Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mystery Solved...and Stashed

That tune. That tune! That tune has been knocking around in my head for so many years. I blogged about it back in 2011. I thought it was from a really old movie, or a novelty riff from Camper Van Beethoven, or something vaguely Eastern European. People close to me have heard me whistle it spontaneously now and again for the better part of two decades, and any time I've inquired with anyone about that sequence of notes, I've gotten nothing but shrugs and blank stares.

I once thought I was hot on the trail, when I came across
this 1932 composition by Jerzy Petersburski. There are some segments in this Polish tango reminiscent of the tune, but I knew when I found it, I was still shooting in the dark. Bonus: a fragment of this tango also reminds me of the “When the dog bites, when the bee stings” portion of My Favorite Things from the Sound of Music.

So, after years of this nagging sensation as to the origins of this melody, last weekend, it happened. I ended up in a somewhat random conversation about the band Phish with my niece, niece-in-law, and my two nephews. My nephew Jon,* was recommending a podcast called Analyze Phish. In it, comedian Harris Wittels, Phish Phan, tries to convince comedian Scott Aukerman, Phish naysayer, why he should love Phish. In a parallel, I went through a Phish phase (college in Santa Cruz in the '90s, natch), while Jon is the non-fan.

So I decided to jump on Spotify and put together some Phish songs that I thought might appeal to Jon, just for the hell of it. I played snippets of songs from albums I used to own, to refamiliarize myself with the music. While scrolling through the tracks on the 1992 album A Picture of Nectar, I made a totally unexpected discovery at two minutes and two seconds into the song "Stash:"

And the motif repeats itself at the end of the song, at minute 6:49, accompanying the lyrics "Maybe so, and maybe not."

Oh my fucking god!! The thrill of finding the source of this tune was visceral. It was like unwrapping my new Darth Vader Collector’s Case on Chanukah, 1982.** Or the satisfaction of writing one’s thousandth tweet. It was gleeful! I still can’t explain the very definite six-note intro to the song snippet that I always whistle, which is clearly not anywhere to be found in the Phish song. I don't know if I composed it unconsciously, or if it's an amalgam of some other melody. It’s no matter. I can rest on this one.

Artist: Phish
Year: 1992
Rating: Luke Hot

* Jon guest blogged for us at The Songs in My Head a few years ago. You can read those posts right here.
** I just learned that Google only returns 1.5 million results for “Chanukah,” my preferred transliteration for the Jewish Festival of Lights, and returns 15.7 million for “Hanukkah.” Am I spelling it wrong? Maybe so, and maybe not.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Handy Man

It's been a year and a half since I last posted an entry here. I've been sucked into other social networking, and also trying to focus on, y'know, life and stuff. Maybe I'll pick up the pace here at The Songs in My Head, and maybe not. I tweet on music and culture at soozzip with a hair more frequency, so follow me there!

For now, the lilting mellowness of a tune from my youth, with Mr. James Taylor's "Handy Man." The "comma, comma, comma, comma, come, come," refrain was ubiquitous on 70s radio, a song not to be confused with Sammy Davis Jr's "The Candyman" and the weirdness that is Neil Sedaka also spelling out that useful bit of punctuation. But I actually didn't realize that the song is much older. It's easy to attribute to JT, since he was mainly known for singing songs he'd also written, but the song was originally penned by roots rock and R&B singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell (who also wrote "Don't Be Cruel," "Great Balls of Fire," and many other very influential rock tunes). It's a case of the long, vague memory thread of a song that's been part of the culture for a very long time, arriving in my head one random day in 2015, in the form I'm most familiar with. Likely you've heard a couple of these versions of the tune yourself:

The 1959 original, by Jimmy Jones:

The chart-topper, later that same year, by Dell Shannon and his distinctive clavioline:

And who knew that Frank Black and Teenage Fanclub even banged out an indie cover of the song for a John Peel session record?

Artist: James Taylor
Year: 1977
Rating: Warm

Artist: Jimmy Jones
Year: 1959
Rating: Luke Hot

Artist: Del Shannon
Year: 1959
Rating: Luke Hot

Artist: Frank Black & Teenage Fanclub
Year: 1997
Rating: Warm