Mahout: noun (in South and SE Asia) a person who works with and rides an elephant (from Hindi)
Drop the pilot
Try my balloon
Drop the monkey
Smell my perfume
Drop the mahout
I’m the easy rider
Don’t use your army
To fight a losing battle
– Joan Armatrading, ‘Drop the Pilot’, 1983
The first and best-selling single from Joan Armatrading‘s 1983 album The Key, ‘Drop the Pilot‘ contains the catchy but lyrically opaque chorus quoted above, which includes finishes up its trifecta of things that should be dropped by appending ‘drop the mahout / I’m the easy rider’. It’s lucky that ‘Drop the Pilot’ is a supremely catchy track, because it doesn’t make a great deal of sense otherwise. It was the last of Armatrading’s three UK top 40 singles (the other two being ‘Love and Affection’ in 1976 and ‘Me Myself I’ from 1980), and it was her only single to crack the Billboard Top 100 in the US, reaching number 78 in June 1983.
The original music video is sweet but takes a bit too literal an approach to the lyrics, featuring as it does a pilot dropping in by parachute. While the live performance from Glastonbury in 2008 featured below may lack the tautness of the studio recording and perhaps a little of the zing in the suspense-building bridge, it’s great to see that Armatrading is still playing and that the song is still popular after 25 years.