

Due to the hurried production of the album, the song was recorded in one take. At the end of the recording, Perry is heard saying "I think I'm about ready to sing it", which he was signifying to the engineer. "I had sung the tune and the engineer, my friend, pressed the button and said, 'I think it sounds pretty good, come in here and listen to it'", Perry revealed in a 2014 interview. "He said, 'We should keep that in and it will be our joke that we did this on the first take.' So we left it in the song and moved on. Unbeknownst to us, it became a big hit record", noting elsewhere that he "probably would of given it 2 or 3 more rips, probably slightly slower, if we had known the future back in 1996".[5][6]

Mainstream recognitionEdit

Following steady independent sales of the album which reportedly reached as many as 4,000 copies a week, the Daddies eventually signed a distribution deal with major label subsidiary Mojo Records and Zoot Suit Riot was re-issued and nationally distributed in July 1997.[7] A promotional demo cassette featuring two swing songs from the album, "Dr. Bones" and "Brown Derby Jump", plus the ska b-side "Hi and Lo" was distributed to radio stations for possible airplay; "Zoot Suit Riot" was ultimately excluded from the tape as the band felt the song had no commercial potential.[8]

As swing music began gaining mainstream commercial momentum by late 1997, Mojo chose to issue "Zoot Suit Riot" as a single and distribute it among modern rock radio stations. The Daddies, who were in preparation over recording a new studio album, ardently protested this move under the belief that a swing song would never receive airplay on mainstream radio and were concerned over losing money from its marketing.[9][10] Mojo nevertheless persisted and "Zoot Suit Riot" soon found regular rotation on several major stations, notably Los Angeles' KROQ-FM, helping boost the single onto Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart and launch the Daddies into temporary mainstream notoriety.

Music videosEdit

Steve Perry's face superimposed over a bed of skulls, one of many surreal images from the 1998 "Zoot Suit Riot" video.

Two separate music videos were filmed for "Zoot Suit Riot". The first, directed by Isaac Camner, was produced by the Daddies and filmed at the Café Du Nord nightclub in San Francisco, California. The video depicts the band and a zoot suited Steve Perry performing the song to a group of swing dancers and punk rockers in a smoky lounge, intercut with various shots of surrealist and occult imagery. Legendary disc jockey Al "Jazzbo" Collins has a brief cameo as one of the club's patrons, singing along to a verse from the song.[11] Barry Ward, a former member of GWAR and Rich Kids on LSD, also makes a cameo appearance in the video.

Released in October 1997, the original video received minimal exposure, having aired only once on MTV as part of 12 Angry Viewers, a program in which twelve music fans critique a series of music videos, where it received almost unanimous disapproval.[12]

In early 1998, once "Zoot Suit Riot" had charted and the Daddies were gaining commercial notoriety, Mojo requested that a newer video be filmed. Directed by acclaimed pornographic film director Gregory Dark and edited by Bob Murawski,[13] the second video follows the same premise as the original, with the Daddies playing to a crowd of swing dancers and punk rockers, though the surrealist imagery is much more prominent. Throughout the video, there are shots of such visuals as evil clowns, a goat head being used as part of a ritual sacrifice, vampires, skulls and foot fetishism. According to Perry, the video's surrealist theme stemmed from his love of avant-garde cinema, notably the films of Luis Buñuel.[14]

Dark's video became the version most associated with the song, becoming one of MTV's most requested videos of the year. Despite Zoot Suit Riot being the fourth album of the Daddies then nine-year career, the band was nominated for a "Best New Artist in a Video" award at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, though ultimately lost out to Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn".

Cover versionsEdit

"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied the song as "Grapefruit Diet" on his 1999 album Running with Scissors. Perry stated in an interview that he felt "honored" to have been parodied, though didn't quite understand "why Weird Al is such an icon".[15]

In 1999, bandleader and trumpeter Ray Anthony, who had been active during the original swing era and a one-time member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, recorded a cover of "Zoot Suit Riot" on his album Swing Club, featuring Patrick Tuzzolino on vocals.

Formats and track listingEdit

Zoot Suit Riot US Promo CD
1."Zoot Suit Riot"3:53
Zoot Suit Riot Australian CD Single
1."Zoot Suit Riot" (Radio Edit)3:53
3."Zoot Suit Riot" (Spanish Version)3:55
Zoot Suit Riot UK CD Single
1."Zoot Suit Riot"3:53
3."No Mercy for Swine" (Live)3:35
Zoot Suit Riot UK 7" Single
1."Zoot Suit Riot"3:53
2."No Mercy for Swine" (Live)3:35

Chart positionsEdit

Chart (1998) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 41
U.S. Billboard Top 40 Mainstream 32
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 15
U.S. Billboard Adult Top 40 16


Cherry Poppin' Daddies
Additional musicians


  1. ^ Steininger, Alex. 'Front man Steve Perry Discusses Popularity Contests' In Music We Trust. October 2000.
  2. ^ Miserandino, Dominick A.. 'Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Steve Perry' Archived May 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine www.thecelebritycafe.com. 2000
  3. ^ "Steve Perry of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies". Songfacts.com. October 8, 2009.
  4. ^ Perry, Steve (December 14, 2016). "Facebook update". Facebook.
  5. ^ Alleman, Annie (September 12, 2014). "Cherry Poppin' Daddies swing into the Mac". Sun-Times Media Group. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014.
  6. ^ "21 October, 2014". Instagram.
  7. ^ Foyston, John (September 6, 1998). "Cherry Poppin' Daddies". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on June 22, 2001. Retrieved August 14, 2009.
  8. ^ "Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Cherry Poppin' Daddies (Cassette)". Discogs.com.
  9. ^ Kane, Laura (1998). "Pop Your Cherry". Lo-Fi Magazine. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |month= (help)
  10. ^ Hollifield, Clayton (July 7, 1998). "Warped Tour Interview". The Daily of the University of Washington.
  11. ^ Thiel, Shayla. 'Meet the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' The Washington Post. September 19, 1997
  12. ^ LeRoy, Dan. "Cherry Poppin' Daddies" Daily News. April 15, 1999
  13. ^ "Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "Zoot Suit Riot [version 2]"". Music Video Database.
  14. ^ "SPINchat: Steve Perry". June 16, 1998.
  15. ^ Junior, Chris M. (June 9, 2008). "Back in the Flow: Cherry Poppin' Daddies return with Susquehanna". Medleyville.
  16. ^ Zoot Suit Riot > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles Allmusic. Retrieved March 22, 2010.

External linksEdit