As I wrote last week, we’ve been having unseasonably warm weather here in Michigan. Everything is flowering and budding, and it looks more like late May or early June than March. The warmth has lasted long enough to convince me spring is here—I can tell because I suddenly got the urge to listen to early 70s music.
I don’t know why I get this craving every spring. I do not listen to most of these songs the rest of the year. I’m not even sure I like all of these songs. But they are the music of my youth, so I guess youth=spring=70s songs in my brain.
This weekend as I listened two things stood out. The first is that I’ve used up way too many brain cells remembering the words to these songs. Honestly, I could (and did) sing along with almost all of the 200 or so I listened to.
The second thing is that lots of weird and wacky songs were popular in the early 70s. One of my favorites is “Polk Salad Annie.” The singer starts with a helpful explanation of poke salad for any listeners not from the south, but the song is really a character sketch about a girl known as (you guessed it) Polk Salad Annie, who “makes the alligators look tame.” Well, no wonder. Her mother, “a wretched, spiteful, straight-razor totin’ woman” is currently working on the chain gang, and the gators got her granny (“chomp chomp”). Her male relatives aren’t any better—lazy thieves, mostly. But Annie seems to have made quite an impression on the singer.
There’s also “Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance), in which our hungry hero wanders into a building with a sign advertising “food and drink for everyone.” He’s so hungry that when he’s told he must dance for his dinner, he agrees even though he says he’s no dancer. But wait! Once he’s on the dance floor he turns out to be an excellent dancer. This excites him so much (“I can dance! Oh yeah, I can dance! Look at me dancing! I can dance I can dance I can dance!”) that he apparently forgets all about eating.
“Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes Love It)” is about a “craaazy dream,” which I believe occurred after someone indulged in illegal pharmaceuticals. In his dream the singer sees a chick in a black bikini, chases her, then enters the “three doors in the top of her bikini.” Everybody in the dream inexplicably says, “Chick-a-boom, chick-a-boom, don’t ya jes love it” whenever he asks for help finding the chick. Then, when he finally catches up to her and tries to woo her with his smooth style, guess what he hears himself saying?
Then there’s “Dead Skunk,” perhaps the best song ever written about road kill. The poor skunk who “didn’t see the station wagon car” ends up dead in the middle of the road, “stinkin’ to high heaven.” The rousing chorus seems like a great place for everyone to sing along:
“You got your dead cat and you got your dead dog
On a moonlight night you got your dead toad frog
You got your dead rabbit and your dead raccoon
The blood and the guts are gonna make you swoon”
This last song became my favorite after repeated listenings this weekend. I’m
not a little embarrassed to say I laughed out loud every time. The growling Wolfman Jackish voice that starts the song becomes something of a Greek chorus as the song progresses, providing answers and insights to the questions posed by the singer.
Q:“Ah, what good’s a metronome without a bell for ringing?” A: “Well, you try and do your best.”
Q: “How can you ever hope to know just where you are?” A: “Well, you look around.”
By the end he’s devolved into a dirty old man: “Ya gimme dat if you wanna make an old man happy.” The best part of the song may be the jaunty dance hall piano interlude in the middle.
As I said, I still know the words to all these songs. But what’s even more astonishing is that all of these songs got played on the radio in the early 70s and were fairly popular. Now, that might mean we had little taste back in the day, but I prefer to think this shows that we valued diversity and had a sense of humor.
Next blog I’m going to talk about the obsession with death and murder we also apparently had back then, based on some other popular songs.
What wacky songs do you remember from those days? Or, for the younger readers, what songs have you heard on some nostalgic radio station, or heard your parents talk about?