Bobbie Gentry, best known for the haunting and beguiling “OdetoBillieJoe” (an awesome song in its own right and one that knocked “All You Need is Love” out of the #1 spot on the charts and spawned a movie starring Robby Benson!) wrote some damn weird songs (“Fancy” comes to mind immediately) . They’re twisted like kudzu on a delapidated column. Like a broken finger that never healed correctly being stuck in your face. Like black licorice. This one is no different. Why is Miss Morgan laughing at the end? Is it because she doesn’t believe in eternity? Is it something more sinister (like, you know, murder)? And the children’s chorus, what the hell is that?
Anyway, Bobbie worked with Glenn Campbell (a touring Beach Boy!) as well as Bacharach and David, among others. Most importantly, however, is that Bobbie wrote a lot of her own songs, including this one. It has some definite Bacharach touches, as well as same-era tunes by Lee Hazlewood (another writer of some strange and wonderful songs that I’m sure will end up here at some point).
“You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River”–Van Morrison
Naked, she moves at the foot of the mattress, Veedon Fleece still on repeat from the night before. She thinks I’ve slept in but I’ve never been able to do that in her bed. Flashes of red–her hair, her nipples, her lips–tempt me as she turns. I’m a bull beneath these blankets and Beth is my torero practicing veronicas in front of the mirror. I throw the covers. She turns to meet my charge. My end is certain. Olé!
Linus and Lucy- Vince Guaraldi (Oh, Good Grief version)
You know the song– if you lived in the Western hemisphere in the back
half of the 20th Century, you couldn’t escape it. And even now, it
appears in a horribly bastardized form in insurance commercials (along
with horribly bastardized cartoons, but that’s another story for
another time). A catchy, unbelievably busy, two-fisted piano part
that leaves you either vaguely upbeat or massively nauseated depending
on your circumstances. But have you ever really listened to the whole
I was at my wife’s parents’ place in rural Wisconsin a few years ago
when, bored, I started digging through their CDs. They’re not really
music people, which actually makes CD-browsing more interesting–
while music people will have largely parallel collections, depending
on their genres of interest (until I turned 30, I think my friends and
I had about 95% overlap within our music collections), non-music
people always have these weirdly eclectic grab bags of whatever
happened to catch their fancy at a given time.
Nestled between the Rod Stewart boxed set and an album of
smooth-jazz guitar covers of Genesis songs, my mother-in-law had Oh,
Good Grief, a disc of tunes the Vince Guaraldi Trio had recorded for
various Peanuts specials (if I remember right, the cover had a Schulz
drawing of Snoopy sitting at a piano with a big, droopy Vince Guaraldi
mustache). Curious, I popped it in, and was completely blown away.
Floored. Each song is funky and accomplished, avoiding all of the
pitfalls that jazz is prone to fall into (examples: too smooth, too
pedantic, too harsh). The dominant instruments are piano and an
awesome-sounding electric organ, with light drums and a clean electric
guitar popping in and out. I can’t think of another album that so
thoroughly outshone what I was expecting to hear.
“Linus and Lucy” specifically has a lot more going on than you
probably remember. You get about a minute of the straightforward
piano jam (and even in that familiar part, how THE HELL is Guaraldi
moving his hands that fast?), and then it starts getting awesomely
weird. The time changes abruptly, the electric organ steps forward a
little, and the piano eases back a little. And then back and forth
for a while with alternating sections of familiar piano jam and
organ/piano free jam. To borrow from Spinal Tap, it feels to me (and
I’ll freely admit to being an untutored fool when it comes to Jazz)
like a complete Jazz Odyssey in the space of 3 minutes.
One caveat: when I told Pandora.com how much I liked this song, it
immediately started serving up weaker versions of this and other
Guaraldi tunes; I can’t pretend to be an expert, but for money the
versions on Oh, Good Grief tend to be the best ones.
One bonus comment: you know another 60s-era theme song that you’re
undoubtedly familiar with that contains several unknown and awesome
free-jam freakout sessions? John Barry’s James Bond theme. That thing
goes nuts in the middle.
–Keith Pille rocks in Derailleur and draws and writes the weekly comic Nowhere Band,
the best comic about being in a nowhere band on this planet.
Third grade ended in complete humiliation. It was some last-day-of-school time-killing game that outed my favorite radio station. Somehow I had managed to nearly complete the year without learning what the kids were listening to, and until the moment the call letters left my lips I was not aware that wasn’t it.
As I walked out between the gingko trees to my bus that day, tail firmly tucked between corduroy knickers, I decided it was time to be cool – all-American sex, drugs and rock n roll cool. Rock n roll at least, I was nine, after all, and Quaker. I was hopeless.
My mentor took the form of an 8-year-old named Maggie. Even smaller and blonder than myself, she wore these traits with sass where I wore them with sweetness. In between swimming lessons at the park and cartoons on the couch Maggie introduced me to the cool I sought, a couple blocks safely from my parents’ ever-watchful eyes.
Lounging in the bed of Maggie’s dad’s beat up old white pickup “smoking” candy cigarettes I heard the anthem for the new me. A couple Midwestern teens were struggling through the repression of their small town and longing for release on the radio waves, blazing a rock n roll trail I now knew in my preadolescent bones. Our chains were not the same, but being a prisoner to the repressively familiar was our shared plight. This was rock n roll, my newfound savior, and John Cougar (the Mellencamp was to rejoin later) was its prophet.
I rhapsodized in the corn-fed lushness Jack and Diane evoked. Had my family never left the small Kansas town in which I was born before I started forming memories, this could very well have been me. I could have been someone’s backseat debutante, I could have eaten chili dogs at the Taste-E-Freeze (it had been just across the field from our house), I could have wanted to leave for the city. I sucked on my candy cigarette with these visions swirling in its imaginary smoke and fell in love – in love with rock music, rebellion and an America I thought I knew and to which I now felt I belonged.
For whatever reason summer flings are confined to their season, I never hung out with Maggie once school started, I returning to my public school, she to her Catholic. I walked back through the gingko trees and up the steps to fourth grade feeling, like, totally awesome playing my best Valley Girl. Because that was cool. And cool is what I was. Or at least I was doing the best that I could.
–Jill Noelle Miller is a fellow Kansan who escaped the Midwest for the Northwest at the tender age of two, only to return at eighteen and make a second break at twenty-three. She now melds her two Americas in her Portland, Oregon home where she raises fruit, vegetables, herbs and chickens while wearing 1950s sundresses and lipstick, unsure of what belongs to which world. She is currently working on a collection of true stories of ephemeral joy.
(To open this blog, I want to talk about one of my fave children’s songs. I had written about it before on a personal blog–long gone–and then modified it for sing us your favorite tune–also apparently gone. Someone there took offense at my mentioning David Lynch, saying those were simpler times, but I have to admit that the statement struck me as funny since 1) Lynch is all about skewing simpler times and places and 2) this song is anything but simple. So, here goes…)
The song “Goodnight Little Wrangler” is from a kid’s album titled Western Songs for Children, released in 1963. It’s one of my favorite thrift store finds of all time. It’s also one of my favorite songs of all time.
Fess Parker, the main voice in the song, was known as Davy Crockett throughout the ‘50s and by wearing a coonskin cap in the series of movies, single-handedly created the fad of wearing them (well, that and the company that put out the movies, which shall go unnamed, had some sort of marketing genius). He was later known as Daniel Boone to most every kid with a television set between 1964 to 1970 (and sometimes afterward with reruns—that’s how I know him).
The song seems normal enough, starting with a yawning Fess telling us, “There’s nothing I like more than sleeping. Here’s a little song I like to sing before I hit the hay.” Then the night widens and becomes more surreal as you get into bed. Stars are like ponies standing drowsy with purple eyes blinking. In “moon hay” (!?) you’ll gather dreams waiting “deep down in the pocket of your jeans” (!!??!!).
Then the chorus comes in, and you hear it, “Take me by the hand along with you, long ago I lost my way.” * It’s delivered as a soliloquy almost, to be performed while facing a window and looking at the man on the moon’s drowsy eyelids. He wants to be a child again. He’s searching for a way to see those ponies with purple eyes. It’s about yearning for the romantic ideal of innocence and idyllic meadows with drowsy horses, huge skies, and probably a mountain and a creek or two. The marimba, pedal steel, and backing singers just add to the surreal beauty of the song (I really think it could pass as a Badalamenti song in a David Lynch film). Then he gives the sleeping child a final kiss, tucks them in, maybe pulls the coonskin cap of the child and puts it on a night stand, and closes the door as the last little bit of light from the hallway dimishes to a sliver under it and the room takes on the hue of melancholy.
It’s a song yearning for the imagination of a dream-reality while the real world is filled with death (The Big Sleep as it’s sometimes called).
It’s a song that is weird and, ultimately, very lonely, but as beautiful as the sky after a midwest thunderstorm. ***
*Fess misses the word “long” on the chorus as it’s supplied by the backing singers. I don’t know why this is significant and I could probably come up with something, but it would take too long and really who cares. It’s just something interesting to point out.
** Or it’s all about capitalism, whatever you want to believe is fine with me.
*** I so very incredibly miss thunderstorms in Kansas in the spring.