"Mess Around", written by Atlantic Records president and founder Ahmet Ertegun under the pseudonym of A. Nugetre, or "Nuggy", was one of Ray Charles’s first hits. Ertegun claims his inspiration for writing "Mess Around" was Pete Johnson.
Earlier versions of the tune, a New Orleans boogie piano riff, can be heard throughout the early 1930s and 1940s the earliest of all being "Cow Cow Blues" from Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport in 1928. Dr John has spoken about the origin of this tune on his "Dr John Teaches New Orleans Piano" series of DVDs.
The lyrics urge listeners to dance ("mess around"), along with a few other key phrases, notably the "girl with the red dress on", harkening back to "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie", the early boogie woogie classic. "Mess Around" became a big R&B charted hit when released as a single in early 1953.
In popular culture
- It was covered by The Animals in 1965 on the albums The Animals on Tour and Animal Tracks.
- Dr. John included it in his 1972 collection of New Orleans classics Dr. John's Gumbo.
- Professor Longhair covered the song on several of his albums, including Rock 'n' Roll Gumbo (1974).
- It was covered by the UK new wave band Squeeze and featured on their 1980 album Argybargy deluxe edition as a live version. Jools Holland said Ray Charles was so impressed that Squeeze were doing a version, Ray sent the band his suit.
- The song was featured in the 1987 American comedy film Planes, Trains and Automobiles, during a scene in which Del Griffith (John Candy) dances to the song while driving a car at night on the freeway. This scene was spoofed in the 2015 American comedy film Ted 2 and the American animated sitcom Family Guy parody of Return of the Jedi (1983) titled "It's a Trap!" (May 22, 2011).
- It was featured in the 2004 biographical film Ray of Ray Charles.
- The song was played on the piano in the series Lucifer, season one, episode nine, by Lucifer Morningstar and Father Frank.
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics