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Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone

In the past two weeks, boomers have lost two greats from the world of music: Dennis Edwards and Hugh Masekela. Widely different in their approach to music, both musicians presented socially-conscious songs of the era along with other pop selections. Boomers were all the more appreciative for it, including Mister Boomer.

Dennis Edwards – February 2
Born in Alabama in 1943, Edwards grew up in Detroit. Like most of his musical contemporaries, he sang gospel and studied music as a teen. In the early sixties, he was a member of the Contours, best known for Do You Love Me (1962). After the Temptations fired David Ruffin in 1968, Edwards became the lead singer. His gritty vocal moved the band’s sound to a more bluesy, soulful direction, inspiring the group to pen more socially-conscious songs.

Edwards presided over some of the Temptations biggest hits, including Cloud Nine, Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion, I Can’t Get Next to You and Papa was a Rollin’ Stone (Mister Boomer’s favorite). Edwards left the band in 1976 following their separation from the Motown label. During his tenure, every album the band released made it to the Top 40, with several entering the Top 10. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, along with the Temptations.

He released several albums on his own, but none crossed over from R&B to the pop charts. He rejoined the band when they returned to Motown in the early ’80s, then left, then came back for another year in 1986 for one album. Finally, he rejoined the band one more time from 1987 to 1989.

Hugh Masekela – January 23
Mr. Masekela began life in South Africa in 1939. At the age of fourteen, he showed a keen interest in music, but his family could not afford an instrument. A local minister, on tour in the U.S. promoting his book, mentioned Hugh’s predicament to a radio host. The man suggested he get in touch with Louis Armstrong. The minister did just that and Armstrong agreed to give him a trumpet to give the boy back in South Africa. From then on, Hugh Masekela was never separated from his music. By the 1950s, he began to develop his brand of Afro-Jazz. Years later he would be known as the Father of South African Jazz.

After criticizing the South African apartheid government with his music, he left for New York in 1960 for what would become a 30-year exile. In New York he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music and was a big fan of the city’s jazz scene. He frequented the jazz clubs to see Miles Davis, John Coltraine, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. Subsequently he became friends with Dizzy Gilespie and Louis Armstrong, who suggested he draw on his African experiences rather than rely on influences from American music.

Masekela’s debut album, Trumpet Africaine: The New Beat from South Africa, was released in 1963. In 1964 he married singer Miriam Makeba, but divorced two years later. By 1967 he was living in Los Angeles, having befriended David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young and others. His LA friends got him a slot in the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

His biggest break came in 1968, with the release of Grazing in the Grass, an instrumental composed by Philemon Hou. The song reached number one on the Billboard charts, crossing all boundaries between rock, jazz and pop. Mister Boomer recalls his brother bringing the 45 RPM record home. It was a catchy tune that all members of the Boomer household could enjoy. Mister B has that 45 in his collection today.

One year later, Harry Elston of the band, The Friends of Distinction, wrote lyrics to the tune. Their cover of the song peaked at number three in the Billboard Top 100 in 1969. Lyrically a throwback to the vernacular of the time, the song featured such mind-blowing phrases such as, Grazin’ in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it. Mister B will stick with Masekela’s instrumental, thank you.

Hugh Masekela was a bandleader, composer, singer, trumpet player and flugelhornist. In 1977, He wrote Soweto Blues about the 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa, a song that his ex-wife went on to sing at the beginning of the Paul Simon Graceland tour in 1986. Masekela had been criticized for collaborating with Simon on the Graceland album, and the tour got a smattering of a few hundred protestors in London, because some people felt Simon’s work for the album in South Africa violated the United Nations cultural boycott against that country. Masekela insisted that Simon’s album did the opposite, bringing the plight of his beloved South Africans to the forefront of world discussion.

By the 1990s, Hugh Masekela had been married four times. His lack of success in marriages was countered by his musical prowess. He released over 40 albums, and worked with many of the top artists of the time, including Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder, among others.

The passing of these two musical giants once again illustrates how musical genres criss-crossed among pop, rock, R&B and jazz in the sixties, especially on the radio; the same stations that played 1910 Fruitgum Company and Cream would also play Ray Charles and Hugo Montenegro. Consequently, boomers were exposed to artists and sounds from around the globe to build what became, in Mister Boomer’s opinion, the greatest decade of American music in history.

Did you have the chance to see Dennis Edwards or Hugh Masekela in concert, boomers? Which records do you cherish?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone

Boomers Liked Some Spiritual Messages Mixed in With Their Pop Music

Edwin Hawkins passed away last week at the age of 74. If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you are a boomer who recalls Hawkins’ one hit, Oh Happy Day, from 1969.
He wrote the song as part of an album intended to be sold as a fund-raiser for his church to attend a gospel competition. A local San Francisco radio station began playing the song and it got the attention of listeners. The song was re-released under the group’s new name, the Edwin Hawkins Singers. It sold more than seven million copies and won a Grammy Award for best soul gospel performance. Though it was the group’s only Top 10 hit, they toured, sang gospel and in 1970, backed up Melanie on her hit, Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).

Rock music was always an amalgam of gospel, rhythm & blues and jazz from the start. Many of rock’s earliest stars — including Elvis Presley — got their start singing gospel in their churches. The country had self-identified as predominantly Christian for a few decades before the Boomer Generation. According to a Gallup poll published in 2005, the U.S. Christian population peaked in the mid-50s at around 92 percent. So it should come as no surprise that gospel-tinged tunes found their way into the charts during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Here are a few of the many that got the attention of boomers listening to their transistor radios and 45 RPM records:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
Written by Pete Seeger in the 1950s, it was first released on an album by the Limeliters in 1962, then by Seeger himself, then the Byrds had a Number One hit with it in 1965. The lyrics were adapted from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. No boomer collection of Byrds tunes would be complete without it.

People Get Ready
Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions recorded this tune in 1965. The soul and gospel-tinged song has an overtly Christian religious theme but Mayfield himself said he wrote it as a response to what was happening in the Civil Rights Movement after he attended the March on Washington, heard Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, and the subsequent church bombings in Alabama. Ultimately, it was a song about redemption and triumph over evil. Mister Boomer always enjoyed the melody and Mayfield’s soulful voice.

Sympathy for the Devil
The Rolling Stones released this rock classic in 1968. Mick Jagger sang as the devil in this song about temptation. The lyric content took a back seat to an incredibly danceable beat.

Spirit in the Sky
It was the infectious and memorable fuzz-guitar theme that propelled Norman Greenbaum’s one-hit wonder to the charts for sixteen weeks spanning the two decades between 1969 and ’70. It sold over two million copies. Mister Boomer’s sister bought the 45 RPM, and it is now in Mister Boomer’s collection.

Put Your Hand in the Hand
Written by Gene MacLellan, it was first recorded by Canadian artist Anne Murray for her third album, Honey, Wheat and Laughter in 1970. It became a hit for fellow Canadian band, Ocean, in 1971. A slew of popular recording artists released their version of the song in the years that followed, including Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and Loretta Lynn, to name a few.

Jesus Is Just Alright
The Byrds released the tune in 1969, but most boomers will remember the re-recorded 1975 version by the Doobie Brothers. As with all of the spiritually-themed music of the era, it was the music and not the lyric content that caught the ear of boomers. Catchy tunes climbed the charts, regardless of whether they had any spiritual message.

There were dozens of other songs that mentioned God or the Christian religion in some way, by almost all of the popular recording artists of the day. As the stream of these tunes on the charts started to fade in the late sixties, some say the excesses of “free love” and “turn on, tune in, drop out” culminated with the rock musical Hair in 1968. That counterculture was then countered itself with more religious-themed rock of the 1970s. As art imitates life, it brought us the Broadway musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 and Godspell in 1972. Anne Murray’s version of the title song Jesus Christ Superstar was on the charts in 1971 and then was followed by covers by several people. I Don’t Know How to Love Him from JC Superstar was also on the charts in 1971 and the Broadway cast performance of Day by Day from Godspell hit Billboard’s #13 in 1972.

The numbers of almost all religious denominations has been steady falling since the end of the Boomer Generation. The number of people in the U.S. identifying as Christian has dropped to around 70 percent as more people are checking the “no religious affiliation” box these days. It is Mister Boomer’s contention that it was always the criteria that kids used on American Bandstand to rate records that indicated which songs made it to the Top 10: is it a catchy tune and can you dance to it? Nonetheless, you’ll find predominantly Christian religious-tinged tunes still hitting the Top 10 from time to time, on the Rock, Rhythm & Blues and Country charts.

Do you own any of the religious-themed records from the fifties, sixties or seventies, boomers? Did you buy them for the music or religious content?

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

Boomers Know Real Christmas Music Classics

Recently, Mister Boomer came across a seasonal article comparing the “Christmas Divas,” Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani. While Ms. Stefani has released her first Christmas album this year, Ms. Carey has connected her brand with Christmas music since her smash seasonal hit, All I Want for Christmas is You, twenty-three years ago in 1994. Mister B recalls hearing it somewhere through the years, probably in a retail setting somewhere around Halloween. That song, according to the article, is now considered a classic. A classic? Mister Boomer has socks older than that song.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about the Christmas music classics that we heard as kids, and occasionally hear today. The market for Christmas music, like so many things, grew exponentially after WWII as boomer families got their first record player or phonograph/TV console.

While stars of earlier decades — such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin — dominated Christmas music into the boomer years, Mister B, like so many boomers, considered them old fogeys. As far as classic Christmas music of the boomer years is concerned, Mister B points to Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from 1949. It was timed right for the Boomer Generation, and got an extra boost thanks to the classic stop-action animated TV special of the same name in 1964.

The 1950s added to the roster of classic Christmas music with titles that are sure to jingle nostalgic bells for boomers:
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Jimmy Boyd (1952)
Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt (1953)
Nuttin’ for Christmas, Art Mooney (1955)
Jingle Bell Rock, Jimmy Boyd (1957) [Brenda Lee’s version was released in 1964]
Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me, Elvis (1957)
Run Rudolph Run, Chuck Berry (1958)
Christmas Don’t Be Late, Alvin and the Chipmunks (1958)

Nestled in that list is Elvis Presley, with songs from his Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957). A multitude of songs from the album are classics in anyone’s book, including Blue Christmas and Elvis’ interpretation of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It is the best-selling Christmas album of all time. When it was released, Elvis’ rock-and-blues version of White Christmas so irked Irving Berlin that he tried to have it banned from radio airplay. Instead, the song went to the top of the charts, and between 1957 and 1969, boomer families bought three million copies of the album. It was reissued in 1970, and together with various reissues since then, the record has sold more than 20 million copies. How is that for a classic?

Mister Boomer’s father gravitated toward Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but his mother loved Elvis’ Christmas Album. She would ask Mister B to play it on “the Victrola,” which is what she called the family record player that sat in the living room.

The 1960s saw an explosion of current groups recording Christmas music, as record companies saw potential dollar signs dancing in their heads. Consequently, practically every popular group released 45 RPMs or Christmas albums. The Everly Brothers got into the holiday spirit with Christmas with the Everly Brothers in 1962 while The Beach Boys Christmas Album was released in 1964. The 4 Seasons’ Christmas Album hit in 1966 and in 1968, Otis Redding released Merry Christmas, Baby.

No mention of 1960s classic Christmas music would be complete without naming Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You. The album had the unfortunate circumstance of being released the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated — November 22, 1963 — and was not well-received right away. As time went on, the album gained in popularity as people discovered the songs by The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, Ronnie Spector and of course, Darlene Love.

Already a classic song by a classic performer, David Letterman so enjoyed Darlene Love’s performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on The Late Show in 1986 that he asked her to come back and sing it every year until the show ended in 2014. Take that, Christmas divas!

By the time the 1970s arrived, it looked like the creative burst of popular Christmas music had run its course. The Temptations Christmas Card, released in 1970, rehashed some old chestnuts to little fanfare. As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, the nail in the coffin of classic Christmas music came with two songs released in the 1970s: Jingle Bells by the Singing Dogs and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, by Elmo ‘n’ Patsy in 1979. Like an ice bucket challenge gone awry, Christmas music has all but been the fruitcake gift for boomers ever since. Is it any wonder why so many people dislike Christmas music these days? If only they were there when we were, they’d see that classic Christmas music was more than a holiday novelty, it was good music.

What’s your take on classic Christmas music, boomers?

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

Boomer Songs Sang About the Working Man

As we mark another Labor Day, it’s time for our national salute to workers everywhere. Boomers have always had a special connection to working class people. After all, it was the rise of the middle class after the War that allowed the Baby Boom to come into existence. You can see this connection to workers in the music of the day.

So, in honor of Labor Day, here are a few boomer-era songs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that either call out the plight of the working person or mention a profession by name:

Get A Job – The Silhouettes (1957)
Richard Lewis, who wrote the song’s lyrics, said the song came from a time when he got out of the Army and wasn’t immediately working, so his mother told him to “get a job.” Two decades later it became the signature song of Sha Na Na, who took their name from the song’s lyrics.

Five O’ Clock World – The Vogues (1965)
..When the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time. Is there a more perfect sentiment for Labor Day? Of course, the irony is, if you get off work at 5 p.m., then the company has in fact owned a piece of your time since 9 a.m. Still, a great song.

Working in a Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey (1966)
Occasionally Mister Boomer mimics the singer’s rendition of the last sentence, Lord I’m so tired, at work. He does realize that the millennials in his workplace have no idea what he is referencing. How long can this go on…

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
We learned in this song that digging sixteen tons of coal will only get you one day older and deeper in debt.

Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn (1970)
It looks like in the era when many boomer houses received coal deliveries for heating, our songs put the profession of coal miner right up there synonymously with hard work. Lynn recorded this autobiographical song in 1969, but it wasn’t released until a year later. By 1970, very few houses were still heated by coal, marking the beginning of the decline of the industry that’s still going on today.

Paperback Writer – The Beatles (1966)
Paul McCartney sings that he needs a job and he wants to be a paperback writer.

Lovely Rita – The Beatles (1967)
The singer — Paul McCartney — is said to have gotten the inspiration for this song when he saw a meter maid issuing a ticket. Some guys do love a working gal in a uniform.

Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (1964)
It’s hard to remember sometimes that The Beatles all came from working class families themselves. Ringo came up with the phrase after the band had worked all day and night. Once it was decided that Ringo’s malapropism would make a good title for their upcoming movie, John went about writing the title song.

Please Mister Postman – The Marvelettes (1961)
Please Mister Postman, check and see / If there’s a letter, a letter for me… Who knows how much longer postmen and women will be delivering mail to our homes? Letters are few and far between these days already. Back when it was a major means of communication, the song was the first Motown song to reach Billboard’s Hot 100.

Wichita Lineman – Glenn Campbell (1968)
A lot of working people can relate to the loneliness exuded from these song lyrics written by Jimmy Webb: I am a lineman for the county / And I drive the main road / Searchin’ in the sun for another overload. The haunting melody was portrayed beautifully in Glenn Campbell’s voice. Campbell, as most boomers know, was a member of the Wrecking Crew, that group of top-notch studio musicians who appeared uncredited on dozens of hit songs throughout the 1960s. The group also backed Campbell on this recording, which became his signature tune.

Working for the Man – Roy Orbison (1962)
In this Roy Orbison song we hear the plight of the working man, in this case, in the Texas oil fields: Oh well I’m pickin’ ’em up and I’m laying ’em down / I believe he’s gonna work me into the ground …
But later in the song we learn that he’s working for this man because he’s making time with the boss’ daughter and some day he plans on being “the man” himself.

If I Were a Carpenter – Bobby Darin (1966)
The old if “I had a profession like a carpenter, would you still love me enough to get married and have a kid” song. Written by Tim Hardin, he personally performed it at Woodstock (1969). It was covered earlier by Joan Baez (1967), and Four Tops (1968), then by Johnny Cash and June Carter (1970) and Bob Seger (1972), among others. Of course, a good many boomers recall the song from Bobby Darin’s version.

Sky Pilot – The Animals (1968)
Released during the Vietnam War, the song seems upbeat in tempo, but lyrically it’s not about an airplane pilot, but rather a military chaplain trying to offer comfort to troops as they head into battle. It’s another of those tough jobs we heard about on our transistor radios.

The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel (1969)
Here Simon and Garfunkel use a profession — a boxer — to illustrate one man’s struggle to overcome loneliness and poverty. It was the most heavily produced song the duo ever released.

Talking Care of Business – Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974)
Randy Bachman wrote this memorable ditty under the title of White Collar Worker when he was still a member of The Guess Who. The band didn’t think it was their kind of song, so he took it with him when he left. After performing the song on Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s early tours in the early ’70s, Bachman overheard a radio DJ say, “We’re taking care of business.” He took the line and replaced “White Collar Worker” with it, and the rest is history.

Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976)
This title song from the movie of the same name tells us that working at the car wash, You might not ever get rich / But let me tell you it’s better than digging a ditch … It was the group’s only hit.

Welcome to the Working Week – Elvis Costello (1977)
I know it don’t thrill you / I hope it don’t kill you … Are you seeing a pattern, boomers? Most of our songs about working say we don’t like our jobs and a good portion of the time, we tolerate them to get home to our loved ones.

If you are still working, enjoy your holiday off, boomers! Then it’s back to working for the man. What is your favorite boomer-era working song?


posted by Mister B in Holidays,Music and have Comments (2)

Mister Boomer’s Morning Jukebox Update

Mister Boomer has mentioned in past posts that he is afflicted with a condition he has labeled Morning Jukebox Syndrome. The symptoms are simply that upon waking several days a week, a song is “playing” in his head. These songs most often were in progress, like when you walked into the drug store to get an ice cream sundae and someone had already filled the jukebox with quarters for a long-term set. Sometimes he’d come in at the beginning of a song.

What is fascinating to Mister B is not that an aging boomer would conjure up songs from a half-century ago, but that a good number of them are songs that he hasn’t heard in decades; nor does he own copies of most of them.

Be that as it may, here is another dozen ditties that recently popped into Mister B’s morning brain. Almost all of these were released as singles, which is how Mister B probably remembers them. Most if not all are available where you download or stream music, unless you want to blow the dust off your 45s and give them a spin! Mister B thinks they would make a pretty good playlist on their own — morning, noon or night.

The Beat Goes On — Sony & Cher (1967)
What better song to wake up to? The legendary Wrecking Crew — that super group of studio musicians that appear on dozens of hits in the 1960s — recorded the music with Sonny and Cher. Carol Kaye is credited with coming up with the classic bass line that many music critics say is the reason this song became a hit. Sonny and Cher felt strong enough about the song that “And the beat goes on” was carved into Sonny’s tombstone.

You Can Make It If You Try — Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
If you’re into morning affirmations, Sly & the Family Stone is a good choice. This musical equivalent of the “I think I can” train hit number two on the charts, selling more than one million copies. It appeared on the SFS classic album, Stand! along with the iconic hits Everyday People and the title song.

Good Morning Starshine — Oliver (1969)
Cue the stretch, tossing back the covers, getting out of bed and pulling back the curtains to let the sun shine in. One morning Mister B heard the Oliver version of this song echo through his cranium, though the song first appeared in the Broadway musical, Hair, in 1967.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! — The Buckinghams (1967)
Another Morning Jukebox cover, this song was a hit for the Buckinghams. A Cannonball Adderley tune, it has gone on to become a classic favorite for jazz musicians and remains one of the most covered tunes of the jazz-blues era.

The Rain, The Park & Other Things — The Cowsills (1967)
Boomers probably recall this song more from the lyrics than the title when they heard, I love the flower girl. It reached number two on the charts for the Cowsills, a family band that was actually playing gigs — minus mom — before the Partridge Family existed. First it was three of the brothers (Bill, Bob and Barry), then later, two more brothers (John and Paul), sister (Susan) and their mother (Barbara) joined in. This song, and the album of the same name, marked the point when their mother joined the band and toured with them.

Your Song — Elton John (1970)
Appearing on Elton John’s second album, this ballad was the B-side of of the single, Take Me to the Pilot. DJs preferred playing Your Song, which propelled it to become a hit. Elton was opening for Three Dog Night when he and Bernie Taupin composed the song. They gave it to Three Dog Night for their album, It Ain’t Easy (March 1970), where it got little attention. Elton’s 45 RPM B-side appeared in October of that same year.

Daydream — Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
If you hear What a day for a daydream… first thing in the morning, does that say this may not be the most productive of days?

First I Look at the Purse — The Contours (1965)
Written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers (of the Miracles), the song was released on 45 RPM first by Motown artists, The Contours. Smokey later did a fantastic version of his own that Mister B also recalls with deep affection. Boomers may remember the cover version by the J. Geils Band in 1970, too.

Bad to Me — Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas (1964)
Though credited as written by Lennon-McCartney, John Lennon said it was Paul who wrote the song. They gave it to Billy J. Kramer to record, a friend who shared the same manager, Billy Epstein. It became only the second of three songs written though not recorded by Beatles members, that reached the Top 40. (The first was World Without Love recorded by Peter & Gordon (1964) and the third, Goodbye, recorded by Mary Hopkin (1970).

Friday on My Mind — The Easybeats (1966)
This single was this Australian band’s only hit in the U.S., but it has become a classic. It’s been covered many times, notably by David Bowie (1973) and Peter Frampton (1981). Let’s face it, no matter what day of the week we wake up in, Friday is on our minds.

You Got What It Takes — The Dave Clark Five (1967)
This version was a cover of the song Marv Johnson wrote and recorded in 1959. It sounds outright caveman-ish these days, with lyrics including:
You don’t live in a beautiful place
Oh, you don’t dress in the best of taste
And nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face
But baby, you got what it takes
Combined with lyrics from My Funny Valentine (1937) and Joe Tex’s Skinny Legs and All (1967), these songs contain the worst back-handed compliments ever put to music. Can you imagine what social media comments would do to these songs if they were released today? Why it popped into Mister B’s head remains a mystery, but it is a catchy melody.

Silence Is Golden — The Tremeloes (1967)
The song was co-written by Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons, along with Bob Crewe. It made its recording debut as the B-side to Rag Doll (1964), but it was the Tremeloes version Mister Boomer heard one morning. Maybe that is because the band’s Here Comes My Baby (1967) remains one of Mister B’s favorites from a year brimming with classic hits.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, boomers; the beat goes on! What songs have been running through your cerebral cortex these days?

Further reading: Music Flashbacks: A Sign of an Aging Boomer?

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

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:
(Horns flourish)
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”:
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)