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Performances Song History Lyrics Jamming Chart

Scent of a Mule

Music/Lyrics: Gordon

Albums: Hoist, Stash, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 10, Live Phish 18, Alpine Valley, The Clifford Ball

Debut: 1994-04-04

Historian: Bradley Lonard, Chris Bertolet

Last Update: 2014-01-18

Bluegrass + aliens = spacegrass. Such is the warped algebra of this Mike Gordon opus.

"Scent of a Mule" describes an alien invasion gone amok. Instead of invading a metropolis with laser beams trained on command and communications targets, or centers of finance, this hapless alien landing force alights on Kitty's farm. But Kitty is prepared, and offers both a carrot and a stick. On behalf of Tomahawk County, she insists that the aliens mind their manners, or "you'll smell my mule." Newly and properly respectful, they fall into line and step inside for a taste of Kitty's lemonade.

And they liked it. They really liked it!



Sally Field 2007 Uncensored Emmy Speech

“Scent” was one of the songs written and recorded for Hoist that was not played live until after the album’s release. (Mike had penned the lyrics some time before; he had the first verse as far back as May 1993). The music for the third verse came much later, and consists of the chords and phonemes of the chorus played backwards. (In other words, if you play the chorus backwards, you get the third verse). The studio version, recorded in late 1993/early 1994, features Béla Fleck on banjo (he can be seen in the Tracking video; so can Mike, bellowing the lyrics while stinking drunk). 

When the band took "Scent" on the road, they adorned it with a brief piano solo – reminiscent of silent movie accompaniment – that gave way to a klezmer riff (accompanied often by suitably peculiar dance choreography from Mike and Trey). By 1995, this sequence evolved into the “Mule Duel," a more conversational approach to the improvisational section, with Trey and Page trading statements over an ever-accelerating tempo until the whole piece resolves to the chorus.



Phish, "Scent of a Mule" – 10/26/10, Manchester, NH

Absurdity breeds absurdity, and so it is with "Scent of a Mule", which seems to inspire departures into distinctly unusual quadrants of musical space. Some such memorable versions of "Scent" include: 6/26/94 (part of the Hoist set); 7/13/94 (“BBFCFM” lyrics to “Scent” music); 10/18/94 (with Béla Fleck); 6/6/96 (with a “Cocaine” jam and Trey taking over Page’s keyboards); 7/23/96 (the duel is a cappella); 8/17/96 (Fish gets a drum solo instead of the usual duel); 10/27/96 (with “Catapult” and a theremin solo from Page); 12/30/96 (with comedian Steven Wright playing a triangle); 11/28/98 (duel between Fish and Mike, squared off with matching Viking helmets); 7/29/03 (with a tease of “Wouldn’t It be Loverly” from My Fair Lady); 4/15/04 (jam section replaced with godawful take on Jay-Z's "Girls Girls Girls"); and 8/11/04 (jam section replaced with "Tears of a Clown").



"Scent of a Mule" – The Muppets

Submit notes/corrections

Recommended Versions: 1994-10-18, 1995-11-10, 1995-12-05, 1996-06-06, 1996-10-27, 1997-02-26, 1997-08-17, 1998-11-15, 1999-12-11, 2013-07-14

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GotABlankSpace Reply
Why is the Sally field acceptance speech here? Am I missing something?
Score: 1
lawsuit Reply
lawsuit Needs to be update to include the marimba solo that's been added to the song.
Score: 0
Higgins Reply
Sally fields is there because of the "they liked it, they really liked it" connection.
Score: 0
Phish_ Reply
It says here the 6/6/1996 Scent of a Mule has a "Cocaine" Jam. It's actually a "Sunshine of Your Love" Jam. Close i guess ;) But yeah, someone should probably fix that.
Score: 0
GreenerBlues Reply
GreenerBlues Blank Space- If you watch it she talks about how if mothers were in charge there would be no war.... I guess kinda like Kitty Malone and her bad ass (pun intended)
Score: 0
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