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Preserving Our (Bad) Music

When it comes to the highest levels of mankind’s artistic creativity, it’s a wonderful fact that much of it has, and will continue to survive virtually forever. The plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the paintings of Rembrandt and the writings of Homer have already been enjoyed for hundreds of years, while 20th Century technology as added great cinema and high quality recording, allowing performances of Charley Chaplin and the Beatles to live on through eternity. With museums, libraries, film collections, and now the internet seemingly preserving everything that happens, I still wonder if parts of our history will fall through the cracks.

I’m not worried about the obvious things…every big rock concert, significant sports moment and important political event will find its way to You Tube moments after it happens. My concern revolves around Baby Boomer street culture, which includes games, catch phrases, jokes, and silly songs that we all learned and passed along to each other, without the benefit of social media…a “knock-knock” joke was considered as gone viral when, after originating with 6th graders, had begun being repeated in the 2nd and 3rd grade section of the schoolyard. My fear is that if many of our experiences that currently reside exclusively in our collective memory are not cataloged soon, much of them will die with us. Yes, there are internet sites that have complied almost every joke we ever told, and games like “Hide and Seek” have their own Wikpedia pages explaining the rules, but what about the music? Who is preserving some of the bad music we grew up with?

Now, when I say music, I’m not talking about popular music, rock & roll, classical, or even TV show themes, commercial jingles, or anything that has actually been recorded. I’m referring to the song parodies that we learned as kids, whose origins and authorship were almost always unknown. Most of these ditties would be adaptations of well-known American songs, with new lyrics that could be clever, naughty, subversive, and sometimes even funny. Although song parodies have been composed for centuries by many different cultures, it’s my biased belief that the 1950’s and ‘60’s represented a golden age for the genre.

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My first introduction to the phenomenon came at age six when an older neighbor of mine, after humming the “Marines Hymn,” started singing out lyrics that went something like this:

“From the Halls of Millbrae Meadows School

To the shores of Frisco Bay

We will fight our teacher battles

With spitballs, mud and clay

We will fight for the right and freedom

To keep our desks a mess

I will gladly claim the title

Of the teacher’s biggest pest”

I was very impressed by this obvious masterpiece, especially when assuming that the young man had written the song himself, an assumption that he was not exactly eager to disclaim. When I later tried to recite the tune to my older sisters, they seemed to already be familiar with it, and, in fact had heard it years before. It also became clear that the song included interchangeable locales, as Kathy and Elaine’s version mentioned Green Hills School, which was where they attended grammar school prior to Meadows being built. As to not make the moment a total waste, Elaine taught me the song which, during my early years, served as the logical companion piece to the reworked “Marines Hymn,” the now classic “Burning of the school,” inspired by the classic “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“My eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school

We have tortured every teacher

We have broken every rule

We have thrown Mr. Cowen (Meadows principal) out the back door

There is no school no more

Glory, glory hallelujah

Teacher hit me with a ruler

I hit her on the butt

With a rotten coconut

There is no school no more”

As you can see, the first two schoolyard songs I learned had identical themes, that being the childhood pipedream of a grammar school student revolt, a fantasy we all knew would never happen, and, in fact, probably never really wished  would. As time moved on, I began to notice that many of the song parodies I was taught fell into a handful of categories. Along with tunes that ridiculed school were those that lampooned holidays (mostly Christmas), poked fun at TV show themes and totally disrespected any product that happened to be advertised on television. I have to conclude that learning and singing these songs were some kind of rite of passage, demonstrating to others that we had not completely bought in to the culture that being delivered to us on a regular basis…or we just thought they were funny.

Television show themes were a frequent target for mischief, and since the melody of the music was usually already familiar to most of us, learning a parody became simple. The first such song I recall hearing was a direct insult to the first TV show I remember watching…

“It’s Howdy Doody Time

It’s not worth a dime

So turn on Channel 9

And watch Frankenstein”

I’m guessing that song was composed when “Howdy Doody” was still in production, but when I first heard it, watching it was no longer an option, and besides, Channel 9 in my HowdyDoody4area was a PBS station, which was not likely to air “Frankenstein” or any of its sequels. But even though the song didn’t make complete sense to me, I enjoyed it anyway, and would sing it constantly. As time went on, other TV themes received similar treatment, as evidenced by this send up of the “Addams Family” song…

“The Addams Family started

When Uncle Fester farted

They all became retarded

The Addams Family”

As you can see, some genius somewhere along the way realized that “farted” and “retarded” rhymed, and couldn’t wait to include his discovery in a song.  How lucky we are he did. But while most of us 61WDYnIstKLprobably still remember the “Addams Family” tune 50 years after it originally aired, not all TV programs have stood the test of time.  Almost 50 years ago, Chuck Connors, of “Rifleman” fame, starred in another western, titled “Branded,” which told the story of Jason McCord, a cavalry officer unjustly accused of being a coward during the 19th Century Indian wars. Although “Branded” was short-lived, one of its contributions to Baby Boomer culture was this clever version of its theme, which I reprint here as a public service…

“Stranded

Sitting on the toilet bowl

What do you do when you’re stranded?

And you don’t have a roll

To prove you’re a man

You must use your hand

Stranded”

Since the parody’s lyrics have nothing to do with the premise of “Branded,” and with the melody of the song no longer in the mainstream, I’m afraid “Stranded” has lost much of its impact, although some might say it stands on its own merit. (I don’t know who those “some” might be, but you might want to stay away from those people.)

The first Christmas song I ever learned was “Jingle Bells.”  The second one was also “Jingle Bells,” only with a slightly different words…

“Jingle Bells

Santa smells

Easter’s on its way

Oh what fun it is to ride

In a beat-up Chevrolet…hey”

After that, I heard many other holiday offerings based on “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the 29403_XXX_v1Snowman,” and a few with a slightly more religious bent, guaranteed to offend the more serious among us. But while making fun of Christmas might push the levels of decency, I don’t anyone who ever objected to making Madison Avenue the subject of musical satire. Possibly the first commercial jingle I remember hearing was for Bosco, the syrup used to make a chocolate drink when added to milk. Although I’ve long forgotten the Bosco song sung on television, I have no problem reciting the alternative version…

“I love Bosco

It’s made with TNT

Mommy put some in my milk

To try to poison me

But I fooled Mommy

I put some in her tea

And now I have no Mommy

To try to poison me”

There were also songs about Ajax and Comet, both sang to the tune of the “Colonel Bogey March” (Which was the whistled theme heard in “Bridge on the River Kwai”), songs based on the Oscar Meyer jingle and a brilliant ditty based on McDonald’s former campaign slogan/song, “Your kind of Place”…

“McDonald’s is your kind of place

They serve you rattlesnakes

They throw then in your face

And there is no parking space

Next time you go in there

They’ll serve you underwear

McDonald’s is your kind of place”

It’s interesting that some classic Baby Boomer parodies ended up more famous than the songs they were based on. How many of us actually know the words to “The Old Gray Mare,” a 150 year old American folk classic? Probably only a fraction of those that know of the song it inspired, possibly the granddaddy of all Baby Boomer tunes….

“Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts

Mutilated monkey meat

Little dirty birdy feet

Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts

And me without a spoon”

Besides being composed by anonymous songwriters, all of these Baby Boomer favorites have one other thing in common. I’ve never heard any of them performed in any way that could be called a professional manner. Instead of acapella versions of these songs sung by no-talent neighbors and school mates, I would love to have the chance to hear some of these tunes performed and recorded utilizing full instrumental accompaniment, complex arrangements, complete with the best background singers in the industry. With the help of government subsidies, I’m thinking people like Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, the Las Vegas cast of “Jersey Boys,” and the Mormon Tabernacles Choir could be hired to finally do what should have been a long time ago….Save our music.

3 thoughts on “Preserving Our (Bad) Music”

  1. I heard a few of these songs over in the East Bay…I thought someone in my school made them up, but I guess I’m wrong.

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