Tuesday, June 24, 2008

6 Easy Pieces: Stuttering Songs

Lloyd Stalcup, Stuttering Song.
Edward Meeker, Stuttering Dick (and His Stuttering Sweetheart).
Billy Murray, K-K-K-Katy.
LMP (La Musique Populaire), K-K-K-Katy.
Arthur Fields, Oh Helen!
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Stuttering Lovers.
Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, You Tell Her, I Stutter.
Frank Guarente's Georgians, You Tell Her, I Stutter.
The Cotton Pickers, You Tell Her, I Stutter.
Jimmy Lee Prow, You Tell Her, I Stutter.
Charlie Feathers, Tongue-Tied Jill.
The Five Scamps, Stuttering Blues.
John Lee Hooker, Stuttering Blues.
Ian Whitcomb, N-N-Nervous.
The Who, My Generation.
Patti Smith Group, My Generation.
Morris Minor and the Majors, Stutter Rap.
Lord Brigo, Stuttering Mopsy.
Joe, Stutter.
Living Stereo, Stammer.

It must've been around then (maybe that same afternoon) that my stammer took on the appearance of a hangman. Pike lips, broken nose, rhino cheeks, red eyes 'cause he never sleeps. I imagine him in the baby room at Preston Hospital playing eeny, meeny, miney, mo. I imagine him tapping my koochy lips, murmuring down at me, Mine. But it's his hands, not his face, that I really feel him by. His snaky fingers that sink inside my tongue and squeeze my windpipe so nothing'll work.

Words beginning with N have always been one of Hangman's favorites. When I was nine I dreaded people asking me, "How old are you?" In the end I'd hold up nine fingers like I was being dead witty but I know the other person'd be thinking, Why didn't he just tell me, the twat? Hangman used to like Y-words too, but lately he's eased off those and has moved on to S-words. This is bad news. Look at any dictionary and see which section's the thickest: it's S. Twenty million words begin with N or S. Apart from the Russians starting a nuclear war, my biggest fear is if Hangman gets interested in J-words, 'cause then I won't even be able to say my own name. I'd have to change my name by deed poll, but Dad'd never let me.

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green.

A new technology enables our baser impulses. The printing press quickly rolls out invective, slander and celebrity gossip; the photograph, the motion picture and the Internet are soon put to pornographic ends; the telephone, right after the first models are installed in someone's office, is used to harass a woman or to sell something. So it was that just after the dawn of recorded sound came a wave of pop records ridiculing stutterers.

[Note: We're going to head up to the attic and rummage through some horrific old keepsakes, so brace yourself for some wildly offensive music by today's standards. I believe that to deny the past in all its ugliness does no one any good, but neither do I get a kick of out mocking people with speech impediments, so I apologize in advance should anyone take offense.]

The endurance of the stuttering song is greatly due to its timeless appeal to songwriters. Say you're a jobbing hack, trying to get something into the Ziegfeld Follies or, a half-century later, trying to land a song with a Nashville producer. Your material's not much, and you've got to compete with the hundreds just like you.

Then it hits you--write a stuttering song! You've got an instant hook, as the chorus will be an easy-to-remember stutter ("Muh-Muh-Muh-Mazie!" "Chuh-Chuh-Chuh-Changes!") that also serves to pad out a weak line, and you have a ready-made audience of cruel children. (A 14-year-old migrant worker named Lloyd Stalcup, recorded his own brief a cappella stuttering song in August 1940, at Shafter FSA Camp near Bakersfield, Calif.--it was collected as part of the Voices of the Dust Bowl project).

They go too far in their commandments...who enjoin stutterers, stammerers and mafflers to sing.

Plutarch, Morals.

The stuttering song is an heir of the English/Irish/Scottish ballad tradition (Caliban, in The Tempest, at one point seems to sing with a stammer-- "'Ban, 'ban, CaCaliban/has a new master, get a new man"), as there are variations found throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries in the U.K. (e.g., "Goody Groaner: The Celebrated Stammering Glee") .

By the rise of vaudeville, the stuttering song was established enough that it was considered its own small genre, a specialty for comic singers -- "Sammy Stammers," from 1894, is a typical example. These stuttering songs fit naturally into a coarse period whose popular music mocked the Irish ("Bedelia: An Irish Coon Song Serenade"), Jews ("Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars"), Asians ("Chinatown My Chinatown") and blacks (mercy, far too many to mention).

I peeped through the curtain, and saw a very-much-begrimed mill-hand, sitting in solitary state, waiting for the performance to begin. By eight o'clock the audience numbered, in all, about twenty roughs. They hissed nothing--they applauded nothing. They were solemnly apathetic until I came on to sing a stuttering song, called 'Sammy Stammers.'...An argument with our manager ensued, and through the now rapidly-emptying hall, a harsh voice was heard to exclaim, "Fancy paying to 'ear a chap as can't sing wi'out stutterin'!"

Albert Chevalier, A Record By Himself (1895).

Many of the first published stuttering songs were also racist minstrel tunes, like 1898's "He Won't Come Back No Never (A Syncopated Stutter)" or 1899's "Stuttering Jasper." And the earliest recorded stuttering song I could find is Edward Meeker's "Stuttering Dick (and His Stuttering Sweetheart)" from 1908, whose stuttering, slobbering title character is, sadly and unsurprisingly, a "great big tongue-tied coon." The song was written by one Clifford Werner, with the sheet music "fraternally dedicated to the Orange Lodge of Elks 135 Minstrel Co."

One verse in "Dick" captures the stuttering song's typical blend of sympathy and sadism:

It's not right to make fun of him,
For he is not to blame.
You'll kill yourself a-laughin'
When he tries to tell his name.

Even by the time of "Stuttering Dick," the basic scenario for the stuttering song is already in place. The poor stuttering protagonist falls in love but his impediment makes it hard for him to express his feelings. There are typically two outcomes. There is the (relatively) optimistic: in "Stuttering Dick," as in "The Stuttering Lovers," an Irish folk song, the stuttering guy finds a stuttering girl, and the two live in bliss. (This version of "Stuttering Lovers" was recorded by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in 1961).

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
lies silent in the grave.

William Cowper, "There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood."

Then there is the more popular and more tragic scenario, when the stuttering character falls in love, can't communicate his feelings, and winds up scorned and ridiculed. Take the most popular stuttering song of the First World War, Geoffrey O'Hara's "K-K-K-Katy," which was first published in March 1918. The spoken section at the end of Billy Murray's recording, when Katy visits Jimmy on parade and watches as stuttering Jimmy is mocked by everyone else in his battalion, is staggering in its cruelty.

O'Hara, a songwriter who had been hired by the federal government to research and record the music of dwindling Native American tribes, joined the U.S. War Department Commission in 1917, writing songs for soldiers to sing. Eventually he moved to the port of Newport News and traveled from ship to ship to teach sailors the latest tunes.

"K-K-K-Katy," which O'Hara wrote for the war effort, marks the formal perfection of the stuttering song hook, as the chorus has a triplet accompany nearly every stuttered word (click to enlarge):

"K-K-K-Katy" was a colossal hit--more than a million copies of the sheet music were sold, and Murray's record, Victor 18455, was also a smash. Sequels abounded, like "The Daughter of K-K-K-Katy Loves a Nephew of Uncle Sam". (LMP's version from seventy years later (complete with Michael Jackson samples) has a sequel verse in which Jimmy goes off to France, dies in the trenches and comes back as a stuttering ghost, haunting Katy's front gate forevermore.)

And Mel Blanc, as Porky Pig, offered a version of "K-K-K-Katy" in the '50s which was like the meeting of negative and positive matter--stuttering Porky deliberately stuttering the song's lyric, until the chorus begs him to shut up.

The success of "K-K-K-Katy" also spawned a number of dire imitators, including "M-M-M-Mazie" and "Lil-Lil-Lillian" and Arthur Fields' "Oh Helen!" from 1919, which at least has a semblance of a fresh melody. The joke about the singer not-quite-singing "Oh hell" or "oh damn" is well-worn shtick from the era (e.g., the 1905 Edison short film The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog.)

"Oh Helen," written by McCarron-Morgan, was recorded in New York on 2 January 1919 and released as Edison 3713. Billy Murray was on the four-part chorus, along with Charles Hart and Steve Porter.

"You Tell Her, I Stutter" is the great transitional stuttering song: while its origins lie in crude vaudeville pop, it extends through the hot jazz era into early rock & roll, and it still exists today as a wordless ghost tune, tootled by ice cream trucks and carnival rides.

The song, written by Billy Rose and Cliff Friend, integrates the stuttered lines into the melody of the chorus and verses, so that while the stuttered words remain the hook, they work with the melody rather than derailing it for cheap laughs. That said, the first recorded version, Edison 51079 by "The Happiness Boys" Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, features a long, stupid joke in the middle that stops the track cold.

The Georgians, 1924

Soon, however, the jazzmen got a hold of it. Two groups recorded "You Tell Her, I Stutter" within days of each other in February 1923. The Georgians, led by Italian-born trumpeter Frank Guarente, were one of the first American jazz bands to regularly tour Europe--their fairly uninspired version of "Stutter" was released as Columbia A3857. On 1922-23.

The Cotton Pickers were the rival Brunswick record label's studio band, or, more accurately, "Cotton Pickers" was a generic name assigned to any studio group. However, this version of the Pickers included the legendary Miff Mole on trombone, who adds some vigor and swing to their recording, making it the best of the lot. Released as Brunswick 2404-A (Billy Jones sings the chorus);on That Devilin' Tune Vol. 1, or buy the actual 78 here for $10!

And Victor Records quickly rushed out its own edition--another version of "You Tell Her, I Stutter" was recorded a month later by Whitey Kaufman's Original Pennsylvania Serenaders, and can be heard here.

Thirty years later, "You Tell Her, I Stutter" resurfaced as a rockabilly song, cut by Jimmy Lee Prow in 1956 for King Records. (I could find no record of a catalog number, so maybe it was never actually released--thanks to Alex Abramovich for this one).

Ironically, in the same year, "Stutter"'s lyricist Billy Rose spoke before the Anti-Trust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee to lament the dire state of popular music. "Not only are most of the BMI songs junk, but in many cases they are obscene junk pretty much on the level with the dirty comic magazines [Rose was testifying as part of an investigation into the song publisher BMI]...It is the current climate on radio and TV which makes Elvis Presley and his animal posturings possible."

Mind, this is the man who once wrote the lines:

"Eep-ipe gimme a piece of pipe!"
Does she kiss you in the parlor?
Oh when she does I sneeze and holler
my tu--tu-tongue and tu-tu-tonsils seem to touch.

And Charlie Feathers' "Tongue-Tied Jill" alters the formula a bit, with Charlie courting a girl who, more than stammering, seems to be speaking in tongues. In a sign of the slightly changing times, Sam Phillips thought the track was too offensive and wanted nothing to do with it, so Feathers shopped it across town to Meteor Records.

Released as Meteor 5022 (recorded on April Fool's Day, 1956); on Get With It.

John Updike: "Stuttering is kind of --I suppose it shows basic fright. Like in the comic strips, when people begin to stutter it's because they're afraid. And also, a feeling that -- my father thought that I had too many words to get out all at once. So, I didn't speak very pleasingly, but I never stopped speaking or trying to communicate this way, and I think the stuttering has gotten better over the years. I have found having a microphone is a great help, because you don't have to force your voice out of your throat, just a little noise will work. But, it was real enough -- you know, you write because you don't talk very well, and maybe one of the reasons that I was determined to write was that I wasn't an orator, unlike my mother and my grandfather, who both spoke beautifully and spoke all the time. Maybe I grew up with too many voices around me, as a matter of fact."

There are few stuttering songs recorded by black musicians, reflecting perhaps the genre's early days in the more appalling extremes of minstrelsy, or simply that given stuttering songs were generally Scots-Irish in origin, they were considered more country material than blues.

In the postwar years, however, stuttering songs began cropping up in blues and R&B. The Five Scamps' "Stuttering Blues," from 1951, is a rebuke to the stuttering song tradition--here, the singer's stutter isn't shackled to the chorus as a singalong hook, but is delivered quietly, almost naturally, in the verses, adding a sense of poignancy to the performance.

The Scamps met at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the late '30s and began recording just after the war ended, playing in Kansas City and California until the mid-'50s. On The OKeh R&B Story.

And John Lee Hooker's "Stuttering Blues," recorded in 1953, is a revelation--a song whose singer isn't a poor victim but a player, wooing a girl through his stammer. On the LP Don't Turn Me From Your Door.

Claudius: "I limp with my tongue and stutter with my leg! Nature never quite finished me."

At last, the revolution! In 1965, a year when Ian Whitcomb released his throwback stuttering song "N-N-Nervous" (on You Turn Me On), The Who offered "My Generation." No more pity or wisecracks--here stuttering is an act of violence against propriety, the lyric delivered by a pilled-up mod, spitting at and scorning everything he comes across, the apex of the performance being Roger Daltrey's majestically stammered "why don't you all EFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-ade away!" (The Patti Smith Group's version, recorded live in 1976, delivers the obscenities the original seems desperate to say--it's a bonus track on Horses).

Pete Townshend later said he was inspired by Hooker's "Stuttering Blues" in writing "My Generation," thus debunking some myths about why Daltrey was stuttering the lyric--my favorite being that Daltrey was cold in the vocal booth and his teeth were chattering. (On one of the great '60s LPs, The Who Sing My Generation.)

"My Generation" helped inspire the vogue of stuttering lyrics in the late '60s and the '70s: Bowie's "Changes," "Benny and the Jets," "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," "Bad to the Bone." But these songs simply took the hook of the stutter song and removed it from any sort of context.

It's tough, tough--tougher than tough!
It's worse than Benny Hill, and that's bad enough!
Something must be wrong with your vocal technique
When the 12-inch mix goes on for a week.

Morris Minor and the Majors.

"Stutter Rap," a 1987 Beastie Boys parody by the British comedian Tony Hawks, is a gag record that shuttles the stuttering song back into comedy, and it's about as crass and vicious as anything from the '20s. Still, it's pretty clever and was actually a top 10 hit in the UK and Canada. (On Complete '80s.)

Today, some twenty years after "Stutter Rap," the stuttering song hasn't developed any further, but it perseveres. There is Lord Brigo's "Stuttering Mopsy," from the late '90s, in which the premise of "Tongue Tied Jill" is recreated in calypso. And the R&B singer Joe Thomas' "Stutter," from 2001, is merciless--Joe accuses his woman of cheating just because she's stammering on the phone! (On Very Best of Pure R&B.)

Finally, Living Stereo's "Stammer"(on 2007's Introducing Living Stereo) rings the now-familiar changes of the genre, going from self-pity to isolation to fear to frustration. Such emotions never wane and neither apparently will the stuttering song--it will outlive us all.

End credits: Much is owed to Judy Kuster, whose web page on stuttering songs provided many inspirations for the songs in this post and features a number of further selections. Another resource was Marc Shell's Stutter, while Nick Tosches' Country was the source of the Billy Rose anecdote. Sheet music images from the Lester S. Levy Collection. And donate to the National Stuttering Association.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Meatballs, Are You Ready For the Summer?
War, Summer.
The Woods, Love Me Again This Summer.
The Beach Boys, Your Summer Dream.
Bob Dylan, In the Summertime.
Les Paul and Mary Ford, In the Good Old Summertime.
Al Green, Summertime.
Sidney Bechet, Summertime.
Roy Richards and the Soul Vendors, Summertime.
Gene Vincent, Summertime.
Antonio Vivaldi, L'Estate: Presto.
Astor Piazzolla, Verano Porteño.
Woody Herman, Summer Sequence (Part 2).
213, Another Summer.
The Pogues, Summer In Siam.
Ethel Waters, Heat Wave.
Alec Wilder, Footnotes to a Summer Love.
Guitar Wolf, Summertime Blues.
Roger Miller, In The Summertime (You Don't Want My Love).
Victoria Williams, Summer of Drugs.
Grant McLennan, Late Afternoon In Early August.
Marianne Faithfull, Summer Nights.
The Shangri-Las, The Sweet Sounds of Summer.
The Motels, Suddenly Last Summer.
Michael Jackson, Farewell My Summer Love.
Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, Summertime Is Past and Gone (fragment).

I surrendered myself to the mere joy of being alive. How the sunlight blazed and danced in the roadway--the leaves of the gum trees gleaming in it like a myriad gems! A cloud of white, which I knew to be cockatoos, circled over the distant hilltop. The thermometer on the wall rested at 104 degrees despite the dense shade thrown on the broad old veranda by the foliage of creepers, shrubs, and trees. The gurgling rush of the creek, the scent of the flower-laden garden, and the stamp, stamp of a horse in the orchard as he attempted to rid himself of tormenting flies, filled my senses. The warmth was delightful. Summer is heavenly, I said--life is a joy.

Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career.

I often pulled my hat over my eyes to watch the rising of the lark, or to see the hawk hang in the summer sky and the kite take its circles round the wood. I hunted curious flowers in rapture and muttered thoughts in their praise. I loved the pasture with its rushes and thistles and sheep-tracks...I wandered the heath in raptures among the rabbit burrows and golden-blossomed furze. I dropt down on a thymy molehill or mossy eminence to survey the summer landscape...I marked the various colours in flat, spreading fields, checkered into closes of different-tinctured grain like the colours of a map.

John Clare, The Natural World.

And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning--fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.

In a somer seson, whan soft was the sonne,
I shope me into shroudes, as I a shepe were;
In habite as an heremite unholy of workes
Went wide in this world, wondres to here.

William Langland, Piers Plowman.

A yellow-headed, gold-hammered, sunflower-lanterned
Summer afternoon: after the sun soared
All morning to the marble-shining heights of the marvellous blue
Like lions insurgent, bursting out of a great black zoo,
As if all radiance rode over and roved and dove
To the thick dark night where the fluted roots clutched and grasped
As if all vividness poured, out poured
Over, bursting and falling and breaking,
As when the whole ocean rises and rises, in irresistible, uncontrollable
motion, shaking:
The roar of a heart in a shell and the roar of the sea beyond the concessions of possession and the successions of time's continual procession.

Delmore Schwartz, "The Mounting Summer, Brilliant and Ominous".

But when the artichoke is in flower, and the clamorous cricket
sitting in his tree lets go his vociferous singing,
that issues from the beating of his wings,
in the exhausting season of summer;
then is when goats are at their fattest,
when the wine tastes best,
women are most lascivious, but the men's strength fails them.

Hesiod, Works and Days.

In this hot weather I like to walk at times amid the full glow of the sun. Our island sun is never hot beyond endurance, and there is a magnificence in the triumph of high summer which exalts one's mind. Among streets it is hard to bear, yet even there, for those who have eyes to see it, the splendour of the sky lends beauty to things in themselves mean or hideous...Deep and clear-marked shadows, such as one only sees on a few days of summer, are in themselves very impressive, and become more so when they fall upon highways devoid of folk. I remember observing, as something new, the shape of familiar edifices, of spires, monuments. And when at length I sat down somewhere on the Embankment, it was rather to gaze at leisure than to rest, for I felt no weariness, and the sun, still pouring upon me its noontide radiance, seemed to fill my veins with life.

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft.

Into the skies, one summer's day
I sent a little Thought away;
Up to where, in the blue round,
The sun sat shining without sound.

William Brighty Rands, "The Thought".

Nature marches in procession, in sections, like the corps of an army. For the last two days it has been the great wild bee, the humblebee, or "bumble," as the children call him. As I walk, or hobble, from the farmhouse down to the creek, I traverse the lane, fenced by old rails...Up and down and by and between these rails, they swarm and dart and fly in countless myriads. As I wend slowly along, I am often accompanied by a moving cloud of them....What is the meaning of this plenitude, swiftness, eagerness, display? As I walked, I thought I was followed by a particular swarm, but upon observation I saw that it was a rapid succession of changing swarms, one after the other.

As I write, I am seated under a big wild cherry tree--the warm day tempered by partial clouds and a fresh breeze--and here I sit and long, enveloped in the deep musical drone of these bees.

Walt Whitman, Specimen Days.

At present the waters are turbid and swollen from recent rains; but if the present hot weather lasts, the water will run down very fast...but we shall cross in due time, and, instead of attacking Atlanta direct, I propose to make a circuit, destroying all its railroads. This is a delicate movement and must be done with caution. Our army is in good condition and full of confidence; but the weather is intensely hot, and a good many men have fallen with sunstroke. The country is high and healthy, and the sanitary condition of the army is good.

Letter from Gen. William T. Sherman to Gen. Henry Halleck, 6 July 1864.

Summer 1903

Summer 1940

Summer 1972

Summer 2003

July winds up its business there in town.
The vacancies of avenues will crown
The coming and majestic month of fire
In which the summer's engines will wind down.

John Hollander, "The Tesserae (I)".



Right now, folks, we're gonna suspend the narrative and show how people are coping with the oppressive heat.

People are taking cold showers.

Sticking faces in ice-cold, water-filled sinks.

Heads stuck in refrigerators...

A young kid cracks an egg on Sal's Cadillac. The moment the egg hits the car hood it starts to cook. The kid looks directly INTO THE CAMERA and smiles, then looks up to see Sal, mad as a motherfucker, chasing after him.

Spike Lee, Do The Right Thing (shooting script).

I can hardly face a summer in town--heat, dust, sleeplessness, exposure to the contagion of other people's beastliness: a kind of hell (formless suffering). If I accept any of the dozens of invitations extended to me, I am afraid I will be overwhelmed by the positive effects of my new impressions...For the time being I am chained to this particular window sill and my workbench by having monstrous expenditures and a dwindling income.

Letter from Boris Pasternak to Marina Tsvetayeva, 5 June 1926.

"Oh dear, I'm so hot and thirsty--and what a hideous place New York is!" She looked despairingly up and down the dreary thoroughfare. "Other cities put on their best clothes in summer, but New York seems to sit in its shirt-sleeves."

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth.

If I only knew where my damn analyst was vacationing. Where do they go every August? They leave the city. Every summer New York is filled with people who are crazy till Labor Day.

Woody Allen, Play It Again, Sam.

Summer, until today, burned thought
Away like dross, refined or stunned
Into a life mask golden blind
The face fixed upward with eyes shut;
On either lid a rose-red coin was put;

And upon water rapt and sheer
A single eye of fire held sway;
A single rower just off shore
Could sit becalmed day after day,
A world from oar to dripping oar...

James Merrill, "The Day of the Eclipse".

To try and work Carlyle was determined enough. He went nowhere in the summer, but remained at Chelsea, leaving his wife to take a holiday...Other cocks--not it is to be hoped, Mr. Remington's--set up their pipes in the summer mornings. 'Vile yellow Italians' came grinding under his windows. He had a terrible time of it; but he set his teeth and determined to bear his fate...

Sitting alone in his Chelsea garden he meditated on his miseries, in one letter eloquently dilating on them, in the next apologizing for his weakness...The cocks were locked up next door and the fireworks at Cremorne were silent and the rain fell and cooled the July air; and Carlyle slept, and the universe became once more tolerable.

James Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life In London 1834-1881.

From a little after two o’clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that--a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Coney Island, 1940

And this Midsummer was to be far more exciting than the Fillyjonk could hope for...

Outside the sky was still quite light, and you could make out every single leaf of grass on the ground. Behind the spruce tops, where the sun had gone to rest for a while, a streak of red light remained waiting for the new day.

"A strange smell the flowers have tonight," the Fillyjonk said.

A faint odour of burned rubber was drifting over the ground. The grass crackled electrically when they trod on it.

The Snork Maiden stumbled over something. "Do not tread on the grass," she read. "Look," she said. "Here's a lot of notices that somebody's thrown away!"

"How wonderful, everything's allowed," cried the Fillyjonk. "What a night! Let's build our bonfire of the notices! And dance round it until they've burned to ashes!"

Tove Jansson, Moominsummer Madness.

It reminded him almost too vividly of childhood--of the velvet feel of the hot powder sand and the painful grit of wet sand between young toes when the time came for him to put his shoes and socks on, of the precious little pile of sea-shells and interesting wrack on the sill of his bedroom window, of the small crabs scuttling away from the nervous fingers groping beneath the seaweed in the rock pools, of the swimming and swimming and swimming through the dancing waves--always in those days, it seemed, lit with sunshine...What a long time ago they were, those spade-and-bucket days! How far he had come since freckles and the Cadbury milk-chocolate Flakes and the fizzy lemonade!

Impatiently, Bond lit a cigarette...He was not sitting in this concrete hideout to sentimentalize about a pack of scrubby, smelly children on a beach scattered with bottle tops and lollysticks and fringed by a sea thick with sun-oil and putrid with the main drains of Royale. He was here, he had to chosen to be here, to spy. To spy on a woman.

Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

While it is still midsummer, give your people their orders.
It will not always be summer.
The barns had better be building.

Hesiod, Works and Days.

End credits: Meatballs is pretty dated, and its theme song "Are You Ready For the Summer" is as awful and as relentless as a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee jingle, but as they're both warm childhood memories, and since summer is the season of indulgence, they had to make the cut; War's 1976 single "Summer" is on Grooves and Messages--again, a child's hazy summer memory, this of long afternoons in Roanoke, Va., with lines like "rappin' on the CB radio in your van" (which my father did sometimes).

The Woods' "Love Me Again This Summer," a lost summer masterpiece, was an indie single from 1985 and is available nowhere--it was posted years ago by the late, greatly-missed Mystical Beast; with a host of Beach Boys songs to choose from, I went with a lesser-known but gorgeous Brian Wilson-sung track off the 1963 LP Surfer Girl; Dylan's "In the Summertime" is off 1981's Shot of Love (a fine live performance from London in the same year).

Summertime standards: Les Paul and Mary Ford's version of "In the Good Old Summertime" is from 1952 (on All Time Greatest Hits). And here's a quartet of "Summertime," the Gershwin/DuBose Heyward piece that has become the summer song of songs: Al Green, from 1970's Green Is Blues; Sidney Bechet's astonishing 1939 recording (a requiem for Bechet's friend, the trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, who had died four days before the session) is on Ken Burns Jazz; Roy Richards and the Soul Vendors' rocksteady take is from 1968 and is on the out-of-print Rock-A-Shacka Vol. 11; and Gene Vincent's is on his 1958 Capitol LP Record Date.

The Vivaldi piece, evoking a midsummer thunderstorm, is the final movement of his 2nd violin concerto in G Minor, which is the summer portion of his Le Quattro Stagioni, (performed here by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Trondheim Soloists); the 20th Century's heir to Vivaldi, Astor Piazzolla, composed "Verano Porteño" in 1965 as part of his Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas ("Porteño" is a nickname for Buenos Aires, so the title essentially translates as "Buenos Aires Summer," the whole composition as "The Four Buenos Aires Seasons.").

Woody Herman, at the height of his ambitions in 1946, issued a four-part performance called "Summer Sequence" on two 78-rpm discs (it was written by Herman's pianist and arranger, Ralph Burns, during a summer that was, in Burns' words, "just Jones Beach, good food and good dope (grass only)." Here is the second part; all can be found on Blowin' Up a Storm.

Marilyn Monroe's summer reading beats yours

Summer welcomed, endured, dismissed, recalled: "Another Summer," from 2004, is by the studio supergroup of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg and Kanye West (on The Hard Way); "Summer In Siam," the last great Pogues song, is from 1990's Hell's Ditch; Ethel Waters spends a summer in the city (her version of Irving Berlin's "Heat Wave" is from 1933, on The Melody Lingers On); and Alec Wilder, better known as the author of American Popular Song than as the American popular songwriter he was, recorded "Footnotes to a Summer Love" in 1945 (on That Devilin' Tune, Vol. 3.)

For teenagers, summer is the season of labor (this version of "Summertime Blues" is by Japan's untouchable Guitar Wolf, from 1999's Jet Generation), heartbreak (Roger Miller's 1964 "In the Summertime (You Don't Want My Love)," on All-Time Greatest Hits) and initiation (Victoria Williams' "Summer of Drugs," from 1990's Swing the Statue).

Heat-addled summer afternoons, when the sun never wants to relinquish the stage: Grant McLennan's "Late Afternoon in Early August" is on 1994's Horsebreaker Star. And summer nights, which, paradoxically, are the shortest of the year but seem to last the longest: Marianne Faithfull's "Summer Nights," from 1965, is on Greatest Hits.

Finally, summer, like life, gets much of its savor by the fact of its unalterable, impending demise. So here are some last thoughts on waning summers, of the final night on the beach before the long drive home, of the last hollow day sitting at home before school starts, of the morning that you first see the leaves have a tinge of yellow:

The Shangri-Las' "Sweet Sounds of Summer," fittingly their last chart single, is from 1966 (on 20th Century Masters); The Motels' 1983 memory is on Essential Collection; Michael Jackson's "Farewell My Summer Love" was recorded in 1973 for a never-released solo LP, until at the height of Thriller-mania Motown remixed it to give it a new gloss (it's a bit tragic to hear Jackson sing about ordinary human events--like a summer vacation crush--that he likely never experienced; on Anthology); and finally, a brief summer eulogy from Sun Studios, 1956 (on Complete Million Dollar Quartet.)

Paintings (top to bottom): Mary Cassatt, Summertime; Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Summer; Edward Hopper, Summer Evening; Edvard Munch, Summer Night's Dream; Nicolò Circignani, Allegoria dell’Estate; Nikolai Galakhov, Midday on the Volga; Winslow Homer, Summer Night; Claude Monet, The Walk, Lady With a Parasol.

And happy Bloomsday. Coming this summer on Locust St.: Six Easy Pieces, a miscellany with something for (nearly) everyone.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Dick and Dee Dee, The Mountain's High.
Ernie K-Doe, A Certain Girl.
Roy Hamilton, You Can Have Her.
The Texans, Rockin' Johnny Home.
Stan Getz, I'm Late, I'm Late.
Jacques Brel, Les Biches.
Jean Ritchie, Barbara Allen.
Patsy Cline, Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue).
Ron Carter and George Duvivier, Bass Duet.
Frits Weiland, Study In Layers and Pulses.
The Outlaws, Tune For Short Cowboys.
Ornette Coleman, T. & T.
The Flares, Foot Stomping (Pt. 1).
Bobby Parker, Watch Your Step.
Elis Regina, Sonhando.
Phil Upchurch Combo, You Can't Sit Down.
Wayne Worley, Red Headed Woman.
Eddie Holland, Jamie.
Andre Williams, Rosa Lee (Stay Off the Bell).
Anna Karina, Chanson d'Angela.
Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby.

"The Mountain's High," nearly a half-century old, remains unknowable, with its bizarre vocals (in which the male singer overdubbed higher harmonies over the female singer's harmonies) and its distorted, murky sound, which makes it seem as though the whole thing has been taped over another, lost performance; it has an unfathomable lyric, both trite and inexplicable, like a half-remembered shard of childhood; its players seem to move under hypnosis--the track rumbles, shudders, relapses, its structure mainly one long chorus. Punctuated by martial drum rolls, with cuckoo cries at the fade out.

"Mountain" was by two young California songwriters, Dick St. John and Mary Sperling. St. John, who had gone to high school with Nancy Sinatra and Jan & Dean, was lingering on the edges of the LA record industry until he connected with arranger Don Ralke and a local band called the Wilder Brothers and offered them a demo of two songs, Sperling's "I Want Someone" and his "The Mountain's High," for which Sperling had sung harmony.

The track was taped in a small room above engineer Armen Steiner's garage, and only when they received the pressed single did Sperling and St. John discover they would be professionally known as "Dick and Dee Dee" for the rest of their days. The duo cut more records throughout the '60s that didn't do much, and even recorded versions of Jagger/Richards' "Blue Turns to Grey" and "Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind."

Released as Liberty 55350 c/w "I Want Someone"; on Best Of.

Ernie K-Doe is best known for "Mother-in-Law," a song whose subject is as ageless as the west wind, but his "A Certain Girl" (written by Allen Toussaint under his mother's maiden name, Naomi Neville) is just as fine. Memorably covered by Warren Zevon, though Doe's sly vocal and Toussaint's piano gives the original the slight edge.

Recorded 5 July 1961 and released as the b-side of Minit 634 "I Cried My Last Tear"; on Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet.

Johns, Map.

Roy Hamilton's "You Can Have Her," in which Roy gives up on his girlfriend like a rajah abandoning a throne, was released as Epic 9434 c/w "Abide With Me"; on Golden Age of American Rock & Roll Vol. 10.

The Texans were the brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette under an assumed name. The Burnettes, after the Rock & Roll Trio broke up in the late '50s, went to Hollywood and literally sat on Rick Nelson's doorstep until Nelson listened to their songs.

"The Texans" sides (recorded sometime between '59 and '61) likely came about as a quick way for the brothers to cut discs for other labels (Infinity and Gothic, two small indies). "Rockin' Johnny Home," a surf version of the Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," was the second and last Texans single, though the brothers tried again later that year under the name The Shamrocks.

The Burnettes came to untimely ends: Johnny died in a boating accident in 1964, while Dorsey was felled by a heart attack at age 46.

Released in May '61 as Gothic GOX-001 c/w "Ole Reb"; the only place to find it on CD is apparently this massive complete boxed set.

Stan Getz had spent much of the '50s in exile--literally (living in Europe) and spiritually (blissed out on heroin). But by '61, Getz was poised to become one of the last truly popular jazz musicians of the 20th Century. He would soon introduce America to bossa nova and Antonio Jobim, and in his LP Focus, which he considered his masterpiece, he attempted a fusion of jazz saxophone and avant-garde string arrangements.

For the LP, the arranger Eddie Sauter pitted Getz against ten violins, four violas, two cellos, a bass, a harp and Roy Haynes, who played a drum kit consisting of a snare drum, an open bass drum and a hi-hat cymbal. The string players taped their parts a few days before Getz entered the studio--Getz listened to the tracks, then improvised and recorded all the sax parts over the course of a few hours.

Getz recorded two takes of the leadoff track "I'm Late, I'm Late," the piece inspired by both Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and the White Rabbit's song in the 1951 Disney film of Alice in Wonderland. After Getz, Sauter and producer Creed Taylor couldn't decide which take to use, they just looped the takes together.

For Getz, here was hard freedom--no charts, no set melody, no rhythm section, no real chord changes. In "I'm Late," Getz spirals around a corridor while Sauter's strings veer off away from him. It could have been a mess; it winds up being a freewheeling exchange of ideas, with Haynes' snare drum brushes setting the frenetic pace and adjudicating between the warring parties.

Recorded at Webster Hall, NYC, on 14 July 1961 with the Beaux Arts String Ensemble, including Gerald Tarack, Alan Martin (violins), Jacob Glick (viola), Bruce Rogers (cello), John Neves (bass). Conducted by Hershey Kay; on Focus.

Jacques Brel, staggering down the streets of Montmartre, collapses in exhaustion. Hauled to his feet by a friendly waiter, deposited in a cafe chair, he graciously accepts the glass of water handed him and begins telling his story to the waiter and the well-fed man at the table next to him. "Elles sont notre premier ennemi," Brel begins--they are our first enemy, our most beautiful, our most implacable--at age 15, at 20, or at whatever age they eventually kill us. The waiter nods absently; the well-fed man glances across the square, squinting at something in the half-light.

Recorded live at the Olympia Theatre in Paris; on the essential The Olympia '61 & '64.

Paris '61

"Barbara Allen" is an English or Scottish ballad from the 17th Century, though it blossomed most fully in America (there were some 100 variants in Virginia alone). Jean Ritchie, from Kentucky, recorded an a cappella version of the song in 1961 that sounds as though it could have been the first time the song was ever given voice.

Originally released on Ritchie's Smithsonian Folkways LP Ballads From Her Appalachian Family Tradition (SF 40145) and later reissued on The Rose and the Briar.

Patsy Cline was far from a traditionalist--in '61 alone, she recorded rockabilly ("Seven Lonely Days") and mainstream pop ("Fooling Around"). And when she did offer standard country heartbreak, it was by taking a pop standard from the '30s ("Have You Ever Been Lonely," written by Peter DeRose, was first recorded by the jazz singer Ted Lewis) and making it effortlessly bend to her will.

Recorded 24 August 1961, with Hargus "Pig" Robbins (p); Floyd Cramer (organ); Walter Haynes (steel g); Randy Hughes, Grady Martin (g); The Jordanaires (backing vox); Harold Bradley, Bob Moore (b); Murrey "Buddy" Harman (d). On Gold.

Ron Carter was as much a cellist as he was a bass player, so when he recorded his first LP as a leader, he asked bassist George Duvivier to fill in on the tracks Carter played cello. But the prospect of a bass duet proved too enticing: Carter and Duvivier open the theme together, Carter takes the first solo, Mal Waldron's piano provides a cue for the two to jointly improvise again, and then Duvivier takes off.

Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, on 20 June 1961, with Charles Persip (d). (Eric Dolphy, not heard on this track, was also part of the session.) On Where?

"Study in Layers and Pulses," by a Dutch electronic musician named Frits Weiland, was collected on a Donemus LP (Anthology of Dutch Electronic Tape Music), which was intended only to be distributed to university libraries, like a dissertation. "Study," like the other tracks on the compilation, had been recorded in one of the studios of the Netherlands Radio Union, Delft Technical or Utrecht University.

"Study"'s UFO telegraph sounds have been familiarized over the decades (mainly by the soundtracks of dozens of horror and SF films) but the track remains ominous and unnerving; it could be put out as a new release tomorrow, and no one would know the wiser. The whole LP is available (or used to be available) here.

The Outlaws' "Tune for Short Cowboys" is the closing track of the the band's 1961 LP Dream of the West, the British producer Joe Meek's oddball re-invention of the American Western. It barely qualifies as a cowboy song, centered as it is on Bobby Graham's parade-ground drumming. On Crazy Drums/Crazy Drummer.

Ornette Coleman cut his final sessions for Atlantic in the first three months of '61, ending what would be his most prolific (and mainstream) period. In the next few years to come, Coleman existed as mainly a rumor: never recording, hardly performing. At last he would resurface just when the decade had begun to boil, playing a new set of anthems and backed by his 10 year-old son on drums.

"T. & T.," a showcase for drummer Ed Blackwell, features one of Coleman's sprightlier melodies; recorded in New York on 31 January 1961, with Don Cherry on pocket trumpet and Scott LaFaro on bass; on Ornette!

"The Flares' "Foot Stomping (Pt. 1)," which needs no explanation, as its powers are self-evident, was released in August 1961 as Felsted 8624; on Doo Wop Uptempo.

Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step" was the target of one of the all-time great Beatle heists--John Lennon later publicly admitted that the band nicked the riff for "I Feel Fine" from this (and the kernel of "Day Tripper" is in there as well). Released as V-Tone 223 c/w the aptly-named "Steal Your Heart Away"; on The World of Guy Stevens.

The Brazilian singer Elis Regina, cutting her first album at age 16, already possessed a good deal of mastery and daring--she covered calypso and rock & roll, along with more traditional Brazilian songs, and her version of "Sonhando" is a crystalline dream. Originally released on the Decca LP Viva a Brotolândia; on Os Primerios Anos.

Frank, Crags and Crevices

"You Can't Sit Down" has long faded into a minor pop memory, performed by Bill Clinton on saxophone during his inaugural party, and serving as the soundtrack to a host of awful television commercials for everything from second-hand auto dealers to microwave tamales. But the original, by the Chicago guitarist Phil Upchurch, is a pretty phenomenal groove, and deserves more respect.

Released as Boyd 3398; on You Can't Sit Down.

Rockabilly was supposedly dead by '61, but Wayne Worley didn't get the news. A 20-year-old kid from Dyersburg, Tennessee, he cut this barb of rock & roll and then promptly vanished. Some twenty years later, he was found playing in a Chicago nightclub, still rocking out "Red Headed Woman," acting as if nothing had changed.

Released as Elbridge 11016 c/w "To Be Alone"; on Rockin' On Broadway.

Eddie Holland's "Jamie" is glorious confectionery pop, bound together by the sweeping string section, which seems to be cuing rapid changes of scenery. Holland was one of Motown's first songwriters and performers, but it was only when he teamed up with his brother Brian and Lamont Dozier that Motown's key songwriting team was in place. "Jamie" and Holland's follow-up hit "Leavin' Here" were actually high-charting singles, but Eddie Holland's bad case of stage fright eventually caused him to retire from performing in 1964.

Released October 1961 as Motown 1021 c/w "Take a Chance on Me"; on Heaven Must Have Sent You.

Unlike Holland, Andre Williams was already a major name in Detroit music when Berry Gordy hired him as a staff writer and producer in 1960. Williams had worked for Fortune Records and had had a big regional hit with "Bacon Fat" in the '50s. Yet Williams' stay with Motown (which lasted, sporadically, until 1964) was a bit of a disaster--Gordy routinely fired Williams, only to hire him back whenever Williams produced a hit for another label. And "Rosa Lee (Stay Off the Bell"), Williams' first single for Motown, for a short-lived subsidiary label Miracle, was cut but never released.

"Rosa Lee" represents a road seriously not taken at Motown--it's a strain of country R&B that Carl Perkins could've sung. Slated to be released as Miracle 4 c/w "Shoo Ooo"; on Complete Motown Singles Vol. 1 1959-1961.

Bunshaft, One Chase Manhattan Plaza (NYC).

"Chanson d'Angela": World, meet Anna Karina. (see Une Femme Est Une Femme, below). Michel Legrand makes the introductions. On Jean-Luc Godard: Histories de Musique.

Finally, close out the night at the Village Vanguard. Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motion converse so quietly and effortlessly that the whole performance is a miracle of precision. The death of the brilliant LaFaro, who was killed in a car accident (at age 25) ten days after making this recording, remains one of jazz's grimmer losses.

Recorded 25 June 1961; on Waltz For Debby.

1961 Moviehouse

Une Femme Est Une Femme.
The Hustler.
Kohayagawa-ke no aki (The End of Summer).
The Ladies Man.
Tsuma wa kokuhaku suru (A Wife Confesses).
Chronique d'un été (Paris 1960).
The Exiles.
101 Dalmatians.
Paris Nous Appartient.
The Guns of Navarone.
Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Bo Diddley, 1928-2008.

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley.
Ronnie Hawkins, Bo Diddley.
Ronnie Hawkins and the Band, Who Do You Love (live).

Adios, Ellas McDaniel. Here's the man and some of his disciples. Much more at the Rev. Frost and Boogie Woogie Flu.