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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Root-a-Toot Social Commentary

The mid-1960s saw an interesting trend in pop/rock music, one in which bands began to invoke sounds of the 1920s and 1930s.

The British music-hall tradition was bedrock, for example, to Herman's Hermits; "Mrs. Brown,You've Got a Lovely Daughter," "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," and "My Old Dutch" are just three of their songs informed by music from twenty years before their birth. The magnificent Kinks, of course, combined R&B and George Formby in such top stuff as "Mr. Pleasant," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and "Victoria."

Americans went way back, too; the "Bald-Headed Lena" and "Fishin' Blues" good-time sound of The Lovin' Spoonful was wildly influential. Michael Nesmith did several great wacka-do-wacka-do songs with the Monkees, while Harry Nilsson's entire approach owed much to the old school. Then there's always Tiny Tim's ukelele-led stroll through the tulips...

Weirder even than Tiny Tim was the wedding of such vo-de-o-do-do sounds to intelligent social commentary. Here are two "root-a-toot" songs by singer/songwriters who, for some reason, thought that their message was best delivered with ukeleles, kazoos, and tin pans.

Many of you have probably heard Phil Ochs, a great topical singer and songwriter who released a handful of great albums in the 1960s. Here's the closest thing he ever had to a hit single: "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," from Pleasures of the Harbor.

Ray Repp is a recent discovery around here. He has spent most of his long career as a Christian artist, but the more non-sectarian "Apple Pie," a real charmer in its humor and its almost overwrought good-sense liberalism, comes from his 1969 release (which I think was recorded in 1966) The Time Has Not Come True.

Enjoy! Are there other songs in this category?


Blogger Winona said...

Stuart, I am shocked - SHOCKED - that you failed to mention "When I'm 64" - or was it too obvious a choice?

8:50 AM, September 08, 2008

Blogger Stuart Shea said...


As you point out, I could have easily discussed the Fabs' root-a-toot stuff, which includes as you say "64," as well as other Paul trifles. Heck, even the Stones did it ("Something Happened to Me Yesterday").

I'm especially interested in the idea of combining this music with discussion about "important" topics.

10:49 AM, September 08, 2008

Blogger larryepke said...

"Winchester Cathedral" of course!

11:04 AM, September 08, 2008

Blogger Bob Purse said...

Well, it's more of a social commentary on the personal side of things, but the Mamas and Papas "Words Of Love" seems to fit in, at least to a degree. And it's one of the two or three songs of their that I like.

7:49 PM, September 08, 2008

Blogger Derek See said...

Reminds me of "when I Go Sailin By" from the Charlatans!

10:07 PM, September 10, 2008

Blogger Bob Purse said...

Oh, and I really enjoyed that Apple Pie song. Catchy, great lyrics and a neat arrangement.

Much better than "Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie" by Jay and the Techniques, or "Cherry Pie" by Warrant.

7:34 AM, September 11, 2008

Blogger IncaRoads said...

Gotta go with "Granny Takes a Trip" by The Purple Gang. Although it is not quite clear what kinda "trip" Granny is taking ;)

Hey Stuart, got to make a confession after 25+ years. I copied several of your answers on our ACT test. You were sitting in front of me and it was just too tempting. Hoping you will forgive me, it has been weighing heavily on my mind ever since.

Hope all is well,

Barry Sheck

8:25 AM, September 14, 2008

Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Hey, Barry, thanks for checking in. Great suggestion on "Granny Takes a Trip"--prime London underground 20s-60s fusion.

Don't worry about the ACT thing. Not a problem; we were just kids. And I got really bad scores anyway.

4:37 PM, September 14, 2008


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