My Old Kentucky Homesite

Earworm Saturday #5

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/22/2010

The other day, I was humming along to an old jazz album that I love, a compilation of “greatest hits” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Many of the cuts are among my all-time favorite recordings. But much to my dismay, I was also greeted by the sound of some music I’ve hated ever since I first heard it on the Broadway stage back before Noah first heard raindrops.

Don’t get me wrong: the instrumental Brubeck version is cool. However, when the ditty became an earworm shortly after I’d listened to it, I was appalled to discover that the original — complete with some of the most corny, insincere words ever written — was what I had rattling around my head. Augggh! I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s the world’s most treacly anthem to ersatz cheeriness. Thank you, Oscar Hammerstein, you sap!

Obviously, you’re dying to know what dumb piece of doggerel I’m referring to. But I can’t present it in its raw state, because some of you readers may be diabetics. Perhaps the most familiar version of the song won’t be quite so sickeningly sweet if you’re reaquainted with it during a drive-time sing-along.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how that tune was interpreted by Brubeck and company. Just sit back and try not to think of whiskers and sleighbells and schnitzel.

See what I mean? But actually, without the stupid snowflakes and strudels and brown paper packages, the melody is quite charming. Even a sourpuss like me could find little to apologize about in this highly entertaining, mostly wordless version.

But the question is: can you hear that tune without immediately thinking of cream-colored ponies and warm woolen mittens? And doorbells. What kind of mentally challenged person came up with that one? “Oh, yes, my favorite thing is a doorbell. My second favorite thing is a door knocker. I’m also fond of buzzers and chimes.” Anyway, maybe a Japanese Flamenco Duo might help you ignore any unwanted visitors (at your door, or in your ears).

Sorry If you’re now haunted by that drivel. But your bright copper kettles may come to a nice boil in this Latin dance rendition.

Frankly, one of my favorite things is that this guy is not my next-door neighbor.

Of course, another way to remove the saccharinity is to just make up your own words.

And how about these bitter girls (probably not in white dresses with blue satin sashes) singing about diamonds and pearls and rich greedy husbands?

But … (There’s always a but, isn’t there?) … some guys, apparently, have only one favorite thing. (But who can blame them?)

A few performers do manage to overcome the syrupy verses by employing subtle seduction. This lead singer’s come-hither glances convinced me that I’d like to be one of her favorite things. Warning, though: If you stick around like a puppydog until the end, you’ll have to sit through an ad for, of all (favorite) things, grapefruit-scented soap. Ah, what a comedown for the lovable (and lavable) Nataly.

Here’s another performer who, while using the original words, rids the song of more than just a spoonful of sugar. However, be warned: When the dog bites, when the bee stings, this might be the wrong governess to comfort you.

OK, readers, you may now joyfully return to petting your kittens.


23 Responses to “Earworm Saturday #5”

  1. That was always one of my favorite movies, and I love that song.

    Bobby Derrin still exists?

    I liked the next to last one.

    The last one was really well done. I spent some time in China in the Army. We went to a lot of clubs with live bands. In one club, the band was phenomenal. All of their American classic rock covers were amazing. I had no idea how they were able to accurately mimic such diverse singers. When they got a break, my compatriots and I invited them over and bought a round. I tried talking to them in Chinese, but it turned out they were from Malaysia. So I switched to English. Their lyrics were dead on, but they didn’t speak a word. My father says that in Vietnam they had a bands from the Philippines who were the same way. The current lead singer of the 80s band Journey does a near perfect facsimile of the original lead singer, but speaks no English. I was just wondering if the young lady in the last link speaks English.

  2. Des:
    I assume you mistyped “Derrin” for “McFerrin.” And, yeah, as far as I know, he’s still alive. So don’t worry, be happy (a far more honest lyric than Hammerstein’s).

    I don’t know for sure if lead singer, Wawi Navarroza, speaks English, but Googling reveals that the band is from the Philippines. Since English is one of the two official languages there, and since she earned a university degree in Manila, my guess is that she does speak it. Are you trying to decide what language to use in your fan letter?

    I have no idea what language the spider speaks.

  3. What two consonants and a “Mc” between friends? I have never studied spiderese, but I will take a stab at it.

  4. Brubeck’s Time Further Out was one of the first albums I actually bought with my own money. And I wore it out. I think I’ll go to iTunes and buy it!

    At least the first group were hot chicks just having fun.

    Pampalamoose is one of the first YouTube-made exclusive groups. Allee Willis ( is now working with them.

    Random thoughts eliminate ear worms.

    Why are there no ear words? or car worms?

  5. …back before Noah first heard raindrops.

    Well, before I even finish the post, I’ve got another earworm I can’t get rid of. Thanks.

    I was not a big jazz fan, (I’m still not) but when I was in high school, my parents had tickets to see Dave Brubeck in a local theater, and couldn’t go, so they gave me the tickets. I took a date. I did enjoy myself. Not sure if it was the girl I was with or the show. I don’t remember who I took, but I do remember the show. They tore the theater down a few years later.

  6. Des:
    I have never studied spiderese, but I will take a stab at it.
    Perhaps there’s a clue somewhere on the web.

    I’d never heard of Allee Willis, but I do know the theme from “Friends,” and I’ll probably visit her virtual Museum of Kitsch. (My wife also has such a museum, although she doesn’t know it, since she calls it “our house.”)

    When I was in college, the cafe’s jukebox was stocked full of 60s hits by the Beatles, the Stones, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Dylan, et al. But the most played “songs” were the Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” My first jazz album, bought when I was a freshman, was Time Out and my second was Time Further Out. By the way, my favorite number on TFO is “Unsquare Dance,” which — more than 40 years after I first heard it — I still listen to frequently. I love challenging friends who encounter it for the first time to clap, tap their foot, or even dance along.

    As soon as I typed the word “raindrops,” I knew that somebody was going to link to B.J. Thomas.

  7. the chaplain said

    Another interesting assortment of earworm-worthy material. Including Dave Brubeck triples the value of any collection. Thanks to SI, I’ve now got two worms competing for my ears.

  8. Chappy:
    I could have guessed that you’d be a Brubeck fan. But I wonder: Did the Salvation Army Band ever play any of the “Time” pieces? I’m trying to imagine a “sinner” being drawn to the fold by, say, “Three to Get Ready” or “It’s a Raggy Waltz.”

  9. Sarge said

    Desertscope, did you mean, “Bobby Darrin”? He did “Kack the Knife” as well as that one.

    I can tell you, like your Dad, that they had some pretty good entertainment groups and some pretty lame ones, too. As a grunt I didn’t see too many such things, but the Asian ones could really study them and give a great approximation in sound.

    But I saw the best one when I was a kid on Okinawa.
    At the AYA club at a dance I saw a band from the local area, I believe, but their lead singer was a five foot nuthin’ oriental, sideburns, and DA haircut who could do any piece just like the original. He belted out, “You ain’t nuthin’ but a houn’ dawg” in such a way that if closed your eyes you saw Elvis. His Little Richard was also fantastic…the SINGER, Little Richard, I meant!!! I wouldn’t know about any other…

    I went to a place called The Shadows in the DC area (I lived there in my teen years and at other points in my life) in the early sixties, and Stan Getz, Astrid Gilberto, and the Dave Brubeck group were appearing. I was, disappointed.

    Larry, my wife is suffering that earworm thing. I was doing some outside work, pulling vines from the walls of the house, and I made the mistake of not wearing a dust mask.
    My mouth was open, I was looking up, and a spider fell right in. My wife and our neighbors saw it happen (said it was a rather sizeable critter), and I just gulped it down.

    After my coughing and gagging fit passed, my neighbors asked if I had first swallowed a fly. I said no, I didn’t know why I would swallow a fly. (They were twitting me, they know I am a folk musician)They asked if the spider was wriggling, jiggling, and tickling inside of me, and if I planned on swallowing a bird to catch the spider.
    I allowed that the digestive process seemed to have done for the poor critter as it wasn’t moving at all, besides, it would be absurd to swallow a bird. It would lead to the ingestion of a cat, dog, and eventually, a horse and this would all end in tears… still, I’d been planning on hamburgers for supper, but now, strangely enough, my appetite called for Chicken…hmmmm…

    About two hours later, and also this morning, my wife said to me, “I HATE you”!!!
    She hasn’t thought about Burl Ives singing “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly” in half a century, and now she can’t get it out of her head.

    Life is sweet!

  10. Sarge:
    I know an old lady who swallowed a chicken … her heart’s still tickin’.

    Some advice: If you want to keep peace in the family, do not tell your wife if you happen to see a very small spider going up a waterspout.

  11. I meant Bobby McFerrin, but I was forced to listen to a lot of 50s and 60s pop by my mother. As a child, I was traumatically roused from slumber every weekend by one oldies crooner or another. Maybe that’s why I typed “Derrin.”

    I always thought of Bobby Darin as the annoying “Dream Lover” guy. Looking at his bio on Wikipedia just now, I see that he never reached my present age. Now I suppose “Beyond the Sea” will be that much more depressing.

    Since childhood, I can only think of Burl Ives as a creepy claymation snowman.

  12. Des:
    Burl Ives was a creepy claymation snowman.

    When my son was a baby, he loved the Burl Ives version of “Little White Duck,” which — to prove the Circle of Ditty Life — I remembered from my own childhood. Because I’m so susceptible to earworms, I found myself whistling that idiotic tune everywhere I went in New York City. Now and then, a stranger would feel compelled to hum along.

  13. ildi said

    How about this beatboxing flute version?

    Greg Pattillo

    I never think of any of the songs from The Sound of Music as earworms; too many happy memories attached to that era. That’s like saying Silent Night is an earworm.

    The hills are alive… with the helicopter-level view of the high mountain pasture…

    Climb every mountain… with the wise visage of the Mother Abbess looking into the sunset…

  14. Ildi:
    Great version.

    The hills are alive … and you know that’s fright’ning.

  15. the chaplain said

    Some interesting info about the helicopter view:

    The opening scene that became one of the most famous in film history was filmed on a mountain about 10 kilometers into Bavaria. The scene was shot from a helicopter and had to be perfectly timed, so one of the crew members hid in the bushes with a megaphone and yelled “Go, Julie” when the helicopter was in the right position. Julie Andrews had great difficulty standing upright because of the jet helicopter´s strong downward drafts. After ten takes she got really angry!

    Here’s another take on the story:

    But she couldn’t always keep her humor. For the opening sequence with Maria running through the hills Wise used a helicopter to the get the shot. The force from the blades kept blowing Julie over. In between takes she would spit out dirt and grass, cursing like a sailor.

    It warms my twisted heart to picture the angelic-looking Julie Andrews “cursing like a sailor.”

    Here’s Julie Andrews telling the story herself.

  16. Chappy:
    It warms my twisted heart to picture the angelic-looking Julie Andrews “cursing like a sailor.”

    Little known fact:
    Originally, the song’s lyrics were:
    The fucking hills are alive with the sound of a goddamned helicopter.

  17. the chaplain said

    Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett did parody of The Sound of Music in 1962 – about two years before Andrews began filming the movie. No one dreamed at the time that Andrews would be starring in the movie. Here’s a clip of Carol Burnett commenting on the show. Funny stuff.

  18. ildi said

    Another illusion shattered; I googled Peggy Wood, who played the Mother Abbess – according to wiki, she didn’t actually sing Climb Every Mountain, but was dubbed by someone else.

    This is as bad as when I found out it wasn’t Kevin Costner’s bare ass in Robin Hood…

  19. Ildi:
    It was Kevin Costner who sang “Climb Every Mountain,” and Peggy Wood’s bare ass in Robin Hood. So you were close.

  20. Jeff R said

    I love Brubeck — he’s sort of been my gateway drug into jazz. Now I can’t get enough, but his was the first jazz band I really listened to. And Unsquare Dance is brilliant, maybe my favorite of his.

    But you didn’t mention John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things”. A classic. Really. Nothing saccharine at all about it. Though it might be an acquired taste; he uses the tune as a springboard to do some grungy bop improve.

    BTW, I came here via Pharyngula. You have some good snark here. Keep it up!

  21. Jeff:
    Yeah, you’re right. The Coltrane version is definitely a classic. I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Coltrane’s; I appreciate him on an intellectual level (he’s fucking amazing!), but he doesn’t appeal to my emotions much. (That’s how I feel about Brahms and Springsteen, too.) Go figure. Still, a number of friends have already chastised me for leaving his recording off the original post. So thanks for linking to it.

  22. Jeff R said

    I hear you about Brahms and Springsteen. And I can totally understand Coltrane not doing it for you; I can only take him in short bits. But man! Some of his stuff really pulls me in, emotionally, more than anything else. Strangely enough, given how jangly the sound is.

    But it’s definitely a personal preference thing.

  23. Jeff:
    But it’s definitely a personal preference thing.
    Yeah, as musical taste always is. However, if someone asked me to make a sampler of the greatest jazz recordings of all time, I’d definitely include something by Coltrane.

    I guess that jangly stuff doesn’t speak to me. I’m not a big fan of Charlie Parker’s either — although I think he was a genius. I guess I’d have to say that, in general, I’m not grabbed by bop much — although, oddly enough, I love Dizzy.

    Jazz works in mysterious ways.

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