Lyrics Uncovered: Miranda Lambert, ‘Little Red Wagon’
Miranda Lambert's "Little Red Wagon" lyrics are some of the sassiest at country radio today — and also some of the most widely misunderstood.
The song originally appeared on an album titled Audra Mae & the Almighty Sound, and it came about from a completely unexpected inspiration.
"'Little Red Wagon' started out as this old summer camp chant that usually little boys sing," Audra Mae tells Taste of Country. "It's like a little boy's Army chant, and I couldn't get it out of my head ... I just got thinking, 'What is this song? This is gonna be so good, but what is it? How do we do it?' And one day I called my bass player at the time, Joe Ginsberg ... I have this old 1972 gold Dodge Dart that's called Goldie, and I said, "Let's get in Goldie and just cruise the Sunset Strip. I'll drive, you play guitar and I'll write lyrics and sing, and we'll do this together."
The "Little Red Wagon" lyrics evolved from literal stream of consciousness. "It was really fun, because not only were we in the car, so of course we're gonna sing about the car, but I was also singing about everything I was wearing ... big sunglasses, Tony Lama boots and my Dodge Dart classic, talking about my dog, Kiddo, who's actually on the cover of the album," the songwriter recalls.
"The coolest thing about the experience for me was that we were having so much fun, and we just kept singing it at the top of our lungs. The windows were down, and people driving by were so ... it was just making them smile. We would drive by, and they would see us in the car and kinda do a double-take, and then go, 'They're having a good day.'"
The song was a standout track from the album, and unbeknownst to Audra Mae, she had picked up an influential fan. "My publisher in Nashville was at an awards show in Vegas, and Blake [Shelton] came up to her and said, 'Hey, you've got that Audra Mae girl on your roster. My wife is obsessed with that record; she listens to it all the time, but she's too shy to do anything about it, so can you find her information for me?'" she recalls.
Some of the best moments of my career have happened because of this one track.
Even after she passed her number along, it was a while before she heard from Lambert. "She really is shy when it comes to that stuff," Mae says with a laugh. "It was so funny, how that woman can be so amazing and not know that. It's not like she's not confident, or that she doesn't believe in herself. When she gets onstage and says what she's got to say, she's very forthright and she's unapologetic. But when she's offstage, she'a a woman in the real world, and you can't really walk around the real world like, 'Hello everyone!' It doesn't work like that. But when you're onstage you can let it all out."
Lambert's cut on the song takes a more aggressive, electric guitar-driven approach, and the "Little Red Wagon" lyrics are certainly some of the most unusual to play at country radio in some time: "You can't ride in my little red wagon / The front seat's broken and the axle's draggin' / You can't step to this backyard swagger / You know it ain't my fault when I'm walkin' jaws droppin' like ooh, ah, ooh, ah."
The obscure nature of the lyrics have prompted much online speculation as to their meaning. Audra Mae thinks one particular theory is particularly interesting. "Well, it was sung by little boys, so it's really funny that people think it's about vaginas," she says with a laugh.
"The clues are more in the lines like, 'You be Johnny and I'll be June.' You can pull me along, and I'll just sit here and let you do all the work. You're gonna make me look so cool. It's like, my wagon isn't even all the way together yet, because I don't even have my — at the time, I don't have my career together yet. I can't be bringing you along with me," she clarifies.
"The other reason I think it's funny that people think it's about vaginas is, who would want a vagina with a broken axle?" she offers rhetorically, with another very big laugh.
After meeting her and hearing her take on the song, Audra Mae is as big a fan of Lambert's as Lambert is of hers. "She is a wonderful person," she says. "There are some weirdos in this business, but she's not one of them. I've never been more fulfilled watching someone or listening to someone sing my words. She did it in her own way, but she told the story, she got it. She put her own spin on it. She didn't copy it. The best experience I've ever had in songwriting has been with this song, and her being so excited about it, and showing me pictures of the video at the Grammys. Some of the best moments of my career have happened because of this one track."
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