Memories, especially those of the young, can be the most vivid and enduring. That’s what Jay Strafford wrote in reviewing my recently-published “little book” in the Book & Authors column.
Waiting in a doctor’s office with “oldies” music oozing in the back ground, there it was: Music, Music, Music – Teresa Brewer’s # 1 hit: Put Another Nickel In / In The Nickelodeon / All I Want Is Loving You / And Music, Music, Music.
Interestingly, some of those1949 lyrics were border-line sketchy: “I’d do anything for you / Anything you’d want me to.” In those days, people didn’t over analyze, or seek reasons to be offended. Brewer later brought back America’s Gay Nineties period with an album including By the Light Of the Silvery Moon; I’ve Got Rings On My Fingers; and the Eddie Cantor favorite, Ma He’s Making Eyes At Me. Musical memories became unleashed.
Ten years earlier, 1940, in Tappahannock, VA, my dad stood in line to buy his 78 RPM of The Ink Spot hit: We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me). He loved them.
In the late 1930’s, early ‘40’s, Kay Kyser’s College of Musical Knowledge had several mega hits as World War II commenced: Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition; along with Saxie Dowell’s Three Little Fishies ( Boop Boop Dit-tem Dot-tem what-tem chu!). Praise, a patriotic song, written by Frank Loesser was a simple, strong response to the Pearl Harbor attack. We sang it daily with unchristian vengeance.
Fishies was different – fun for small fry like us: Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool / Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too / “Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can” / And they swam and the swam all over the dam. You had to be there – then.
Saxie Dowell would later play big-band music on night radio along with his wife on WGN, Chicago. At eleven years old, I became a loyal fan. A young Lou Dean, carving his late night radio career, at WRVA, would later fill that place in the late fifties.
Der Fuehrer’s Face took the country by storm. It was a splash success from Spike Jones and His City Slickers. It parodied the Nazi anthem with a variation of the Bronx cheer, diminishing a 1942 Hitler into a clown. We’d walk around placing short black combs under our noses pretending to be a silly dictator.
By 1943 Mairzy Doats, a novelty song, prevailed – the Merry Macs, reaching No. 1 in March, 1944. This little ditty took some figuring: Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle damzy divey / A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe? – morphed into Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy / A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you? We ran around singing the “lyrics” in silly ignorance. Grandchildren, Vaden and Latane Reid, enjoyed great fun singing Mairzy along with R-A-G-G M-O-P-P – Rag Mop! Then there was this: Wonga, Wonga Wonga…Wonga Philip Harris, people!
Harris, Jack Benny’s sometimes band leader, was novelty tune king: Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette; One-Zy Two-Zy; That’s What I Like About The South; and The Thing (you know the one about finding a mysterious box on the beach and never learning what’s in it). In my mind, South possessed intrigue: Did I tell you ‘bout the place called Doo-wah-diddy / It ain’t no town and it ain’t no city / It’s just awful small, but awful pretty / That’s Doo-wah-diddy.” Harris was a gas.
In 1947, offending people seemed impossible. Arthur Godfrey’s Too Fat Polka proved that: I don’t want her / you can have her / she’s too fat for me / she’s too fat – she’s too fat for me. The Andrews Sisters enjoyed a hit (Civilization) simultaneously: Bonga, bonga, bonga. I don’t want to leave the Congo, oh no, no, no, no….civilisatiion is a thing for me to see. No offense taken in those days.
Johnny Standley’s It’s In The Book stands alone with grandma’s lye soap: little Herman and brother Thurman / Had An Aversion To Washing Their Ears / Grandma scrubbed them with lye soap / And They Haven’t Heard A Word in years…It’s In The Book. Throwing in Andy Griffith’s What It Was Was Football, Bob & Ray, and Stan Freberg, we were tantalized continuously.
With Freberg’s inventory, choosing was endless: Dragnet, Banana Boat, John And Marsha, Point of Order, and my favorite – a master of parody about Lawrence Welk –Turn Off tha Bubble Machine: “hold it, hold it, thank you Lemmon Sisters, ahh, turn off tha bubble machine, Wun’erful, Wun’erful! Opps, there goes Welk’s band floating out to sea on a cloud of bubbles.
With warm romantic tunes interspersed, there was Jean King’s “Lonesome Gal” radio show on WRNL-910. Her alluring, seductive voice dripped: Sweetie, no matter what anybody says, I love you better than anybody in the whoooole world…this is your Lonesome Gal. I was twelve.
Mr. Wallace, Mr. Wallace!….Dr. Zach will see you now.