The Allman Brothers Band
Gregg Allman was 21 years old when the song was first recorded. Its writing dates back to late March 1969, when The Allman Brothers Band was first formed. Gregg had failed to make a name for himself as a musician during a late-1960s stint in Los Angeles, and was on the verge of quitting music altogether when his brother Duane Allman called and said his new band needed a vocalist. Gregg showed the band 22 songs he had written, but only “Dreams” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” were deemed usable. Gregg, the group’s only songwriter at the time, was commissioned to create additional songs that would fit into the context of the new band, and in the next five days he wrote several, including “Whipping Post”.
Gregg’s travails in the music business would provide the thematic inspiration for the new song, which was written quickly on an ironing board cover: He later said: “It came so fast. I didn’t even have a chance to get the paper out. That’s the way the good songs come—they just hit you like a ton of bricks.”
The blues rock song’s lyrics center on a metaphorical whipping post, an evil woman and futile existential sorrow. Writer Jean-Charles Costa described the studio version’s musical structure as a “solid framework of [a] song that lends itself to thousands of possibilities in terms of solo expansion. … [It is] in modified 3/4 time, building to a series of shrieking lead guitar statements, and reaching full strength in the chorus supported by super dual-lead guitar.” The result was called by Rolling Stone an “enduring anthem … rife with tormented blues-ballad imagery”.
Musically, the composition was immediately noticeable for its use of 11/4 time signature in the introduction (it is also sometimes referred to as being in 11/8 time). As Gregg Allman later said:
“I didn’t know the intro was in 11/4 time. I just saw it as three sets of three, and then two to jump on the next three sets with: it was like 1,2,3—1,2,3—1,2,3—1,2. I didn’t count it as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. It was one beat short, but it didn’t feel one short, because to get back to the triad, you had two steps to go up. You’d really hit those two hard, to accent them, so that would separate the threes. … [Duane] said, ‘That’s good man, I didn’t know that you understood 11/4.’ Of course I said something intelligent like, ‘What’s 11/4?’ Duane just said, ‘Okay, dumbass, I’ll try to draw it up on paper for you.”
The original “Whipping Post” was recorded for The Allman Brothers Band album on August 7, 1969, at Atlantic Recording Studios in New York City. Adrian Barber was the producer, and the band spent the entire full-day session getting the song’s performance to their liking. The album was released on November 4, 1969, but sold poorly, barely eking onto the bottom rungs of the U.S. albums chart. “Whipping Post” was placed last on the album’s running order, in what writer Randy Poe described as “the classic tradition of leaving the listener wanting more”.