Monday, December 30, 2013

Lighthouse Point #1 & #2

This is a fun dance number about the other thing hormonal teens like to do when they are not dancing: i.e., "making out," "necking," or-- if it's done in a parked car-- "parking."

There are two recorded versions of this song; #2 is slightly faster than #1, but the tracks are otherwise identical. The melody is not far from "At the Hop." But the song is notable in the Tom and Jerry catalog for the use of backup singers. Lyrically, almost every line contains an internal rhyme.

Now, when teens park, they need a good place to do so. One is the drive-in movie, at which the sound of the film covers over any suspicious sounds they may be making. Another is simply somewhere far away from civilization, the darker the better.

Well, the teens near Lighthouse Point have hit the jackpot. This spot, presumably at the end of Lovers' Lane, is "way down by the water." So, naturally, "It's so nice to park when it's dark down at Lighthouse Point." One may associate a lighthouse with brightness, but a lighthouse sends its lantern's light far at sea, while in its shadow it is dark.

Lighthouses are also equipped with sound-makers like foghorns, in case it is too foggy for the light itself to be seen by sailors. The one at Lighthouse Point, instead, has a bell, which for the teens serves the same purpose as the soundtrack of the drive-in movie: "You kiss-kiss-kiss while the bell in the beacon goes 'bong bong ba-bong-bong-bong.'"

Not they they are looking at it for long, but "There's a beautiful view for two at Lighthouse Point." And isn't is supposed to be too "dark" to see the view? Nevertheless, one can hear "the waves pound, pound all around." One need never have read a romance novel to know what the pounding rhythm of the waves is meant to represent.

But Simon makes an excellent point. Without such places, how and where would young couples... couple? There must be a garden for love to blossom in: "Let's go, I know/ That 'bong bong' bell will bring wedding bells in the Spring."

Still, he the speaker is using generalities: "There is" this place, "where it is" nice to park, and "there is" a view for two-- any old two... hint, hint...

Clearly, he hasn't been persuasive enough to his girlfriend about the charms of this spot in general, because the speaker now goes in for the hard sell: "Tonight when the moon shines bright at Lighthouse Point/ Hey, baby, come a-hold me tight at Lighthouse Point/ And we'll kiss-kiss-kiss..." et cetera.

Perhaps it is good that adults make it hard for teens to find places to canoodle. It makes them wily and resourceful. Which are good skills for them to develop, because after the "wedding bells in the spring" come, well, baby rattles. And parents need all the cleverness they can get. Especially parents of teens.

Next song: Up and Down the Stairs

Monday, December 23, 2013

Looking at You

"Just one look/ That's all it took," sang newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt. Love at first sight has long been a favorite topic of songwriters, but here all that happens is two people looking at each other.

Oh, and noticing that the other one was looking back.

The line "I was looking at you when were you looking at me" is the first and third of every chorus. They repeat so often, it took several listens to realize that in the last chorus, the clauses reverse: "You were looking at me when I was looking at you" [emphasis mine]. In other words, "Oh, so you were looking at me as much, and in the same way, as I was looking at you."

Perhaps a more accurate word would be "scoping," or even "ogling," in the sense of "evaluating positively." Or, the pre-teen speaker rates her: "I was looking at you while you were looking at me/ Baby, you're OK!"

Cupid's arrow is swift, indeed: "It took just one glance... I didn't stand a chance," he admits, and "I took one look at you/ My heart took flight/ I saw those eyes of blue/ All I did was... sigh."

There are no missing words at that ellipsis, just a dramatic... pause. It is also to be noted that most song subjects are blue-eyed, if only because more rhymes with "blue." In "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," those phrases do not end on, and so force the songwriter to rhyme, the word "brown."

We also find out the precise time frame for this tennis game of glances happening: "My heart began to pound/ When class did start/ When class was through, I knew/ I had lost my heart." So, an hour or so, when they were supposed to be listening to the math teacher.

On the next chorus, we have the question, "Did you catch my eye?" when we know for absolute certain that she did, because that is the entire message of the song. It could be rhetorical... or just amateurish. A better phrasing might be, "You sure caught my eye." Or even, "Oh, did you catch my eye" inflected to mean, "Did you ever!"

This time, the story has a happy ending-- the interest seems mutual: "The bell rang, you got up/ And walked out of the door/ Then you glanced back at me/ Now I know for sure."

Simon deserves praise for not writing "walked right out the door," which would have been obvious and lazy, but would have sent the entirely wrong message-- that she was upset at having been ogled, and stalked off, nose skyward. But he would have to learn that "glanced back" is too hard to sing.

During class, he was trying to catch her looking at him without her catching him trying to-- a near impossible game of cat-and-mouse. But then she glances back and him and he feels reassured. And of course, extremely happy that his interest is returned, and by such an "OK" person at that.

He saw her "looking at [him]" when he was "looking at [her]", and bang-- without a word exchanged-- they are in a relationship. "Now I know you're mine," he smiles, confidently.

Yes, folks, it's just that easy.

Whole textbooks have been written about the communicative nature of sight. Seeing is powerful, which is why animals have such incredible vision and why people have spy-scopes. Being seen is weak, which is why animals have camouflage and people have tinted windows.

Except when, of course, when being seen is powerful, which is why birds have stunning plumage and we have stages and TV cameras.

The fact that she is willing to let her see him look back at him lets him know that the attraction is mutual. If he plays his cards right when he actually speaks with her, and he pays off his positive first impression, his confidence may prove out.

It would be interesting to use this song as a catalyst for class discussion about the way seeing and being seen are communicative by themselves, even without words: How do you present yourself; what do you want people to think when they see you? How does it feel when people look at you positively, or negatively? What do you see, in the mirror? Are you careful in how you look at other people? How do you feel when you catch someone looking at you, like in the song?

And how are all of these questions answered differently by teenage boys and girls?

These are all things we know intuitively, yet saying them openly might really help kids, well, watch how they are looking!

Next Song: Lighthouse Point

Monday, December 16, 2013

Surrender, Please Surrender

Another Everly Brothers pastiche.

In this one, a young man pleads with a young woman: "Come on, give your love to me." The assumption is that she has "love," and can give it to whomever she chooses. He has love, too, and he wants to give it to her, but that goes without saying.

"Surrender, please surrender," he cajoles. In this metaphor, she has-- or is-- a fortress he is trying to invade, land he is attempting to conquer. He knows he will keep advancing until he wins her over, but it would be so much easier if she would just... give up already!

At least he is willing to make a commitment: "Always and forever/ So true, the way a love should be."

So that's the chorus, and the set-up. In the first verse, he tries his first tactic. He says he has been "waiting all [his] life/ To find a girlie just like you." So, he explains that she meets his criteria, and he's certainly earned her consideration, not having gone after other women until his ideal one-- she!-- has come along. (And he hopes that she will overlook his condescendingly calling her a "girlie.")

"Now that I found you, Love/ I'll play the game/ And try to make you love me, too." Once again, we have a metaphor of competition. There is a "game," and if he plays it well enough, he'll win the prize. She's just a puzzle he has to solve, that's all... a code he must crack, a challenge he must overcome.

Telling her up front about this does not seem to work, for some reason.

Onto the second tactic. Or, maybe, his first play in the "game." Rather than simply state he has earned her by waiting for her, passively, he tries to actively earn her... by offering her something in exchange for her "love"-- namely, "fun." He enumerates: "We'll laugh and stay out late/ Drinkin' at a soda shop/ Dancin' at a record hop." Surely, this is a fair trade, one she cannot refuse!

And, yet, she seems to. Curse her intransigence! What more can he do...? He comes up empty.

Onto tactic three: Conceding defeat. "I'm beggin' down on my knees," he weeps. "Come on, give your love to me."

Despite the seemingly dramatic emotions herein, the song's arrangement is up-tempo-- cute and flirty, not desperate or lugubrious. Perhaps the speaker is presenting these options to her as if to say, "Yeah, I could try all these shopworn methods, run through the motions. Or we could just cut to the chase."

One pictures Romeo, sighing beneath Juliet's balcony, acting as if he must shower her with poetry to win her... when they both know they are already in love.

It's the only way to reconcile the sprightly arrangement with the clumsiness of the woo pitched in the lyrics. Either that, or the speaker is just really not good at this, and is going to lose the game he thinks he's playing, before he even starts.

Next Song: Looking at You

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


In the deservedly obscure movie Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, a secret document is supposed to be transferred between spies... onstage, during an opera. Naturally, the movie had to show the opera. It opens during a party scene. The women in the chorus-- all in high, white powdered wigs and elaborate ballgowns-- sing the following, supposedly a translation from this (imaginary) opera's original Italian:

"We're at a party, we're dancing! Dancing at a party! Party party party-- party! Dancing dancing dancing-- dancing!"

From what I know of opera, this might not be far off from the actual dialogue in some cases. Just to make the audience clear that what they are observing is, in fact, a dance party.

The point is, people at a party seems to want to hear songs about... being at a party. Lionel Richie has "All Night Long." Pink has "Get This Party Started." Kool and the Gang has "Celebration." Miley Cyrus has "Party in the USA." The Black Eyed Peas have "I Gotta Feeling." Sam Cooke has "Havin' a Party," and even mellow old James Taylor covers Cooke's "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha."

Here, Tom and Jerry stage a rave-up, 1950s-style. "Are you coming to the party tonight?/ Are you ready for the party tonight?/ We're gonna yell and we're gonna shout/ We're gonna make some noise-- watch out!"

The next line could also be from any party song-- "Everybody's gonna be there"-- but the following one "dates" the song to its era of inception: "Stompin' 'til the break of day." The Stomp was a dance step of the time. There is a line in Chris Montez's 1962 "Let's Dance": "We'll do the Twist, the Stomp, the Mashed Potato, too/ Any old dance that you wanna do."

It's hard to remember that rock was once controversial altogether. It was the music of youthful rebellion, reviled by parents and the establishment in general (like swing before it and rap after). In the 1960s, people were still burning rock records. (An accurate treatment of the hatred rock engendered is captured by John Lithgow's performance in the movie Footloose.)

Here, Tom and Jerry turn from calling for a party to warning such opposing forces, and assuring their fellow revelers: "Nothing's gonna get in our way."

Decades before the Beastie Boys' told us is ""You gotta fight for your right to party," Tom and Jerry lobbed this shot across the bow of the "squares": "Everywhere that I've been lately/ People say, 'Be quiet.'/ I'm gettin' tired of all that jazz/ And I'm gonna start a riot."

Now, who are the "people" saying this? Librarians, sure, but also parents, teachers, the clergy, the police and other governmental types, and of course the self-appointed morality-imposing pundits every generation must endure. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there is a whole display on anti-rock quotes from everyone from preachers to Sinatra.

The line "all that jazz" is an idiom for "such nonsense," but it is also a glancing blow at jazz music itself, by then a somewhat sedate musical form, calmed down from the Louis Armstrong fun and not yet subject to the abstraction of the Miles Davis era. Naturally, there were still some experimental jazz composers at the time, like Dave Brubeck, but even their music was relatively sedate compared to, say, that of Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis.

But yes, like all teens, Jerry Landis here forgets that the music of his parents-- in this case, jazz-- was once just as eyebrow-raising and hand-wringing as his own generation's.

After the word "riot," we get sax and drum solos. Again, the teens thought they had invented such things, when in fact jazz musicians like Cannonball Adderly and Gene Krupa already had done so decades before.

Our song started with "Are you coming to the party tonight," and now we turn again to the addressee of that remark. "Don't be afraid, little girl/ It'll be out of this world/ I'll rock you, come on let yourself go/ And we're gonna make some noise."

Is this using dancing as a metaphor for sex? It would be foolish to deny it. And yet, it could just be about dancing, which has its own charms. Even rock's opponents might agree.

An illustrative joke comes to mind: A groom is required to meet with his clergyman before his wedding. "There will be no dancing at the wedding," he is told. "It's... inappropriate." The groom protests, but the topic is immediately changed to the wedding night.

The clergyman says that the missionary position is ideal. "Can the woman be on top?" asks the groom. "It's not preferred, but it is acceptable," comes the reply.

"Can the man be... behind?" he asks. The man of the cloth sighs. "It is the way of animals, but there is nothing written against it."

Last, the groom ventures, "What about standing up?" "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" the clergyman thunders. "It could lead to dancing!"

Performance Note: Marty Cooper, the Tico of Tico and the Triumphs, sang lead on this number.

Next Song: Surrender, Please Surrender

Monday, November 18, 2013


"I'm a ramblin' man." How many songs have had those words, that sentiment... that excuse. This song is one of those.

It starts with the speaker saying that he wrote a letter to Lisa. (How many writers will find these lines describe their own process: "I got a paper and I got a pen/ I started to write, then I started again"!)

But this is not a love letter. It's a "Dear John" (Dear Jane?) letter, "a letter of good-bye."

The speaker admits that he doesn't want to break up. "This hurts me/ Just as much as it hurts you," he says. "I love you and my heart's at stake."

So why is he breaking it off? "This is something I gotta do." Is his mother dying? Is he being called off to war? Did his father, or religion, forbid the relationship? Did he just find out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant? Did he get an once-in-a-lifetime job offer overseas?

No. It's just, well, you see, the thing is, "My feet start moving and a I gotta obey... I'm a restless man/
I gotta ramble, I gotta roam/ I can't have a house and home."

Yes, he's a "Free Bird," the "King of the Road," they call him "The Wanderer"... We romanticize the nomad, the drifter, the one with the restless heart. We apologize that he has a "fear of commitment," and we rationalize that he has "trust issues."

But let's be honest. What he is, is immature. A one-year-old, if he gets distracted by a new toy, or even if just gets bored, tosses the old one aside. But a woman, a person, is not a toy... and a relationship is not a game.

"Promise me that you won't cry," he asks of Lisa. He wants to have no consequences for his actions, also a mark of immaturity. But of course his actions affect others. It would be better if he said, "I don't love you anymore," instead of "I love you, yeah... but I'm leaving anyway just in case there is someone better out there. Oh, and even if there isn't, being alone is better than being with you." Who would not be hurt, hearing that?

"Lisa, forget me; though it hurts, you gotta try," he says, although in way of a parting gift, he tells her "I'll think of you when the spring is here." Well, that and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee (this was the 1960s!).

The song closes with the speaker breaking loose from the lyric and just "riffing" on the theme of the song: "Lisa, I love you but I gotta move on."

No, he doesn't "gotta." He doesn't have to, at all. There is nothing else that should command his attention or his plans if he loves her as he says he does.

He wants to move on. But if he were mature enough to tell her that, he would be mature enough to stay altogether.

It'll hurt, and Lisa might cry. If she has a smart girlfriend, she'll tell Lisa the truth. "Let him go, if that's who he is. Better now than later. Next time, you'll find a tree, not a tumbleweed."

Next Song: Noise

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Lone Teen Ranger

The fictional vigilante known as "The Lone Ranger" has been part of American culture for decades. Basically Robin Hood reconfigured as a cowboy, he is a former Ranger, and as such usually traveled with a group of fellow Rangers. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, save for himself. This is why he considers himself the "Lone" Ranger, even while he is always accompanied by his Native American sidekick, Tonto. Together, they fight criminality as it crosses their path, always on the hunt for the gang that left him an "orphan." The masked character has been a mainstay of American popular culture, his stories told on the radio (he debuted there in 1933), television, books and comic books, and film... even to this year (2013), his 80th anniversary.

This explains the gunshots, ricochets and galloping hooves heard in "The Lone Teen Ranger." Having explored the idea of adolescent loneliness in several other ways, Simon turns to the popular icon and adapts his "lone" status for this purpose. Only this time, the one called "Lone" has legions of followers, while the speaker is the one abandoned by his girl for the Ranger.

The song begins with the bass vocal intoning, "Hi-yo, Silver-- away!" which was the Lone Ranger's catchphrase for galloping off on his shiny white steed, Silver. It ends with the speaker asking "Who was that masked man?" another catchphrase from the show, asked by a witness as the Ranger speeds off into the sunset. Even the sax solo at the break is taken from The William Tell Overture, used as the show's galloping theme song.

The song is one of the few to register a common teen complaint-- a girlfriend's attentions stolen away by a teen idol such as a musician or actor. While totally inaccessible to the teenage girl, this figure's flashing eyes, wavy hair, and dreamy voice are nothing the average acne-ridden teenage boy can compete with for attention.

"Oh, he rides around on a big white horse/ He's as cool as he can be/ And my baby fell in love with him/ When she saw him on TV," laments the abandoned, now-lonely boy. "And since that day... She hasn't had time for me," he continues, "To save my soul, I can't get a date."

He points his finger directly at the character: "You know who's to blame!" Another reading is "You-know-who's to blame," as in, "you know whom I mean without my having to say his name, which I cannot bear to repeat in any case."

The bridge has the line "The Lone Teen Ranger stole my girl/ He left Tonto for me." Meaning not "he abandoned Tonto and chose me instead," but "left" in the sense of "He drank the water and all he left, for me, was the empty pitcher."

The speaker is determined to win back his girlfriend's attention, and affection. His plan? "Gonna wear a mask and ride a horse/ And carry a six-gun too/ She's gonna love me, too."

The poor sap thinks it's the Ranger's accouterments that attract her notice-- the costume and accessories. He couldn't be more wrong. It's the raw masculinity, the brave feats of derring-do, and the flouting of authority that attract her.

Tarzan has no mask, gun, or horse-- barely any clothes, in fact-- yet he manifests the same attraction. D'Artagnan, Zorro, Batman... James Bond, Indiana Jones, Wolverine... back to Robin Hood himself, all such heroes are cut from the same shadowy cloth. Heroic rogues go back even further, to be sure, to Hercules, Pericles, Bellerophon, Thesus, Perseus, and the warriors on both sides of the Iliad conflict.

The song itself is light-hearted novelty fare, full of sound effects, silly vocals, and lines like "She even kissed the TV set."

Yet, even underlying all the ridiculousness, we find another signature Simon teenager abandoned and alone, "unlucky in love." Why, he can't even compete with a fictional cowboy. At least this time, instead of "Cry, little boy, cry," we get the line ""I'm gettin' mad" and an attempt, albeit misguided, at fighting back.

Maybe instead of finding himself a Halloween cowboy costume, our hero will find himself a young woman with standards that are less... two-dimensional.

Next song: Lisa

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cry, Little Boy, Cry

We start off with a disclaimer of an introduction, perhaps to allay our avoidance of the song due to its title: "Listen to my story/ It's got a happy ending."

It starts of lugubriously, then the drums kick in and, despite the dreary content of the song, an up-tempo rhythm begins.

And I do mean dreary: "Every night, I sat up in my room/ Feeling the silent gloom/ Of my lonely heart." [We pause to take note of the decision to have a rhymed couplet followed by an unrhymed line. This is rare in popular music, and perhaps indicates that the speaker, too, feels like an unrhymed line, while everyone else is in a couple(t).]

We also meet the isolated, alone-in-his-room character we encounter so often in Simon's songs with Garfunkel, like "I Am a Rock," "A Most Peculiar Man," "Patterns," and even "Kathy's Song." He also shows up as Sonny in "The Obvious Child."

Our speaker here is not entirely lonely. This sad young man is befriended by a "a voice [that] cried out/ From deep inside." Rather than offer encouragement, the voice suggested: "Why don't you cry, little boy, cry?"

So he does. A lot. The line "and so I cried" repeats several times in the chorus... for a total ten utterances of the word "cried."

The next verse finds him so despondent in his isolation that he nears the brink of utter despair: "I'm alone in this world/ Without the love of a girl/ Sometimes I felt that I could not go on."

The voice is still no help: "Everywhere I went/ That voice inside of me/ Kept saying 'Cry, little boy, cry'."

If he is crying literally everywhere he goes, he is really going to stay alone, we think. Misery loves company, but often does not find it. Also, it does not add to his attractiveness that he thinks of himself as a "little boy," defenseless and helpless. Today, the boy's parents would probably intervene and guide him toward therapy. Or at least get him a hobby.

Now, the promised "happy ending" arrives, in the form of another person who was "lonesome, too": "You seemed to understand just how I felt."

This relationship progresses remarkably quickly; the next thing we know, they are somewhat intimate: "And as I kissed you then/ I knew I loved you when/ You said, "Don't cry, little boy, don't cry."

And he agrees that he won't. Just as vehemently and repeatedly as he cried before, he now insists, "I won't cry." Happy ending achieved.

Is this a stable relationship? Probably. Is it a healthy one? That is another matter entirely. If anything should happen to her, we can only brace ourselves for what would happen to him. His entire happiness depends on her; hers, on making him happy. It's a model of what we today call codependency.

However, having been a teenager myself, I can certainly commiserate with the speaker. The feeling that everyone else is in a relationship except you and it will never happen to you so you will always be alone is both powerful... and popular. Well, maybe a better word is "widespread." This feeling also affects adults, of course, as demonstrated in the opening scene of the movie Bridget Jones's Diary.

Now, the question of whether or not to cry at all comes up again in Simon's solo work. The speaker of "Boy in the Bubble" consoles the listener: "Don't cry, baby don't cry." A later speaker, in "Further to Fly," refers to that one as "the great deceiver who looks you in the eye/ And says 'baby, don't cry'."

Yet another comes along in "The Cool, Cool River," resolving this dispute: "Sometimes, even music/ Cannot substitute for tears."

In other words-- if you have to-- cry, little boy. Cry.

Performance Note: Marty Cooper, the Tico of Tico and the Triumphs, sang lead on this track.

Next Song: The Lone Teen Ranger

Monday, October 28, 2013

Get Up and Do the Wobble

Earlier, we discussed "Dancin' Wild," which was about dancing in general, only mentioning the 'Applejack' step in passing. Here, we have Simon trying to come up with a new dance like the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Pony, and so on. We think.

People haven't stopped trying to create new dance crazes, either. Before the Twist, there were the Foxtrot, the Lindy Hop, and the dance that gave New York the nickname The Big Apple. In pop alone, we've had everything from the Locomotion to the Macarena to the Harlem Shake since the 1950s. Once we can safely generate anti-gravity fields, all bets are off...

So, what is the Wobble, and how is it done? We never find out!

The problem is, the speaker can't find anyone on the dance floor to teach the dance to. He starts earnestly enough, calling: "Hey, get up! Get up and do the Wobble/ Oh, won't you you please/ Do the Wobble with me/ It's so easy to do/ Let me teach it to you."

But then-- no takers! The dance floor is already jammed with other acts performing their dance songs. "Dee Dee Sharp's doing that mashed potato," for one. Her song was called "Mashed Potato Time"; the dancer doing the Mashed Potato puts the ball of his foot down on an imaginary potato and mimes mashing it by twisting his foot. The step is not unlike someone grinding out a cigarette on the pavement with his shoe.

Next, the song refers to the long-running TV show American Bandstand. Hosted (from 1956 to 1989!) by perennial teenager Dick Clark, it featured several bands performing live, in turn, to a roomful of teenage dancers. Tom and Jerry themselves were on this show, performing "Hey Schoolgirl."

"Tune into Bandstand, tell me what you see?/ All the kids are dancing to 'Wha-Watusi'." That song went to #2 and stayed on the charts for three or four months. The Orlons performed it originally, but it was covered by everyone from Chubby Checker and Smokey Robinson to The Isley Brothers and even Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Its dance was called the Watusi, and it's a poor approximation of a Hawaiian hula dance. (The actual Watusi are now called the Tutsi; they are an African tribe who we can safely assume dances nothing like this.)

Our speaker, meanwhile, remains partner-less: "Everybody's dancing they're as happy as can be/ There's nobody left to do the wobble with me." How sad!

He continues to list who else is doing what step: "Little Eva's is doing that Locomotion." Little Eva was Carole King's babysitter, and of course Carole King was one of the major songwriters of the era, ensconced in the Brill Building circle to which Simon aspired. Never has a babysitter had such great tip as when Eva's boss offered her her own massive hit!

Next is Chubby Checker (whose stage name was coined in homage to Fats Domino!). His dance hit, The Twist, is so popular is doesn't even need to be mentioned in this song. Last is someone named Little Joey, probably meaning Little Joey Farr, a doo-wop singer.

Since the speaker has no one to teach the Wobble to, he ends up simply lamenting his fate and teaching it to no one. Not even the listener! And so The Wobble is the dance craze that no one remembers... because it never even existed.

Turns out, it was only a way to name-check other dances, much like the songs "Land of a Thousand Dances" (the Pony, Boney Maroni, Alligator, Watusi, and Jerk) and "Shake a Tail Feather," (The Twist, Fly, Swim, Bird, Duck, Monkey, Watusi, Mashed Potato, Boogaloo, and Boney Maroni)...

...with a dash of the lonely-boy abandonment we have seen in several other early Simon songs thus far. Everyone else has a dance hit already, so what's the point of his trying for one? Just like the kid in the song with no one to teach the Wobble.

Some credit this song to "Tico," which is odd since Simon wasn't necessarily Tico in Tico and the Triumphs; it does not seem to be Simon on lead vocals, at that. Others credit it to Jerry Landis, and it appears on several Tom & Jerry and Jerry Landis compilations.

Next Song: Cry, Little Boy, Cry

Monday, October 21, 2013

Express Train

And with this number, we come to the end of Simon's brief run with Tico and the Triumphs. For now. If we have learned anything at this point, it is that "new" old material seems to keep being discovered!

T & the Ts seem to like vehicles, and we have already had a song about a "Motorcycle." This time, we get the sound effects of a train gathering speed, accompanied by these young men doing their best train whistle and brake: "Woo woo!" and "Tssh!"

Songs about trains are as old as trains themselves, and it is hard to find a genre, from folk and country to soul and hip-hop, that doesn't refer to them. Simon himself would (much) later have a song called "Train in the Distance"... in which he also sings "woo woo!"

Here, the Triumphs (with Simon on lead) sing "Clickety-clack, clickety-clack/ The train comes on the railroad track," and the listener thinks, "OK, but when does the 'love' part show up?" They do not disappoint; the next line is "I'm on my way and coming back to you."

While many train songs are about a ramblin' man who leaves, this is about one who is coming back: "I'm just a rolling stone/ But I've been missin' your sweet kissin'/ Now I'm coming home."

The expression "A rolling stone gathers no moss" is an old one, and it means that if you want to keep from atrophying, you have to keep moving. However, many in the rock-n-roll world take this to the extreme, understanding that staying put at all results in growing mold instantly. Instead of, say, it having a positive connotation like "settling down" or "putting down roots."

Instead, we have the Muddy Waters song "Rollin' Stone," the megastar band The Rolling Stones, the major rock magazine Rolling Stone, and the Bob Dylan epic track "Like a Rolling Stone."

Back in our song, the speaker expresses his urgency at coming home: "I'm on my way/ Taking the express train," meaning a non-stop trip. It costs more, usually, but he is in a hurry to get back to his love: "I'm gonna meet you at the station/ What a celebration!"

And now, we wait for the other shoe to drop. He's a "rolling stone," after all, and will soon be on his restless way again.

Except, instead, not. "I'm gonna give up all my traveling," he vows. "Didn't like it, anyhow," he admits. He closes with another expression of urgency to arrive home: "No more waiting, hesitating/ Nothing stops me now/ I'm on my way." Well, that's refreshing. A song about a ramblin' man who's done ramblin'!

Simon would later write, in a sense, a longer, deeper version of this song: "Homeward Bound." In that song, the singer (for the speaker is one) at a "railroad station" decries his wearisome traipsing about and longs to be taking the train he is waiting for "homeward" instead of yet another gig where he will "sing his songs again."

So many of Simon's songs, in fact, bemoan his loneliness and road-weariness, including some from the One Trick Pony soundtrack. He doesn't really have a song like "On the Road Again," saying that he likes constant touring. Even in "That's Where I Belong," he speaks of longing to be on a "dirt road"... but with a destination in mind.

And yet... he is constantly touring. Simon is in his 70s, and still out promoting his latest album; he was recently in the farthest points of the Far East and down Down Under way.

There is a PhD thesis waiting to be written about singers who leave home to sing songs about wanting to be home. Maybe in Literature... maybe in Psychology.

Next song: Get Up and Do the Wobble

Monday, October 14, 2013

Wildflower/ Wild Flower(s)

As with "Motorcycle," there is some disagreement among anthologists as to whether the title is one word or two (it is sometimes incorrectly pluralized as well; the "wildflower" in question is an individual woman).

There is also dispute as to whether to credit it to Simon as Jerry Landis (which is accurate) as part of Tom and Jerry (wrong) or Tico and the Triumphs (right). The roughness of the sound and multi-voiced backing harmonies clearly mark it as a Tico track, this time with Simon on lead. But, since there are too few Landis-penned Tico songs to make an entire album, these are usually included with other Jerry Landis or Tom & Jerry compilations, adding to the confusion.

The song itself begins with pounding the tom-tom drums and "shave-and-a-haircut" beat of a Bo Diddley song, and then gets even more... exotic, as we shall see.

The lyrics are about another "Runaround Sue" type named Mary Lou, although it doesn't seem that she runs around to other men. Rather, she is simply possessed of a wanderlust, albeit one of addictive proportions. "She was a wanderer through and through... Like the wind she would roll around."

The chorus explains that her "wild" nature, while attractive, is not conducive to a stable relationship: "She wasn't the type to be settlin' down... Wildflower, come back to me!"

Mary Lou was not the type to simply pop over to New York or Las Vegas for a weekend now and then, either. She traveled "far from home... on her wild shores/ far across the sea."

Soon enough, the inevitable happens. Mary Lou leaves on one of her epic jaunts... but with no sign that she expects to return: "One day when I came home/ I looked around and she was gone."

As distraught as the speaker is-- "I cried about her every hour/ How I love my wildflower"-- he cannot have been all that surprised.

What makes this particular song astonishing, however, is that the instrumentation-- the driving percussion, the reedy musical bridge-- and the mentions of distant lands are not the only parts of the song that give it an exotic flair.

It's the middle third of the song, comprised of lyrics in another language. To my ear, they sound Hawaiian. In any case, there seem to be two lines, each repeated multiple times, something like "Man-gu-ne ma-ku-la-ne" and "la-ha-na-gu-na, la-ha-na-gu-ne." But don't take my "words" for it-- find the song on YouTube (incorrectly identified as a Tom and Jerry track) and let me know if you can translate it.

That Simon was including non-English lyrics in a song as early as 1962, I again assert, astonishing. Those who point to "El Condor Pasa" and "Mother and Child Reunion" as precursors to Graceland are off by several years! Further, using foreign words in a folk-music standby, but it would be interesting to see how early this phenomenon took place in a pop or rock music context.

At his age when Simon wrote the song, it seems, the very idea of traipsing about the globe seemed impossible for him to fathom. So isn't it ironic that Simon himself became someone who explored "wild shores" so "far across the sea" as South Africa and Brazil to find the sources of the music of his youth.

Perhaps he did know a "Mary Lou" who, in showing him the excitement of travel, served as a role-model. If so, aren't we glad she did?

Next Song: Express Train

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Don't Believe Them

There is an album called 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong. Ah, but can they all be liars? At what point do you trust what everyone else says, and distrust your own heart?

That question lies at the center of this song. A young man is in love, as in so many other songs: "Yesterday, you swore to me/ You'd be mine eternally." With this phrasing, however, we feel a "but" coming. That was "yesterday." Today..?

Well, "Today, my friends all say it's true/ You're going out with someone new." They "all" say it. How could it not be the case?

Nevertheless, our hero remains unconvinced: "I don't believe them," he asserts repeatedly, adding "No!" seven times.

But the rumor mill grinds on. Next, the "kids in school" say she is not just a two-timer, but a many more timer than that! In fact, that she runs around, like, um, Runaround Sue: "They say that when I turn around/ You head right for the lights of town."

It's not just that they are maligning her, but also him, calling him a "fool" to his face for staying with her.

So he looks at his own history: "I've been hurt so many times/ That I'm afraid to start." Oh, this does not look good. He is liable to chalk this up as yet another failed romance. So much pain, and still so young...

Only, no! He dismisses all of that. Instead, he decides that faith is the way, as the alternative is unthinkable: "If I believed everything they say/ It would break my heart."

While his stalwart trust is admirable, his next piece of reasoning is not: "So I'll go on trusting you/ I've got no choice-- what can I do?" Well, he could ask her, either directly or indirectly, or enlist her help in quelling the rumors.

He's not there yet, though. Where is he? Stuck. "I know that I would die/ If I found out you told a lie," he says. If he asks her and she isn't cheating, she might take offense at being suspected, and dump him. If she is cheating, she would lie about it (as she has been by hiding it all along) and act as if she isn't cheating.... and take offense at being suspected and dump him.

But what if he said, "I hate what they are saying about you. I know you're true to me-- why would they say such things?" Or, "If you wanted to end it, you would. You wouldn't string me along and go behind my back. You're not that kind of girl." Or "The next guy who says something like that, I'm gonna pop him in the face, even if they do kick me out of school." And watch her reaction.

In any case, he sees no way out except to keep saying "I won't believe them, I don't believe them" to them, and to himself. But not to her. You have to wonder why he doesn't find some way to bring it up with the person he wants to be with "eternally."

Maybe he, as Shakespeare had it, protests to much. Maybe seven "Nos" is a few to many. Maybe, on some inner level he doesn't want to examine, he does believe them. A little. Enough for it to bother him a lot.

No, they can't be right. Then he is a fool, and the one he loves is a cheater, and all those jerks are vindicated. That would be truly unthinkable. And so he doesn't allow himself to think it.

Playing devil's advocate, why would they all lie, though? For one thing, why would they bother to spend so much energy breaking up a relationship? Tarnishing her reputation and destroying his faith? Well, anyone who has spent five minutes around adolescents knows the answer. Because they can. For fun.

If they really cared about him, they would take him aside and speak in whispers, not throw it in his face at the cafeteria like so much food-fight meatloaf.

It's very hard to defeat a rumor. Some persist for centuries, despite mountains of evidence. There is so much dishonesty in human relationships that, sadly, we expect it instead of truth.

Performance Note: Marty Cooper, the Tico of Tico and the Triumphs, sang lead on this track.

Next Song: Wild Flowers

Monday, September 30, 2013

Motorcycle (Motor Cycle)

The only reason anyone remembers the short-lived act Tico and The Triumphs these days is that Simon was in the group... and he wasn't even Tico! That was the nickname of a guy named Marty Cooper. Sorry, Marty! While Cooper sang on many tracks, Simon took the lead this time. 

( wrongly has Simon as Tico. The Marc Eliot biography of Simon, I think unfairly, does not mention either the band or Cooper in its index.) 

To be fair, the band did crack the Top 100, reaching #97 with this song in 1962. 
Motorcycles had been a major part of pop culture, or perhaps counter-culture, at least since Marlon Brando rode one to fame in 1953's The Wild One. Elvis quickly followed the next year with his movie Roustabout. The next famous film focused on them was 1969's Easy Rider, also a counter-culture landmark. In 1972, Marvel Comics debuted its undead anti-hero Ghost Rider . Today, the most popular entertainment centered on motorcycle culture is TV's Sons of Anarchy. 

Still, the most famous motorcycle song has to be the Shangri-La’s cautionary tale “Leader of the Pack.” Simon beat that one by two years; it came out in 1964.

This song starts with the sound of a motorcycle zooming past, followed by that pursed-lip sound (a "raspberry," minus the tongue) often made in imitation of engines. 

As it says on the label, the song is about a motorcycle. Also, the freedom of motorcycle riding: "Every day after school I'm a motorcycle fool... From here all around to the other side of town... you can't catch a motorcycle when he wants to go."

In his song "Mercury Blues," Steve Miller wins, then loses, the affection of a woman to the driver of a Mercury car... so he promises to buy two. Here, too, the speaker's relationship seems to depend on his vehicle. The first verse has the line "Driving with my baby," and the second starts with the invitation: "Come on with me, baby, on my red motorcycle."

The bike is also the reason for the speaker's local fame: "Everywhere I go everybody's gotta know," "Everywhere I go there's a motorcycle sound," and "Don't you know me, I'm cool!" It seems more than just a part of his identity, but the source of it.

(The rest of the song is a lot of "ba-ba-ba" and "yeah, yeah, yeah"... and more than a dozen mentions of the word "motorcycle.")

The song also presaged the Beach Boys' first #1 hit, the 1964 single "I Get Around," with its driving (ahem) beat and its celebration of the teenage freedom afforded by shiny, speedy wheels. Funny how they never mention helmets...

Chicago classic rock DJ Lin Brehmer has list of 20 motorcycle songs, and Simon's isn’t on it. The Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” is, as is Allmans’ “Midnight Rider.”

Also missing is Arlo Guthrie's long shaggy-dog narrative, 1968’s "The Motorcycle Song.” While Simon is a master of rhyme, Arlo comes up with: “I don't want a pickle/ I just wanna ride on my motor-sickle.”

The after-school rider in Tico’s “Motorcycle” might sneer at the phrasing of that couplet, but he would certainly agree with its sentiment.

Next Song: I Don’t Believe Them

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Wish I Weren't in Love

This one recalls 1959's "A Teenager in Love," both in style and sentiment, with a touch of Everly Brothers country-pop thrown in... plus a dash of flamenco in the bridge. It really presages the kind of within-one-song genre-switching that became Simon's trademark.

The opening lines could not be more straightforward: "I've got a problem/ The girl I love doesn't love me at all." Yes, another unrequited-love song.

The speaker, like another song says, got it bad, and that ain't good: "I can't do my homework/ I write her name on my notebook all night." It should be noted that these are very long lines, metrically, for a pop song.

"I'm so unhappy/ Guess I am the loneliest boy in this world," he continues, and who hasn't been there? "I wish I weren't in love," he concludes.

Now, is she stringing him along? Hardly. His love object is crystal clear in her lack of interest: "In fact, she won't even answer my call." Perhaps she finds a teenager who starts sentences with "in fact" somewhat... un-hip?

Rather than simply forget her, our hero paints himself as the victim: "The way she treats me, it just isn't right... How can I make her stop hurting me?" When, in fact, she is not hurting him at all. She is not doing anything to him! Yes, this is a problem for him... but it's not, objectively speaking, her fault.

Again, if she were being ambiguous, his complaint would have merit. But she is not. She is as plain in her disregard for him as a stone wall. Perhaps he feels that his ardor is so great it at least deserves her saying outright that he should, ahem, bug off, or stop calling, at least. She refuses to even acknowledge his existence with a verbal rejection.

The relationship, to the degree that it exists at all, is only in his mind. What this young man needs is for his friends to point out that his efforts and affections are wasted here-- and that he should, until they find a more receptive recipient, maybe do his homework.

If he gets good enough grades, he might get into college... where he might, in fact, meet a co-ed who will answer the phone for a guy who starts sentences with "in fact."

Next Song: Motorcycle

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm Lonely

The title sort of sums this one up.

The speaker is a teenager-- he refers to other "kids"-- who is convinced that he is the only one in the world who is not in a romantic relationship: "Everywhere I look, kids are having fun... I'm the only lonely one." Oh, haven't we all been there...

Things are especially depressing on "weekends," when he ends up at "home." But there is a Catch-22 at work here. He can't go to a party or movie or whatever without a date. But unless he goes to social events, how is he supposed to meet anyone?

He's also tired of trying to distract himself: "Getting tired of the radio/ I can't watch another TV show... I might as well go and read a book."

In despair, he turns Heavenward for help: "Lord above, won't you hear my plea/ Send a girl to love me faithfully/ Then I won't be lonely."

The word "faithfully" might be here for two reasons. One is that he imagines a relationship to necessarily include fidelity. The other is that... well, that's why he's lonely. He wants a girl to love him faithfully-- unlike that last one.

Arrangement-wise, it reminded me of a 10,000 Maniacs song, with doleful lyrics set against uptempo music. Musically, it's another Latin-ate number of surprising sophistication, with resounding bass notes alternating with tripping, high, chiming ones. The music alone, which is somewhere in the mambo or cha-cha territory, would have been fine for a big-band dance number in the 1930s,

Next Song: I Wish I Weren't in Love

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ask Me Why

This is a waltz-time love song. Musically, it's along the lines of 'Sixteen Candles"... or  "Earth Angel," one of the songs that inspired Simon to take up songwriting altogether.

The song repeats the opening words "Ask me why" over and over to start lines, in a rhetorical device (a.k.a. "speechwriter's trick") called "anaphora." One famous example of this is from Winston Churchill: "We shall fight on the beaches... we shall fight in the fields... we shall fight in the hills..."

It's really a tender, touching song of young love, never falling into schmaltziness-- until the very end, when we get a "big finish."

"Ask me why I go sleep/ Counting the days I spent with you/ Instead of counting sheep," it starts. The other things the speaker does is "pray" they will be together forever, "thrill" to her touch, and "hold" her "so tight."

Other effects she has on him are that he is "filled with a heavenly bliss/ Each time we kiss," and that he feels that, when he's not with her, "it seems like time is standing still/ Each minute's like a year."

Yes, this is puppy love at its purest and most sincere. He tells her "it's so hard to say goodnight," which implies that he does, in fact, do so at the end of their dates.

Oh, and why does he feel the way that he does? " 'Cause I love you!" Yes, not "Because," but, pointedly, " 'cause." So, they are likely still in high school.

Is this a love sonnet worthy of William Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning ? No. Is it every bit as heartfelt? Yes.

Or, perhaps more accurately: Yeah.

Next song: I'm Lonely

Monday, September 2, 2013

Anna Belle

After Simon & Garfunkel broke through with their "Sound of Silence" song, and their Sounds of Silence album, there was a rush to republish their back catalog. The Tom & Jerry album we have just finished discussing was re-issued in 1967, as an album called called simply Simon and Garfunkel. On the cover, it showed the duo boarding a plane; I believe it is only available on vinyl (the German-issued CD with that photo, Tom & Jerry Vol. 1, has a song list with more than twice the number of tracks).

After another resurgence of interest in Simon in the late 1980s, due to Graceland, even more of this early material was gathered and published in many, many compilations. The earliest of these I can find are Tom & Jerry Vol. 1, which came out in 1993, as did Early Simon and Garfunkel, also issued in Germany. However, I do not know which of these two came out first that year; since Early has more tracks-- 27, to Vol. 1's 22-- let's start there.

Many of these songs were released on 45 between 1957 and 1964, but only the most dogged collectors could find them all in that format. Further, not many of this blog's readers can even play 45s anymore (although I wager more can, percentage-wise, than in the general public!). So I have elected to continue the pattern held to thus far-- discussing entire albums, song by song, and in the order in which they were released.

Track 10 on Early Simon and Garfunkel is "Anna Belle," and it is credited to Jerry Landis, Simon's "Jerry" half of Tom & Jerry (Art was "Tom Graph").  It's a sock-hop number with a healthy helping of rumbling sax.

The song is an ode to the power of confidence and persistence. The speaker is trying to win over one Anna Belle, who is playing hard-to-get.

One of her main reasons for rebuffing his advances is his age, or at least his maturity level. She starts with "Well, later, maybe," and "You gotta keep on waitin'." Later, she clarifies: "When you're old enough."

She may have a point. At one point, the speaker voices his frustration thus: "Ooo-wee!/ Gosh! Oh, gee!"

The speaker, however, says that he is ready, but she is the reluctant one making excuses and stalling: "Stop your hesitatin'."

The song itself is presented as the speaker relating his various conversations with Anna Belle. One went: "I said, 'Let's go to the show.'/ She said, 'I don't wanna go.'/ I said, 'Whatcha wanna do?'/ She said, "I ain't tellin' you!'"

Finally, he is able to demonstrate his desirability sufficiently: "I said, 'Well, watch my stuff!'/ She said, 'Well, I'll take a chance." The speaker revels at even this uninterested-seeming acceptance: "I said, 'Here comes romance.'"

"Watch my stuff," in this case, does not mean, "Keep an eye on my belongings momentarily, would you?" but "Check out my amazing dance moves!"

On The Drew Carey Show, Carey's character once said: "If you can't dazzle, wear 'em down." Our speaker here had to wear Anna Belle down just for the chance to dazzle her.

Perhaps she was working with a different quote in mind: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Next Song: Ask Me Why

Monday, August 26, 2013

True or False

This upbeat rockabilly number is credited to "True Taylor," a name Simon did not use much. His attempts at being "authentic" to this genre-- vocal drawls and hiccups-- render some of the lyrics unintelligible, but I will comment on what I can make out.

The premise is a simple one-- the boy presents the girl with a series of statements, such as one might find on a high-school exam, and asks her to respond to each with "true or false."

"You like to call me on the telephone, Baby/ Please answer 'true' or 'false'," is the first one. In other words, does she like to or not?

"You like to tell me that's when we're alone," is the next one. It is unclear as to whether he is asking if that's when she like to tell him this... or, more likely, if it's true that they are alone during such calls... or if one of her girlfriends is listening on the call.

"And when we're at a party/ You won't dance with no one else." This is somewhat muddled, but the idea of her dancing with just him or others is a basic test of her fidelity. The first half of the next line is completely obscure, but the second half is "my heart just melts." So we need to congratulate Simon on finding a rhyme, even a slant one, for "self" that does not lead to an awkward phrase ending in the word "shelf." (Does anyone say "Don't put me on a shelf" except in a pop song?)

The next two test questions are clear: "Would you be sad if I should go away?' and "You can't wait until we name the day." The second of these refers to a wedding day.

The chorus is brief, but confirms our suspicions-- this is a fidelity test. The words "true" and "false" also mean "faithful" and "unfaithful." As the speaker now clarifies: "I'm checking on your answer/
So I can plainly see/ If my baby's true or false to me."

If she doesn't like to call him, then there is really no basis for any sort of relationship, even a friendship. While this is not a test of fidelity per se, it is a valid opening question. If she allows eavesdroppers on their calls, especially after assuring him there are none, this a basic breach of trust as well, although not of the "cheating" kind we usually associate with infidelity.

Again, dancing with another at a party is a clear sign of disinterest in him, and perhaps interest in another. If she won't be sad if he leaves, well, that doesn't mean there is another object of her affections, but it is the definition of disinterest!

The last one is a bit iffier. If she is OK with waiting to name a wedding day, does that mean she doesn't love him? Or might it simply mean that she wants to graduate high school before making a lifelong commitment?

The idea for this song seems to come from two elements of school. One is the test, as mentioned. The other is the forbidden but still widespread practice of "passing notes" in class. Some notes were just complaints about how boring the class was, or even answers to test questions.

But some were questions like "Do you like me?" with two boxes, for checking "Yes" or "No." Today, the kids just text each other, but so far there is no app for boxes that can be checked by the recipient.

That the speaker is still resorting to such a form of communication reveals a deep immaturity. The entire enterprise also reeks of insecurity. If he has to ask, the answer is probably 'no' to all his questions. In fact, his presenting such questions might lead her to wonder if she wants to stay with such a person, even if she was not in doubt before!

Still, as a way of framing a song, the device is clever enough and would certainly resonate with teens of the day. And on a musical level, it's a convincing foray into the rockabilly genre for a first-timer.

Next Song: Anna Belle

Monday, August 12, 2013

(Pretty Baby) Don't Say Goodbye

This song is usually titled simply "Don't Say Goodbye," but in rare cases "(Pretty Baby) Don't Say Goodbye."

This is a rollicking number that, with different instrumentation, could work well as a country tune.

The speaker is either doggedly optimistic or massively deluded. He makes many protestations of love to his beloved-- and all we learn about her is that he finds her "pretty"-- but it seems she does not return his affections.

He begs her not to leave, pleading, "You'll make me cry if you say goodbye/ Don't leave me, honey, 'til the day I die/ Pretty baby, don't say goodbye," and "Don't let your love pass us by."

He assures her that his affections are deep: "I'm in love with you" and even "I'm so in love with you." In fact, he would even marry her, if she would only return his ardor: "Please, pretty baby, won't you love me true?/ I'm gonna hold you tight till you say 'I do'."

However, it seems his affections are doomed to lie unrequited. It's not just that she's interested in someone else, but more that she's interested in anyone else: "I love to call you on the telephone/ But when I call, I see you're not alone."

I recently watched the classic Italian film The Bicycle Thief. In it, a "wise woman" counsels a man in a similar predicament: "Go plow another field."  Our speaker would be well to follow this timeless advice.

Next Song: True or False

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dancin' Wild

There are some dance songs which introduce a new dance, from "The Twist" to... um, "The Harlem Shake," if you can call such convulsions a "dance."

Then there are some dance tracks that simply encourage dancing in general, like the Drifter's "Dance With Me" or David Bowie's "Let's Dance." This is one of the latter kind.

"Dancin' Wild" may have fewer ideas in one 2-minute-20-second span than any other song Simon wrote. This is not a judgement-- many of the best songs are mindless. It is simply a fact. Simon would sometimes revisit this free-wheeling, bop-'til-you-drop style of songwriting, mostly notably in "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'."

The first verse, I kid you not, goes:
"Oo-la-la, you my baby
Well, oo-la-la, don't mean maybe
Oo-la-la, drive me crazy
When you're dancin' wild with me-ee."

This is repeated several times, and then the verse's melody is la-la-la'd at least twice to boot, plus there's a guitar solo. Yet, there is still room for some lyrics in the verses: "Dancin' wild, we'll do the apple jack/ Drop your shoes on the floor till we get back."

Before it was a kid's cereal, and after it was a form of hard cider, the term "apple jack" referred to a dance. It is a line dance, not unlike the electric slide. It involves a series of shuffling, cross-over, and hopping steps done facing one direction, then a 90-degree turn, then the same steps again, until the song ends (there is an instructional video on YouTube).

The next verse is: "At night, we crash the party down the block/ We learned this crazy step the kids all rock." The verb tenses make it hard to know if the apple jack is the "step" in question, since they seem to have known it since the previous verse. Probably, it's a different dance. The apple jack isn't much "crazier" than the average country two-step.

The last verse is perhaps the most 1950's element of the song, starting: "The clock says now it's time that you gotta go." When was the last time a dance song obeyed a curfew? Even Bill Haley could "rock" all the way "around the clock" a few years prior, in 1955, or at least "'Til broad daylight."

The song ends: "There's only one thing more that you must know/ I love you so." This confession of love is sung solo, without the music, in a very low register, and almost seems... shy. This is very endearing, since until now, the speaker was interested in "wild" dancing, party crashing, and being with a girl who drove him "crazy."

She's a lot of fun, but still a good girl who goes home when it's time to. After many a "wild" night, he realizes what a gem he has on his hands... and works up the guts to tell her she has won his heart. Good for him.

Musical Note: This was the B-side, when "Hey Schoolgirl" was released as a single.

Next Song: Don't Say Goodbye

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teenage Fool

Simon's influences, even his early ones, are many, ranging from The Everly Brothers to doo-wop and gospel. But one that looms large is Elvis Presley. In interviews, Simon has said that he wanted to be Elvis when he was young (he wasn't alone).  And in the movie One Trick Pony, when the band-mates play a game naming dead rock starts, it's Simon who ends the game with the line, "Yeah, Elvis is dead."

Here, young Mr. Simon does his best Elvis impression. You can almost see his upper lip snarl around the "Well"s (or rather "We-hell"s) that start every other line. The opening line, "They call me a fool" comes out: "They-hey call-hall me a foooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hool." It's pretty adorable.

This song was released in 1958 or so. "Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love?" was released by Dion and the Belmonts in 1959 (and covered by S&G at their last concert before their 1970 breakup.) But "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" came out first, in 1956. It was sung by Frankie Lymon and the (wait for it) Teenagers.

So who's to say who influenced whom? There was enough teenage foolishness to go around.

That's just as far as the title. The theme presages another Dion hit, "Runaround Sue" (1961). In that song, Sue's promiscuity is the reason to "keep away from" her. (The "Wanderer" of Dion's next release that same year boasts of his own promiscuity. But that's a dissertation for another time.)

Simon's speaker's response to his girl playing the field? The chorus is: "They say that you play round with other boys/ Well, I guess that's just the way you are/ You know... that I'll never go/ And I'll always love you so."

So he is either more sophisticated or more desperate than "others." Which is it? It starts by saying "They call me a fool," as if he might agree, that yes, she's so wonderful he doesn't care if he has to share her time. "Just a crazy fool/ Who doesn't care what others say." 

After the chorus, however, muddies the waters somewhat: "They see us going steady." Wait, wasn't she just running around a minute ago?

Ah, but the next line is: "Well, they know we play it cool." Oh, so "steady" is a relative term. The sex-advice columnist Dan Savage recently coined a word that may apply: "monogamish."

Yet, regardless of the "steadiness" of their relationship, he is secure in her ultimate affection: "If they still think that you don't love me/ Well, they're just some teenage fool."

Their understanding seems to be that, to use the imagery of the playground, she's not as much a tetherball as a boomerang. She can do whatever she wants, as long as she comes back when she's done... which she will, as long as he accepts that that's just the "way" she is. So call him a "fool," if you like... but he thinks he has it pretty good; she is physically unfaithful, but emotionally true to him.

Keep in mind, it wasn't even the 1960s yet! Plus, Simon was, at the oldest, 17 when he wrote "Teenage Fool." Goodness gracious. Kids these days.

Next Song: Dancin' Wild

Monday, July 15, 2013

That's My Story

In an interview, Simon once explained how he discovered metaphor. He rushed in to tell his father about a song he had just heard, "See, she's an angel... but she lives on Earth!" The song, of course, was 1954's "Earth Angel" by The Penguins.

This 1958 song is like that one, but only in cadence and mood. In other words, it is a slow dance number, such as was heard at proms.

The song's title is somewhat misleading. The song does not follow a narrative or tell a story. Rather, it might be the response to a query like: "Why ya so glum, kid? What's yer story, eh?"

The "story" is one of the oldest, summed up in the song's line, "I can't tell you I love you." It's one thing to have a love that's unrequited, but this one is simply unspoken.

It all started, you see, "a month ago," or an eon in teen-time. It was a classic case of love at first sight: "That's when I saw you/ Your eyes were aglow/ And then I could see/ That you were for me." The crush is so innocent, it would not have ruffled a feather in the days of troubadors with their lutes.

The speaker dreams of her all night long, but then awakens to heartbreak, because he can't speak of his affections except in fantasy. He never says what's holding him back-- perhaps simple fear of rejection. There is no mention of a rival, for instance.

Metrically, the line quoted above is bravely asymmetrical. The verse goes:
"I go to sleep at night
And dream of you
I wish I could hold you tight
The whole night through
But when I'm awake
My heart could just break..."

And then we expect a line with maybe two or three metrical feet. Instead we get the jarring, almost stumbling "I can't tell you I love you," which throws off the rhythm entirely.

This effect mirrors his problem. He's fine right up until he thinks of actually expressing his feelings, and then he gets tongue-tied and trips over his own words.

As in the previous song, the next participants in the story are his "friends." They notice that he has become morose, "always moody and blue." But he can't tell them about his crush either. He wishes he could tell them, so they would know that he is "not to blame." But once again, he can't just spit it out.

The 1966 Beach Boys song "God Only Knows" supposed to be the first pop song with the name of The Deity in it. But here, the next verse starts: "O Lord above please hear my prayer/ Show me where she is and take me there."

In a way, Simon's invocation of the Almighty is more brave. Brian Wilson and company use the word in the sense of the cliched expression "God only knows," which one might say if asked what happened to his missing bike; it is the equivalent of "Who knows?" "I have no idea," or "Search me." Here, Simon speaker is actually offering, he says, "a prayer."

Part of the problem in this case, it seems, is that there is always someone else around, especially (we assume) at school. What the speaker prays for is "one moment alone" with the object of his affection. Then, he says, without the distractions of others, "we'll know we're in love."

How many of us can appreciate the pain the speaker is in, seeing her so closely, yet being kept apart by his own fears and the potential whispers of the schoolyard.

The speaker concludes-- in the same drawn-out speech pattern we later hear in the spoken bridge of "You Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"-- "That's my story." You and a lot of other people, pal.

Funny as it is to hear a poet like Simon admit to being at a loss for words, we all know it's easier to say on paper, and in dreams, what we simply can't bring ourselves to say aloud.

Next Song: Teenage Fool

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Our Song

In 1957 and 1958, Simon and Garfunkel were still known as "Tom & Jerry." They released some singles under that moniker in those years, collecting them in an album called simply Tom & Jerry (10 tracks, two of which are instrumentals). I cannot find the release date of this album definitively, only one site that estimates: "1958?"

Since we have, in this blog, been dealing with whole albums as much as possible, we will discuss these songs in the order in which they appear on this album, not in the order in which they were released prior to that as singles.

The first song on this album, "Hey Schoolgirl," has already been discussed, since it appeared on a box set. So we move directly to the second song, titled "Our Song."

Musically, it starts with a howl of sadness, stretching out the vowel in "She's go-o-o-one." Then it jolts into a speedy clip, about as fast as "Wake Up, Little Susie," which it sustains until the end. The song is certainly a rock song, but there is a touch of country twang in some of the guitar solos.

The song itself is about that special kind of torture that happens when a song that was "our song" is caught coming out of the radio, long after the "our" has ceased to be. The speaker is trying to move on, but the radio will not let him, so he is upset with "every DJ on the radio."

He mentions a practice which I am not sure still exists, that of "playing dedications." A listener could call in to a radio station and request that a certain song be played, "dedicated" to a certain other party the listener was sure was also listening. In this way, people could flirt, strengthen a relationship, tell a third party to back off, or even break up, depending on the message the given song contained. Someone might dedicate a song to an entire group, such as one's fellow graduates, as well. The DJ would say something along the lines of: "And here's "Earth Angel," dedicated from George to his angel, Martha."

In our speaker's case, the song he shared with his girlfriend is one popular enough to be dedicated with regularity. So he not only keep hearing the song, but mentions of couples who still share the song, while he no longer does... adding to his torment: "He (the DJ) doesn't know/ That once upon a time/ Our song made two hearts chime/ When you loved me so/ Won't they ever let me forget/ The day that we met."

Then comes a two-line bridge that seems out of place: "What will our friends say/ When they know that you've gone, gone away?" How would they know, relative to the content of this song? By the lack of his dedicating the song for her? By his reaction when the song comes on once again?

Functionally, the line only serves to remind the listener again of "Wake Up Little Susie," which it resembles strongly, and which contains the line "What're we gonna tell our friends/ When they say 'oo-la-la'?"

Our song, "Our Song," ends with this sliver of ironic hope: "...somehow I know/ She's bought the radio/ That's playing our song." He's fairly certain that she is not coming back, but at least she has to listen incessantly to this now-painful song, too. He doesn't want to actively make her feel bad, but if she does...

Next Song: That's My Story

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Girl for Me

As promised, once all of Simon's current work has been discussed, this blog returns to the very beginning of Simon's songwriting career.

His very first work, "The Girl for Me" is consists of one unassuming verse, repeated once. In its entirety, the verse is:
"The girl for me
Is standing there.
That's the one
Flowers in her hair.
I always loved her
And I know she'll be true."

He copyrighted it under the name "Jerry Landis," as for a while he and Garfunkel went under the name of "Tom and Jerry." Garfunkel was "Tom Graph." The year: 1955.

From this simple, even simplistic song, one of the great songwriting voyages of all time set sail.

The song does not seem to require much explanation, but it is interesting to note what is not there. Missing is any indication of what it is that makes the girl the one for him-- there is no discussion of her beauty, her wiles, her laugh, or any other attribute.

Perhaps the "flowers in her hair" mark her as demure. Twelve years later, in 1967, the song "San Francisco" contained the lines "If you're going to San Francisco/ Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." Why? To mark oneself as a member of the with-it counterculture, not as a demure wallflower.

No, this girl is passive, just "standing there." What she offers is fidelity, the assumption (not an expressly made promise-- she says nothing at all) that "she'll be true."

The girl is desirable for her passivity, it seems. The flowers, like all plants, cannot move of their own volition. And she would never be motivated to make the ultimate move, to transplant herself to pastures she felt greener.

Simon was 16 when he published this song, which is impressive on its own. Perhaps the song reflected his personal teenage insecurity about having a girlfriend capable of independent action. Or perhaps, he was mimicking the songs he heard on the radio and elsewhere in the Brill Building and felt that a song aimed at a "good girl" would find a likely audience.

It could be about both, in a way. Perhaps the "girl" can be seen as the music industry itself. He wanted to be part of it, as he "always loved" it (what teenager doesn't want to be a pop star?). But he wanted it to hold still while he approached it. He needed it to "be true" and not leave him for another songwriter, should he not be a hit right away.

Luckily (for us as well), Simon's talent (and ambition) were evident to the adult professionals in the office, and they let him stay.

As it turned out, Simon's relationship with his music would prove to be one of his most enduring. He "always loved" it, and it always loved him back.

(This song is on YouTube. Simon plays it for an interviewer, well into his adult career.)

Next Song: Our Song

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Shine

Paul Simon is listed as the third writer on this track. The first, naturally (this is on his album), is Harper, is son with his first wife, Peggy Harper. The second? His second wife, Carrie Fisher. With three writers' ideas involved, this is the longest track on the album (it's also in 3/4 time, appropriately enough).

It's incredible that these three people are able to write a song together, given their tangled histories. But perhaps not so surprising that the song is a break-up song full of regret, a number of the "how did we let it fall apart?" variety.

It begins with the idea of twilit space, "between waking and sleeping/... where the land meets the sea" (shades of "Scarborough Fair": "...find me an acre of land/ between the saltwater and the sea strand.") There, speaker says, "the shadows are keeping/ the shine that you once kept for me."

It's an interesting idea, taking the idiom "she's taken a shine to you" and imagining that "shine" as an entity of its own. The time between wakefulness and sleep is also the time of stars and moons, which also shine, and which appear in the next verse. Their shine is outside, however, while his former lover's, from her "sun" has "abandoned [his] room."

There's a line in the film The Philadelphia Story in which a man tells his would-be lover: "You're lit from within," and that idea mirrors the next set of images: "Your luminous smile.../ glows from your bones deep within/ Auroras were born on your skin." Women have been described a "radiant" before, but this woman is almost radioactive in her intensity.

Next, we have some technological imagery, relating to the speaker's regret. He wishes to "rewind our lives" as if it were a videotape and "erase the danger with a magnetic pen." This verse loses the light-based metaphor of the previous verses, but perhaps there is no way to convey a return in time with such imagery. Light is light, yesterday as today.

The next verse has a very simple, but very poignant couplet: "Maybe I didn't love you the way that you wanted/ But I've never loved anyone more." Well, we found the "danger," then, didn't we. This relationship was doomed from the outset; while the amount of love was never in question, the way the love was conveyed was not what its recipient required.

"It dazzled from your sun to mine," is how that love was transferred. Perhaps that was the problem. A sun does not need to receive light, and so both participants in this relationship were so busy "shining" love forth from themselves, they did not stop to receive any of it from the other. "I've never loved anyone more" sounds wonderful, until you realize that too much light is not necessarily illuminating but, after a point, a blinding light (compare to a "deafening noise").

The speaker concludes that he needs some, as we say today, "alone time," now that he realizes that "nothing I say seems to change your mind." Again, perhaps what he should be doing, instead of saying anything, is listening.

Unfortunately for a song that has been fairly lovely to this point, it ends on an unsavory joke. The dismissive expression "(stick it) where the sun don't shine" tells the listener to please deposit his opinion in a part of the human anatomy that is, shall we say, rarely in need of sunscreen.

Had the song ended, "Everywhere I look is just a canyon/ Where the sun will never shine," well, fine then. It would have been sad-- and fitting, since the bulk of the song was about being in his lover's "shine," and now he is relegated to the shadows.

Instead, the last line is about a canyon "where the sun don't ever shine." This "don't," I'm sure, is meant to merely sound casual, which was a wrong choice on its own, given the lovely poetic language we have had thus far: "The stars are all laughing and twinkling/ In a language they share with the moon." Sadly, instead of simply being colloquial, the word conjures up the above colloquialism.

Up to this point, the song is as pretty a break-up song as they come, a lullaby a heartbroken soul sings to himself as he fitfully drifts off to sleep, alone in the dark, after the shine has worn off.

Next Song: The Girl For Me

[Note to readers: This concludes Simon's current output to date. As was discussed, when this point was reached, this blog will circle back around to Simon's first, 1950's-early 1960's work... and progress forward again until his first official Simon and Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., until the promise in the blog's title-- Every Single Paul Simon Song-- is fulfilled.]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ha Ha

This is a country waltz that examines three ideas on the nature of, as the title indicates, comedy. But it is a waltz, a dance for two, and we see how well a jesting joker (to mix my metaphors) dances with a queen of hearts.

One of the ideas of comedy is that of "schadenfreude," laughter at another's misfortune. As Mel Brooks put it: "Tragedy is when I cut my thumb. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer." The other is the truism: "Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone." The third ties them together, the idea of laughing at oneself-- of getting amusement out of one's own misfortune, which means the others are "not laughing at you, but with you."

The song begins with the first idea: "You'd think it's funny/ if I got a pie in the face/ One's man's disaster is another man's laughter."

In the chorus, the speaker explains, "laughing is all I do." However, the listener might think this is a reaction to his being single: "You've only known me since I've been lonely/ So you don't believe it's true." When attached, we assume, the speaker might be more serious; he assures us that no, he laughs even while in a relationship. Hmm.

The next line tweaks a saying by adding the word "an." The saying is "I don't know you from Adam," the Biblical primogenitor standing in for any random human.

He speaks to the listener, whom we now know is a woman, as he says he doesn't know her from "Eve." His pick-up line is: "We've only got boredom in common/ Why don't we... leave/ And go... laughing all over the town." A cheap date, to be sure.

But then he makes a counter-assertion to the one above. He repeats the idea that she might assume he is different when in a relationship... but this time confirms it: "I'm different when I'm fooling around." Well, not that different, if that is the expression he prefers for intimacy, and the level of intimacy (simply physical) that his is capable of achieving.

The next line is worthy of Shel Silverstein: "One time I laughed all the way/ From Flagstaff, Arizona to Baton Rouge," which not only rhymes on the beat instead of at the end of the line... but finds the two American cities named after, of all things, poles ("Baton Rouge" is French for "red stick"). He continues this shaggy-dog story by saying this trip wearied him so greatly that, on arrival, he slept, Rip van Winkle-like, "for nearly a year." This laughing-all-the-way story may have a double meaning-- it may represent a series of performances on tour, a series of dalliances during a journey... or both (not all groupie stories are untrue).

Now that he has made this confession, he also confesses his affection for the woman he is addressing: "I could have been dead," he says, at least emotionally, "But I met you instead/ Now everything's perfectly clear."

Uncharacteristically, we wind up with "the moral of the story," which is: "Laugh, or the joke's on you." (Would that Fat Charlie the Archangel, from "Crazy Love Vol II," would have learned this lesson so young!)

Then the song ends with that same assertion: "You've only known me since I've been lonely/ So you don't believe it's true." The antecedent of "it's" is unclear; she doesn't believe what's true? Is he saying that she doesn't believe in not taking oneself seriously? But what would that have to do with when she met him?

Or is he saying that she doesn't believe that he has absorbed this lesson, and that he feels that knowing her has been valuable? This must be what is meant. On the one hand, if one doesn't take anything seriously, how could one learn anything? On the other, if one doesn't take anything seriously, one doesn't take oneself seriously, either-- and so he did not need her to learn this insight at all; he already behaved that way.

He does try to assure her that he is different in relationships, but he falls short, by admitting he only sees them as a chance to "fool around." While she may feel glad that she has had somewhat of an impact on this speaker, and she is probably attracted by someone who can be self-deprecating, she should still be wary of a relationship with him.

After all, he has said outright and repeatedly that he takes nothing seriously: "Laughing is all that I do." If so, how could he take her, or their love, seriously? If it's true, it's nice for him that he has learned from her to laugh at himself. But that isn't the basis for anything... serious.

Musical note:
Sean Lennon, son of Paul Simon's contemporary John Lennon-- and so Harper's musical cousin of sorts-- plays celeste on this track.

Next Song: The Shine

Monday, June 10, 2013


Simon's first wife was Peggy Harper, and they had a son in 1972 whom they named after her maiden name. In 2009, Harper Simon cut an eponymous album, and he invited his father to participate. Together, they wrote three songs, and the first one on the album is this one.

It's autobiographical, from the speaker's standpoint, although in the third line, he adds the caveat: "Most of it is true."

The first line, however, is "Howdy," and in the country-flavored song, the speaker describes how he identifies more with his mother-- he's "proud [his] mama comes from Tennessee"-- instead of New York City, where he was born and raised. (Harper himself was born and raised in New York, but I was unable to determine if Peggy was from Tennessee.)

He says she is, specifically, from Newport, "a place of moderation, common sense, and decency." While he has moved to her home state, he hasn't achieved that style of behavior, just as yet: "It's nothing like the way I am/ But it's how I'm gonna be."

So, how has he been, then, thus far? Well, he was "kicked out of" several schools, received many "incompletes" and finally "bought a C," by which he means bribed his teacher to give him a passing grade, or perhaps paid a student to take a test for him. (At this point, we know the song is not autobiographical to Harper, at least as far as he left out the part where he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music.)

Next, the speaker says he"rambled around/ from Slumberville to Lonesome Town," which might be the locale of the Heartbreak Hotel.

At some point, he got bitten by the musical bug. He "joined a band" which proved unsuccessful but, undeterred, "booked some time on Nashville's Music Row." He tried to use music to connect to his Southern roots: "Don't want no electric guitars in the background."

Now, this plan is a work in progress. "I got issues/ I got pain," ("issues" being typically New York word) he admits, "There's a lot I can't remember/ Even more I can't explain" (this couplet is pure country, however).

See, he's "trying to concentrate on how you find serenity/ When you're born in New York City/ But your mom's from Tennessee." He feels that the bustle and shallowness of New York might be what has made him feel aimless, so his theory is that if he can-- through music-- reconnect with his traditional past, perhaps he can find both physical and emotional stability.

Perhaps by connecting with his roots through roots music, he can finally feel, well, rooted.

Musical note:
Paul sings harmony on this track, and played guitar on others on this album.

Many "ringers" were brought in as backups. A very good list is available at Harper's Wikipedia page; ones from the rock world include drummer Steve Gadd, and Steve Nieve, one of Elvis Costello's Attractions. It can be assumed that Paul was responsible for the presence of some of them, but Harper had been playing professionally for some time and it would be unfair to assume he had made no musical friendships of his own. In fact, there seem to be at least three generations of musicians here.

Next Song: Ha Ha

Monday, June 3, 2013

So Beautiful or So What

“There are only two ways to live your life," Einstein once opined. "One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Simon more succinctly puts this: "So beautiful, or so what."

This driving song starts off with the speaker describing the "chicken gumbo" he is making, then shrugging "life is what you make of it." You have certain ingredients, but the choice of how to combine them is yours.

His next example is a "bedtime story" he tells his children, which may or may not have a happy ending. In either case, the moral remains the same-- the story is the work of the storyteller.

He continues with a gush of humility-- he is "just a raindrop in a bucket," one nameless, indistinct entity among many. He is but "a coin dropped in a slot," a means to an end. "An empty house on Weed Street," even.

Next, we have a musing on "the way we're ignorant," going so far as to "seek out bad advice." Why? We will "jigger it and figure it," rationalizing our (mis)behavior anyway. Even better if we can blame our misdeeds on the urging of others. 

Worse, even though "life is what you make of it" and you can, therefore, actually make something of it, we "play a game with time and love/ Like a pair of rolling dice"... and leave major life decisions up to chance!

The last verse is a major shift-- to a famous photograph of the men who pointed to the direction from which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fatal bullet originated. The speaker adds the idea of the responding police siren singing the spiritual "Savior, Pass Me Not." 

Why this historical reference here? Dr. King taught that justice was up to us, as individuals, in the ways we chose to treat each other. His own life story embodied the idea that a person could make his life be the way he wanted it to be. So we choose to make of his death what we will-- a warning to not get involved, or a call to get involved and carry the torch he passed us, spreading the light.

The theme of this song is stated outright several times. But the placing of this song as the last on the album serves to somewhat dismiss the spiritual, divine musings that permeated the rest of the album. We're never going to know, ultimately, what goes on in Heaven. And, since we couldn't affect it even if we did know, our best bet is to focus on the world we do have and can shape.

This echoes a teaching from the Talmud. The giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, at the Revelation, was not just a spiritual event. It had practical, even legal, ramifications. God gave the Bible to the humans... and it is ours now. "It is not in Heaven" anymore, say the rabbis. It is here, and it belongs to humanity.

Hopefully, this is only Simon's latest song, not his last. But it marks a culmination of a lifetime of theological pondering. In  the very first song we covered, "Bleecker Street," Simon noticed that seems to be a "fog" hiding God from humanity. All these years and songs later, he has stopped trying to pierce the fog with his eyes. 

He is resigned that "life is what you make of it," and that your own attitude, while it is all you can control, is all that matters anyway.

Musical note: 
The unusual instruments this time are...
the bansuri, a wooden flute from India, 
the croatles, a set of tiny tuned cymbals arranged on a rack and struck with mallets
the saz, a Middle Eastern string instrument with a round back, resembling a long-necked lute
the resonator, a guitar with a steel plate over the sound hole, sometimes called a dobro.

Next Song: Tennessee

Monday, May 27, 2013

Love & Blessings

The first thing we have to deal with is the official title of this track. The album's notes and cover use an '&,' but the website uses "And" (yes, with a capital 'A'). The Lyrics book, meanwhile, uses "and," with the grammatically correct lowercase 'a.' As there is no agreement, I am going with the &; because the album is the original document, and the one most listeners will encounter.

"Love & Blessings" is the last in the triptych of "Love" songs on this album (the others being "Love and Hard Times" and "Love is Eternal Sacred Light.").

The song seems to be about a revivification of an entire country or area. "Love and blessings/ Simple kindness/ Fell like rain on a thirsty land." This image seems to follow that of the second verse of "Boy in the Bubble": "the dry wind" "desert" "dead sand/ Falling." Here, "Fields and gardens.../ Came to life in dust and sand."

Relationships were revived as well: "as if old love was new." And business boomed, too-- along with, not in exploitation of-- this phenomenon: "Banker's pockets overflowing with gold and money."

Then the song shifts to a series of call-and-response phrases. A gospel choir sings "bop-bop-a-whoa," and the speaker replies "Ain't no song like and old song, Charlie," in reference to the fact that this is a sample of a song from 1938, at least (see the Musical Note below).

Who is Charlie? Is it Fat Charlie the Archangel from "Crazy Love, Vol II"? No, Simon uses this name to set up the next line: "Ain't no time like a good time, Charlie." A "good-time Charlie" is a "life-of-the-party" sort of fellow, so this line is a pun.

This, in turn, shifts to "Ain't no times like the good times, Charlie." The good times being, it seems, those filled with "love and blessings," "simple kindness," romance, and full granaries and coffers, all as described above.

Back to "bop-bop-a-whoa," a phrase that proves the link between gospel and doo-wop, two of Simon's favorite genres and ones referred to many times on this album in particular. But here, it seems a shorthand for... something. "Everybody [is] working for" it and one "Can't get enough of" it. But what is it? Money? Sex? Maybe it is different things for different people, the thing that makes them excited.

Tonally, we now shift back to the start of the song, with its imagery of nature and its effects on people. "If the summer kept a secret/ It was heaven's lack of rain." This is ambiguous at best. If it said, "If the summer kept a secret/ it was heaven's rain," then we would assume that the rain was held back, like a secret unspoken, and there was a drought. But "secret... lack of" is double negative of sorts. So... there was little rain, but the heavens didn't tell us about it? I think we would know how much or little rain there was, in any case! We would be the ones who were wet or dry.

From the next lines, it seems that rain was gone... but not missed, at least not by him: "Golden days and amber sunsets/ Let the scientists complain." However, the scientists soon have company in their worried grousing. The autumn leaves were "drained of color." How bad in the drought? "Ghosts in the water beg for more" (and what an evocative image!). Yet, is this true... or is it just that our "memory" was clearer?

The song ends with the speaker being "woken from [his] sleep" by "something." It seems to be the realization that "Love and blessings... [are] ours to hold but not to keep." This echoes Robert Frost's assertion that "nothing gold can stay."

Simon seems to be expressing two related themes, here. One is that the nature of abundance (and scarcity) is cyclical. The other is that people and society change in accordance with these cycles. Abundance brings warmth, which then turns cold when drought sets in. Once we become aware of this, however, we can adjust our behavior, and stay warm toward each other even when times are less kind.

Musical Note:
The "bop-bop-a-whoa" heard in the song is, appropriately for the "bridge" of the song, sampled from The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, specifically, their 1938 song "Golden Gate Gospel Train." (I am unsure whether the group named the song, vice versa, or neither). It was BB King who pointed Simon to the group, when they met backstage at Madison Square Garden for the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Next Song: So Beautiful or So What