Billy Ray was a preacher's son
And when his daddy would visit he'd come along
Were they coming over for tea? A party? Or was it an official religious visit?
Through the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, it was not at all uncommon for travelling members of the clergy—sometimes known as “circuit riders” in the Methodist church or simply “travelling preachers” in other denominations—to visit frontier and rural areas that did not contain enough people for their own regular church services. These preachers would travel by horseback and hold services wherever there was a space available.
Seeing as “Son of a Preacher” man was written in the 1960s, however, it’s more likely that the preacher in question is simply an old family friend who comes over for dinners and barbecues, bringing his family along with him. If he knew what his son was doing, though, he might have decided to come alone.
The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man
Dusty Springfield’s Billy Ray was not the only famous son of a preacher man.
A “son of a preacher man” is also a popular cocktail. It is made by mixing one ounce of Avalanche Peppermint Schnapps, one ounce of Lemonade, and one-half ounce of Gin (or vodka). The ingredients can either be stirred over ice or blended for a frozen cocktail. Son of a Preacher Man is also the title of a book by Jay Bakker, the son of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker.
Other famous preachers’ sons include Sir Laurence Olivier, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Aaron Burr, Alice Cooper, Vincent Van Gogh, the Jonas Brothers, Woodrow Wilson, Denzel Washington, Marvin Gaye, the Wright Brothers, and Daniel Tosh (no, seriously).
Bein' good isn't always easy
No matter how hard I try
Learnin' from each other's knowin'
Lookin' to see how much we're growin'
These sexually suggestive lines were made even more suggestive in Aretha Franklin’s cover of the song.
When Greil Marcus reviewed Dusty in Memphis in 1969, he suggested that the vocals in “Son of a Preacher Man were “almost dirty.” The lines above and Springfield’s smoky voice probably contributed to this observation. When Aretha Franklin later covered the song, though, she took away all doubt; there was nothing “almost dirty” about her delivery of these lyrics—it was plain dirty.
After she sang, “He'd kiss and tell me ‘Everything is all right,’" for example, her back-up singers whisper-chanted “Sock it to me.” When she repeated the line, “‘Baby, baby, everything is all right,’" her back-ups this time moaned “Ooh, sock it to me.”
Feel free to come up with alternative interpretations if you’d like, but we’re pretty sure we know what they were insinuating.