Protect Ya 'Neck'

Nearly a year ago, when Norfolk State beat Missouri to become just the fifth 15-seed to ever upset a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, their pep band didn't pull up the fight song. They didn't pull up Behold. They played Neck.

Neck - the colloquial abbreviation for Talking Out the Side of Your Neck by Cameo - has long been an HBCU band staple, and the example above points out just how ingrained it is in the culture of black college bands. Lately, you're just as likely to hear Neck at a sporting event, HBCU and PWI alike, as you are to hear Land of A Thousand Dances or the Hey Song. In one session of the ACC Tournament this week, two of the four bands in the session played it, and many more have it in the books. Some in the HBCU band world and beyond have cried foul.

I'm of two minds on the subject, and while I realize I don't have the ownership of the song that comes from having played at an HBCU, I cannot begrudge HBCU bandheads that feeling. When I first heard it coming off the horns of LSU, one of the first predominantly white bands, to my knowledge, to begin playing Neck, I quipped something about them sneaking across town under cover of darkness to watch Southern University practice. Many noticing would say that this is just one more thing being appropriated from black culture.

The counterpoint is that music is music, and of course PWI bands have just as much right to play the song as HBCUs. After all, it's silly to dictate who can play what song, especially if that divide comes along cultural or racial lines. Besides, all sorts of athletic bands have been playing jazz, funk, R&B and hip-hop charts for decades. What makes this song so special?

I think it represents an evolution in the activity, and part of it I'd attribute to the Drumline Effect. I was brought up as a musician being taught that music is there to thrill an audience, and Neck certainly does exactly that. Any HBCU bandhead will likely tell you that they put the most exciting product on the field and in the stands. Then, isn't it worthy of emulation? Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

On the other hand - and I'll admit I'm not sure the best way to do this - it wouldn't kill PWIs who have picked up the tune to acknowledge its roots. The song rose to prominence off of the horns and drums of HBCUs, and that mention ought to go part and parcel with playing the song. Give credit where credit is due.

Otherwise, you're talkin' out the side of your neck.