Annals of endless redundancy: "Keep On Keepin' On"

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Just heard that song on the radio.  It was sung by Curtis Mayfield.  I had never heard it before and was puzzled by its meaning, so I went to Wikipedia for enlightenment.  Lo and behold!  I found this disambiguation page:





See also

  • Keep Keepin' On: The Best of the Arista Years, compilation album by General Johnson including "Keep Keepin' On" 1976

Wow!  Not only does the song itself advocate an endless succession of whatever it is you happen to be doin' at any given moment, a seemingly endless succession of artists decided that they should cover it.  Maybe they were all afflicted with a "Keep On Keepin' On" earworm, though this is not the sort of tune that would infect me, since it is not catchy enough for my psyche.

"Earworms and white bears" (9/1/13)

"Musical maggots" (9/5/13)

"The ultimate earworms " (9/7/13)

"Serious earworm infection " (7/16/17)

Here are three definitions of the phrase "Keep On Keepin' On" in Urban Dictionary:

Continue to do what you've always done.
You just have to keep on, keepin' on until you've acheived your goal.

Here are the lyrics to the song as sung by Curtis Mayfield:

Everybody gather round and listen to my song
I've only got one
We who are young, should now take a stand
Don't run from the burdens of women and men
Continue to give, continue to live
For what you know is right
Most of your life can be out of sight
Withdraw from the darkness and look to the light
Where everyone's free
At least that's the way it's supposed to be
We just keep on keeping on
We just keep on keeping on
Many think that we have blown it
But they too will soon admit
That there's still a lot of love among us
And there's still a lot of faith and warmth and trust
When we keep on keeping on
Before we dismiss, one thing I insist
When you have your young, remember this song
And our world surroundings, its leaps and bounds
Ups and downs, is reality
Teach them to be strong, and when they are grown
They can proudly imply that we were an alright guy
For all the wrong now is right
This nation's people are now united as one
And we just keep on keeping on
We just keep on keeping on
Many think that we have blown it
But they too will soon admit
That there's still a lot of love among us
And there's still a lot of faith, warmth, and trust
When we keep on keeping on
Keep on keeping on, y'all
Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on
Keep on, keeping on
(Keep on, keeping on)
We got to move on up, y'all
(We got to move on up)
Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on
Some years back I remember
Still in my mind so well
My mama made this ?
And I found it never fails
Never worry too long
(Worry too long)
About what goes on
(About what goes on)
Today it's sorrow
(Today it's sorrow)
Look like joy tomorrow
(Look like joy tomorrow)
Keep on keeping on
(Keep on keeping on)
Keep on, keep on
(Keep on, keep on)
We just keep on keeping on
We just keep on keeping on
Many think that we have blown it
But they too will soon admit
That there's still a lot of love among us
And there's still a lot of faith, warmth, and trust
When we keep on keeping on
Ooh ooh ooh ooh
(Ooh ooh ooh ooh)
We're gonna move on up
(We're gonna move on up)
Keep on keeping on
(Keep on keeping on)
Move on, move now
(Move on, move now)
Keep on keeping on
(Keep on keeping on)
Songwriters: Curtis Mayfield
Keep on Keeping On lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

The word "keep" or "keeping" is repeated a total of 49 times out of 439 words in the lyrics.

There are completely different versions of the song, such as one by MC Lyte, which I won't copy in this post, but if you're interested you can find the Full lyrics on Google Play Music.

All of this reminds me of an earlier Language Log post:

"The department of redundancy department " (9/26?10)

Maybe if I think of "Keep On Keepin' On" in that light, I will finally come to understand the meaning of its meaning.

Meanwhile, my favorite meme along this line is "keep on truckin'".  Contemplating R. Crumb's comic strips that have that phrase as their title, I feel fairly confident that I know exactly what I should do in response.


  1. KevinM said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

    That kind of sloganeering is parodied in the title of the mockumentary (rockmockumentary?)
    "Never stop never stopping"

  2. Scott Underwood said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

    A similar but subtler redundancy is heard in the bridge of Aretha Franklin's version of the Otis Redding song "Respect," which goes:

    Find out what it means to me
    Take care T-C-B

    The abbreviation TCB means "taking care of business," which is all part of of ensuring she gets her propers when he gets home.

  3. Eleanor said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

    Alan Bennett plumped for 'Keeping On Keeping On' in the title of his latest volume of diaries.

  4. pj said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

    @Eleanor – yes, I was just about to mention Bennett (refreshed the page before posting and saw you'd been quicker than me). He's in his 80s, has had cancer, is still working: it has an understated British 'not dead yet', 'mustn't grumble' connotation in this context for me.

  5. Nick Kaldis said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 3:08 pm

    As for the meaning of "Keep On Keepin' On," It is what it is…

  6. Bathrobe said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 3:16 pm

    It doesn't strike me as so strange, or at least no more so than something like "persist in persisting".

  7. Helen said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

    @Scott – Regarding "Respect", I really appreciate that clarification. I'd heard that as "Take out T-C-P," and always wondered what the remaining R-E-S-E meant.

  8. Rube said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

    I always think of Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue", which includes the lines (more or less) "When finally the bottom fell out, I became withdrawn/The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin' on/ Like a bird that flew./Tangled up in Blue."

  9. Eleanor said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

    @pj: yes, and also echoes of Winston Churchill's wartime exhortation to 'KBO' ('Keep buggering on.')

  10. David Morris said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

    I remembered from my childhood advertisements for paint with the slogan 'keep on keeping on'. Hooray on this occasion for Google, which reveals Berger Paint, and the slogan is the 3ps 'Keeps on keeping on'.

  11. cameron said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

    I tend to think "keep on keeping on" means something somewhat different from "keep on truckin'". The latter indicates that things are going smoothly, that one is "truckin' along" and that one should, or that one intends to, continue doing what one is doing so that things continue to go smoothly. "Keep on keeping on" would imply that things are not going smoothly, and that one should, or that one intends to, continue to struggle to persevere despite whatever obstacles one might encounter.

  12. AntC said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

    echoes of Winston Churchill's wartime exhortation to 'KBO'

    And the increasingly popular (it seems) "Keep calm and carry on."

  13. GMc said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 5:37 pm

    A variant of "Somethings gotta change here if things are going to stay the same"? In that sense a muse on homeostasis.

  14. JPL said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 8:48 pm

    "Keep on truckin' mama!
    Truckin' my blues away."

    That's the refrain from Blind Boy Fuller, "Truckin' my blues away", 1937, an old ragtime that is probably the ultimate source of R Crumb's "Keep on truckin'" panel, which encapsulates hippie cultural outlook, and hippie culture was saturated in blues culture, in which Fuller's tune was an underground classic. (There has been some semantic drift.)

    Later, after "Keep on truckin'" had found its place in popular episteme, Eddie Kendricks had a hit with "Keep on truckin'", a sweet jam of the later Motown period. But still good advice!

    As for Curtis Mayfield and second-order keepin' on, I'll get to that later.

  15. stephen said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 9:27 pm

    "Keep on keepin' on" is the closing line on OddTube, which are videos based on the PBSKids show Odd Squad.

  16. John Swindle said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 9:45 pm

    Not to be confused with "Just Keep Goin' On", attributed to Eric Bibb—check out the powerful Reverend Dan Smith recording—or with "Keep Your Hand on the Plow," maybe the inspiration for both.

  17. cameron said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 11:38 pm

    Eric Partridge has "keep on keeping on" as being a Salvation Army slogan from the early 20th century:

  18. Keith said,

    December 6, 2017 @ 2:31 am

    And don't forget "Carry on carrying on".

  19. cliff arroyo said,

    December 6, 2017 @ 3:52 am

    The phrase "keep on keepin' on" was also a memorable part of the Glady Knight & the Pips song "I've got to use my imagination". It's actually the first song I think of when I hear the phrase.

    Another addition to the redundant song lyric redundancy file might also be "Sand Castles in the Sand" the memorable hit by Canadian songstress Robin Sparkles as well.

  20. JPL said,

    December 6, 2017 @ 7:04 pm

    I just want to correct my note above: it says "ragtime", but I meant it to be "blues song"; "ragtime" is a residue from a previous version.

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