Thursday, October 16, 2008
I Love the 70s Thursday Thirteen
I’m dropping in on Thursday Thirteen for the first time in a long time because I had a quirky thought about some 70s songs this week and said to myself, “Hey. That sounds like a TT.” And that’s how genius is born, my friends.
“My friends.” Oh, Senator McCain. Please stop saying that phrase; I beg of you. Please.
OK -- Thirteen 70s songs which contain funky stories.
These are not just odes like Elton John’s “Daniel,” or love songs, or songs about an event like when Buddy Holly died and Don McLean wrote that song which I won’t name here because then it will be stuck in my head for 6 weeks.
No, these are songs that have a beginning, middle and end, a narrative, if you will. I have listed either the writer or artist after the title. And here they are, my friends:
13. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. (Jim Croce, 1972). My 5th grade music teacher let us sing this song, but he was very adamant that we weren’t going to substitute some “pansy” word like “darn” for the “d” word in the song. As a result, when we came to the crucial lyric, half the class laughed uncontrollably, half the class yelled the “d” word, and I took the road less traveled by, and sat there mute and fearful that a lightning bolt was going to take out half of my classmates for swearing. That teacher was … not smart.
12. Brandy. (Looking Glass, 1972). Brandy the barmaid's story painted the strongest case for the feminist cause, ever. When I hear this song, I always want to say, “Brandy, you don’t need no stinkin’ sailor. Go back to school, get your degree, travel--see the world yourself instead of listening to some blowhard’s tall tales. Stop waiting around on that scalawag sea dawg.” I like to imagine that Brandy invented those little paper baskets that hold chips and pickles and became an independent, powerful multi-millionaire chain restaurant owner. Or something.
11. Wildfire. (Michael Martin Murphy, 1975). A horse “busted down” its stall and got lost in a blizzard. Then the narrator felt haunted by the horse and some girl who ran calling “Wildfire.” The end.
10. Indiana Wants Me. (R. Dean Taylor, 1970). Somebody dissed somebody’s woman, so the narrator killed the disser. And somehow, Indiana, my state, got mixed up in this awful song which includes sirens and the actual words: “This is the police. You are surrounded. Give yourself up.” Given a choice between hearing this song and being shot by the police, I might take the bullet.
9. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. (Vicki Lawrence, 1972). So, Little Sister is singing this song about her older brother’s wife who cheated with everyone in town. Through a strange and totally implausible chain of events, Brother goes off to kill his friend, Andy, who cheated with the wife, but discovers that someone has already killed him. In a flash of brilliancy, Brother fires his gun in the air to summon a passing sheriff but is found standing over the body with a literal smoking gun. Brother is then hauled off, tried for murder and executed at midnight, which apparently sucked all the electricity out of the entire state of Georgia, in spite of the fact that he was hanged, not electrocuted. Plot twist: Little Sister done it for her big brother [“Gee, thanks, Sis!”] and got away with it.
8. Delta Dawn. (Helen Reddy, 1973). A beautiful girl gets jilted then walks around town with a suitcase in her hand for pretty much the rest of her life, or at least until she's 41, at which point her daddy still calls her "Baby." So she's got more than one problem. Modern day Miss Havisham.
7. Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. (Cher, 1971). The narrator, a 16 year-old girl, reminisces about the zany life after “being born in the wagon of a travelin’ show.” It wasn’t pretty, but Cher was, so everyone cheered and bought the album.
6. I Shot the Sheriff. (Eric Clapton, 1974). I think this is a song about perceived retributional justice, with the stoopid rationale for shooting the sheriff being, “Reflexes got the better of me/And what is to be must be.” He did not like it that the sheriff had it in for him, so his trigger finger got “itchy.” Noble, indeed.
5. Honey. (Bobby Goldsboro). Sad songs, they say so much. OK, this one’s about a guy who’s missing his “Honey,” who died. It’s a sappy, sad, sad song, which actually includes the lyrics: “She was always young at heart/kinda dumb and kinda smart” Nothing says “love” like a back-handed compliment. “Honey” planted a tree, and now it has grown big. And that is sad, my friends.
4. My Eyes Adored You. (Frankie Valli, 1975). Pre-pubescent, innocent love that haunts a grown man even after he has found fortune and fame. Contains the name of a bridge which confused every listener who never heard of “Barnegat Bridge and Bay.” It is a real bridge in New Jersey. Looking at this picture, I can’t help but think they’re lucky they made it past 6th grade since they walked that treacherous route every day.
3. Cat’s in the Cradle. (Harry Chapin, 1974). This song preys on every fear that conscientious parents have about not spending enough time with their kids. The lesson is, if you ignore kids, they will grow up to be just like you, a bad person/parent, and they will probably stick you in a nursing home and never come see you, and you deserve it, you bad, bad parent.
2. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Gordon Lightfoot, 1976). Possibly the worst, funniest song every written, imho. “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.” Any song with the words “Gitche Gumee” and “Cleveland” in the lyrics doesn’t lend itself to elegiac stanzas, but Gordon overcame those challenges, and unbelievably, this dirge made it all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Next time you have a party, have everyone link elbows, sway, and take big, sloppy drinks of ale from frothy mugs while you sing this song at the tops of your lungs. Good times!
1. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree. (Dawn, Featuring Tony Orlando, 1973). This song is #37 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time, selling 3 million in 3 weeks. Wow. We must have loved that song even more than I remember (I was 11). Plot: Ex-con is returning home but is afraid to look at the old oak tree, because if the ribbon’s not there, he’s gonna have to bust some heads. No, just kidding. He’ll be … sad … and he’ll “stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me,” but it turns out he’s wringing his hands and asking the bus driver to look for him for no reason because lo and behold—100 ribbons are around that old oak tree! Everyone on the bus cheered! We just know they lived happily ever after, right?! Right!
And there you are, my friends, 13 story-telling songs of the 70s!