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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)

Boomers Made a List for Sibling Gifts

If your family was anything like Mister Boomer’s, you had brothers and sisters. Between 1950 and 1960, the U.S. population grew 19 percent to pass 179 million. In 1960, the average family had two children, and 60 percent of U.S. households had children under the age of 18. In Mister Boomer’s experience, almost every house on his block had at least three children, and often, more. Growing up with brothers and sisters posed lots of challenges, and one of them that surfaced annually was what gifts to get them for Christmas.

Once Mister Boomer’s younger sister hit the preteen stage, the Boomer children got together and decided to solve the dilemma by giving each other suggested gift lists, with a promise to adhere to the written word. This would ensure that no one got the gift they did not want. Mister B does not recall which of his siblings suggested the list, but all were enthusiastic about the prospect of avoiding the dreaded dud present.

In the earliest days, Boomer Sister would ask for board games, card games and View-Master slides. As she crossed into early teendom, Barbie dominated the lists. It was a welcome addition for Mister Boomer, since she would spell out exactly which ensembles to purchase, and since the cost was within his hard-earned budget, he managed to gift two on occasion.

Brother Boomer enjoyed building things, so model cars and Testor’s paint were often a safe bet for his lists. As he reached high school age, music was right up there on his lists. He would often buy 45 RPMs himself, but Christmas afforded the opportunity to ask for albums.

Mister Boomer always felt funny about asking for gifts, but also wanted to avoid receiving things that were unacceptable. His early lists might include model cars and planes, or building sets. In his late teens, music — albums and 8-tracks — made the list. Almost never would Mister B, Brother Boomer or Boomer Sister put clothing on the lists, but if they did, correct sizes and colors were a must.

As far as Mister B’s parents, they would go their own way in buying gifts for the kids, regardless of whether the kids gave them a list or not. Of course, that didn’t stop Mister B and his siblings from pointing out a commercial or two during Saturday morning cartoons. It was a given for the Boomer children that there would be socks and underwear. And long johns were a must in Midwest winters, so if the kids had outgrown the pair from the year before, Christmas gifting was the clothing staging center for the impending coldest winter months.

Mister Boomer’s father was always a big kid himself, so he enjoyed buying toys for his children. Though Mister B was always aware the family was on a tight budget, his father saw to it that each kid got one “big” gift every year. For the boys, it might be a football, ice skates or hockey sticks; and for his sister, Easy-Bake ovens, Creepy Crawlers and Operation. Every child had their own sled as well.

The idea of exchanging gift lists continued with Mister B’s brother and sister until one year, when all three children lived in different states and both his brother and sister had children of their own. It was agreed that they had exchanged enough gifts and sibling presents could stop; then the lists that circulated were for their children.

How did you treat gift buying with your siblings, boomers? Did you exchange suggested gift lists?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comments Off on Boomers Made a List for Sibling Gifts

Boomer-Era Variety Shows: the 1950s (Part 1)

World War II ended and by 1947, television caught on in a big way as individual stations appeared in the largest cities. Within four years, a couple of dozen stations had grown to hundreds. The adaptation of TV by the public is still on record as the quickest rise of any technology — faster than indoor plumbing, home electricity, radio, the telephone and even the smartphone. There were just over 100,000 TV sets in the country by 1947, but by 1950, 8 million sets had been purchased — a rise from less than one percent to 88 percent of homes owning a TV.

Of course, the correlation to the Baby Boom was no accident as more couples were married, started families, bought homes and moved to the suburbs. As TV stations began to broadcast 20 hours per day, the race was on to capture the most viewers, especially in the post-dinner hours, the prime time when parents and their children might gather around the household TV.

Networks and local stations turned to Vaudeville traditions for programming inspiration. Vaudeville was a form of live variety entertainment that began in the 1880s. Vaudeville shows mixed singing, dancing, comedy, magic, acrobatics and sketch performances live on stage. By the 1930s, it saw a precipitous decline in attendance due to the Depression, the spread of movies and widespread embrace of radio in the home. As the public taste for entertainment shifted, many Vaudeville performers made the transition first to radio programs, then on to TV.

The first hour-long musical variety show broadcast regularly on network TV was Hour Glass, airing from 1947 to 1948. It pioneered the live commercial that became the standard for variety shows that followed. The show featured performers — many of whom had been Vaudeville performers — that included Dennis Day, Bert Lahr and Peggy Lee, among others. It also marked the first time a radio performer — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen — appeared on TV.

It seemed like various forces were all in alignment for variety shows on TV: expanding audience, at-the-ready supply of performers and willing sponsors. Yet there was another important factor to the explosion of TV variety shows in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, and that was: the music. The American Federation of Musicians controlled the market for live musicians, and TV was a live performance venue in the early days. At the dawn of television broadcasting, the question of what and how to pay performers was brought to the forefront, as it had when silent movies transitioned into “talkies.” Various music unions had contracts in place for film appearances of musicians, but TV was a whole new — and potentially lucrative — landscape. Consequently, as music publishers sought license fees for their music and musicians, the AFM banned live music on TV until 1948. The TV industry acquiesced to the demands of the music unions as ASCAP, the company known for managing music licensing fees, charged three times the fee for a TV appearance than was charged for a film appearance.

There were other ways the TV industry struggled with how to present music. The burgeoning industry was struggling with what role it should play in the culture at large, a debate that was very much in the public realm and even on the minds of Congressional legislators. As a result, operas and classical concerts were broadcast in the 1940s and early ’50s. Variety shows took their cue from these early broadcasts, and regularly included operatic and classical music stars in their programming, alongside pop music and jazz. To further control the “live” appearance of singers, lip-synching was heavily employed to avoid any variations in the performance of a singer from the expectations of the audience. At the same time, if a show could avoid paying for live musicians, all the better for their bottom line.

Here are a few of the influential variety shows that appeared along with the Baby Boom:

Toast of the Town / The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The longest-running variety show in the history of television, Toast of the Town was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in its ninth season. Initially, Ed Sullivan was not the show’s host as guest hosts acted as emcee, and introduced the acts. The first show was hosted by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

There is probably not a boomer who was over the age of 7 by the early ’60s who doesn’t remember The Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan. The man had an uncanny knack for picking acts that were on the verge of breaking out. Famous (or infamous) icons of the Boomer Era who appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show included Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Righteous Brothers, Peter and Gordon, The Byrds, The Mama and the Papas, The Doors, James Brown, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Janis Joplin, The Jackson 5 and many, many more.

Unlike a lot of the variety shows on TV, Sullivan wanted his musical acts to perform live, not just lip-synch. That led to some interesting disagreements with lyrics deemed questionable for TV when the Rolling Stones and The Doors appeared, as most boomers recall. Sullivan also featured classical music, opera, jazz, dance, jugglers, comedians and a crazy little puppet mouse, Topo Gigio, that was a favorite of Mister Boomer’s grandmother … And that is the story of The Ed Sullivan Show in a nutshell, that the show was popular with every member of the family because Sullivan booked acts that could please everyone.

Texaco Star Theater (1948-56)
This comedy-variety show started out as a radio show in 1938. Like Ed Sullivan, the show had a series of guest hosts, but when Milton Berle hosted, the show’s ratings skyrocketed and he was made the permanent emcee. Texaco Star Theater is best remembered as the show that earned Berle his “Mr. Television” nickname.

The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950-55)
A show with “comedy” in its name should have the best comedians of the day, and this show did. Hosts included Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others. As a musical-variety show, hosts also included Donald O’Conner, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, and a bevy of stars our parents remember better than boomers do. Like Texaco Star Theater, a single sponsor — Colgate — commanded the commercials throughout the program. Commercials were performed live like other shows, often by the stars themselves.

Your Show of Shows (1950-54)
More than just another variety show, some say this one was the most influential of them all. Featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, the show had a writing pool of Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, among others. It was the first show to feature an ongoing comedy sketch, “The Hickenloopers.” Some say every comedy show that followed owed a debt to Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner stated that The Dick Van Dyke Show was inspired by the show.

The Nat King Cole Show (1956-57)
Featuring the first African-American TV series host, the show aired without a sponsor. Advertisers feared they would upset their customers in the South, so NBC aired it anyway, footing the bill. Nat King Cole was an immensely popular singer, but 1950s white America wasn’t at all sure they wanted to see a black man host a TV show. The star ended the show himself in its second season, when no sponsor could be found.

Mister Boomer remembers his family tuning in as Mr. Cole opened each show at his piano, singing a song.

Of course, there were many other variety shows aired in the first complete decade of the Baby Boom. Families gathered around the TV each week to laugh, be entertained and maybe get a little highbrow culture as the flickering black and white images of our boomer youth appeared on a tiny screen.

Were you old enough to watch variety shows in the 1950s, boomers? Which were your family’s favorites?

Next up: Variety Shows in the 1960s

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV 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:
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)