misterboomer.com

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Sang, 1-2-3

Music in which a singer counts numbers didn’t start or end with the Boomer Generation, but Mister Boomer has noticed that there were an abundance of songs in the boomer years that used “1, 2, 3” (or “1, 2, 3, 4”) as an inherent part of a song’s lyrics. Sure there are loads of examples of a band member counting at a song’s beginning to get all the bandmates started at the same time (for example, I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles comes to mind). And of course, there were the telephone number songs like The Marvelettes’ Beachwood 4-5789, but we’re talking about using number counting within a song.

A case in point is Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances (1966). Before Mr. Pickett gives a shout out to a bunch of popular dances, he growls:
1,2,3
(Horns flourish)
1,2,3
Aow! Uh!
Alright! Uh!

Counting is natural to the beat of music, but in this case it also refers to the songs’ content — namely, dance. Here, 1, 2, 3 could just as easily be referring to counting dance steps. A great example of soul expression like this song could have him reciting numbers from a loading dock log and he’d still have us at 1, 2, 3.

In the song 1-2-3, as sung by Len Barry (1965), we see that another reason to count 1, 2, 3 could very well be that a lot of words rhyme with three. We hear here that falling in love is both elementary and easy:
1-2-3, that’s how elementary it’s gonna be
C’mon let’s fall in love, it’s easy (it’s so easy)
Like taking candy (like taking candy) from a baby

The Grass Roots gave us a classic counting song: Let’s Live for Today (1967). The count is situated at the beginning of the refrain. As such, are we to think the songwriter thought another line was needed, but he couldn’t come up with one, so he added the count? Or that the count of “1, 2, 3, 4” marks the passage of time, the ticking of the clock, the reason why we are advised to “live for today?” That’s for you to decide, boomers. What’s interesting to Mister B is that in the first chorus, “1, 2, 3, 4” is sung, but the next two times the refrain is sung, the singer drops the “one” and starts with “two” to sing, “2, 3, 4”:
1-2-3-4
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow hey, hey, hey, hey

Oh my! In retrospect as an adult, 1-2-3 Red Light, by the 1910 Fruitgum Company (1968) sounds positively predatory. This song was labelled “bubble gum” at the time, a musical confection so named for its pop beat and sound rather than its subject matter. In this song, the narrator/singer is pleading to his date. He states that when he makes a move, his counterpart flashes the red signal, staying “stop!” Our intrepid singer doesn’t stop there, though, as he tries to to plead his case:
Every time I try to prove I love you
1,2,3 red light
You stop me
Baby you ain’t right to stop me
1,2,3 red light

As we saw in Len Barry’s 1-2-3, the Jackson 5 found love as easy as ABC (1970), which we all know is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Here we may see a very similar sentiment but hear a completely different sound:
A, B, C — it’s easy as 1, 2, 3
As simple as do re mi
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
Baby, you and me girl

And in Mister Boomer’s estimation, the mother of all counting songs: I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, the anti-war ditty performed by Country Joe and the Fish live at Woodstock (1969):
And it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die

What’s your favorite counting song, boomers? Would you care to add to this list?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

One Response to “Boomers Sang, 1-2-3”

  1. arjay says:

    Two songs from the early days of Rock’n Roll come to mind. “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starlighters from about 1962 contained the lyrics “One two three kick, one two three jump”.
    The other song is from the mid fifties, the veritable “Rock Around the Clock”, which went like “One, Two, Three O’Clock, Four O’Clock rock, Five, Six, Seven O’clock, Eight O’Clock Rock, Nine, Ten, Eleven O’Clock, Twelve O’Clock Rock, We’re gonna rock around the Clock tonight!”