My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for the ‘Earworms’ Category

Earworm Saturday #7

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 08/07/2010

When my friend visited me from New York, one of the things she really wanted to do was to go to Shaker Village. Having been there once, I had no desire to hear the history of the silly religious sect again. The only thing I remember about them is that they were hot for celibacy, so they didn’t tend to breed much. Soon — big surprise! — they went extinct. Who says Darwin is inapplicable to Christianity?

In any case, on the morning of the day my we’d planned to head to Pleasant Hill (how pleasant could it be without sex?), we heard that the temperature was going to be 91 degrees. Even my friend had no interest in braving the sweltering heat just to watch people make chairs.

So we stayed home, and, to mollify her, I found a decent rendition of that ubiquitous Shaker tune. (Note: The tune is ubiquitous; the Shakers, as previously noted, not so much.) By the way, if you’re wondering what to get me for my next birthday, the jewel in the video is a simple gift I’d enjoy.

If you know me, you can probably guess the rest. I wound up with an earworm. And so did my friend. We spent a lot of the rest of the day asking one another to stop whistling.

The weirdest thing about “Simple Gifts,” however, is that it’s hardly ever performed simply. This sweet potato is trying to make her interpretation look easy, but she’s not fooling anyone, is she?

Here are a couple of Presbyterians, clearly working hard. Once or twice they get so close to one another that it’s a good question whether they’ll be able to remain celibate for long.

But nobody makes the song seem more difficult than this guy. How does he do that? [Note: Here’s an Addendum for the Curious.]

Some music directors are entirely wrong-headed. Is there anything simple about this version?

Occasionally, even a rendition that has aural simplicity still manages to look impossible. How did these siblings get their pianos on the sand?

A new set of lyrics was written in 1963 by Sydney Carter, who managed to combine Christ and dancing. Screw all those fundies who think that doing the jig is a sin. (In case you’re in too much of a religious rapture to notice, I should warn you that the input file has no video stream.)

Given Carter’s lyrics, you should have guessed that I’d include this unsimple performance, with its many encores. What says “simple” more than a fireworks display? In fact, the only thing remotely simple about this video, is the fact that the guy forgot to put on his shirt.

Are you bored of the dance yet?

If there is an afterlife, the ghosts of 19th-century Shakers are definitely shaking at their no longer recognizable song.

The moral of this post is: Keep it simple, stupid!


Posted in Earworms | 22 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #6

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/10/2010

The other day, a friend asked me if I remembered what my first earworm was. I sure do. It was Mrs. Bronstein playing “The Spinning Song” on her piano.

When I was growing up, my Saturday mornings always began with the sounds of that poor woman of indeterminate middle age — I referred to her as “old” back then (fuck me) — practicing her music. The headboard of my bed was separated from the sounding board of her upright piano by a thin wall of plaster between our apartments. Throughout my entire childhood, she never expanded her repertoire beyond the same two pieces, but she played them both with such gusto each week that I sometimes worried about her piano crashing through the wall and landing on my head. The one she always started with was a musette by J.S. Bach. Usually, she tried it once or twice, maybe three times at most, and that was that. I liked the way the tune played with rhythm (I didn’t learn the word “syncopation” until later), and even though Mrs. Bronstein almost always screwed up the middle section, she’d end with a flourish.

The other number was “The Spinning Song,” my ear-monster. I’ve subsequently found out that it was written by a 19th-century German actor named Albert Ellmenreich, but when I was a kid, I thought it might have been composed by Mr. Bronstein to drive his wife crazy. He was definitely that kind of guy. He wore a beret, f’Chrissake, and my father told me that he was a … shhhhh … socialist. My other theory was that some Jewish mother, maybe even mine, had commissioned the piece with the specific purpose of awakening her slugabed child in the Bronx.

In any case, Mrs. Bronstein never did get through “The Spinning Song,” even though she practiced it from the time I was about five until I was nearly eleven. Six years, and she never finished that goddamned thing. Because whenever she would hit a wrong note, she would start all over again from the beginning.

Boop-bah Boop-bah Boop-bah Boop-bah
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dih-TAHH.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dit-DUMM.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dih-TAHH.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dit-DUMM.
OOM-puh OOM-puh OOM-puh OOM-puh …
… Oh, no!

To this day, I can hum, whistle, or scat-sing the first twelve bars of that tune perfectly. But at precisely the same point in the thirteenth measure, every single time, Mrs. Bronstein’s fingers got hopelessly muddled. She’d approach that spot in the melody and I’d lie absolutely still, holding my breath, united with my neighbor in some kind of mystical mind-meld of uncertainty.

She never did manage to spit those notes out perfectly. After a few seconds of silence, during which time I always imagined her heaving a sigh from the innermost recesses of her tormented being, she would go back to the beginning and doggedly commence deedling once more. Fifteen, twenty times, occasionally thirty, until she gave up, but only for that session. The next Saturday morning, she’d be back at it again, tenaciously determined, the paradigm of optimistic persistence.

For the rest of the weekend, I’d find myself singing the nonsense syllables printed above, which I’ve always imagined to be the song’s lyrics. Once I was deedling to myself while bringing a bag of garbage to the incinerator, and Mrs. Bronstein happened to open her door.

“Oh,” she said, “I see you like good music.”

I never knew until today, when I listened to it on YouTube, how the rest of that damned thing went.  Here it is. So stick your computer behind your headboard and listen to just the beginning about fifteen or twenty times. Guess what: you’ll have grown yourself an earworm. Meet me at the incinerator, and we can hum a duet.

Posted in Earworms, Memoirs | 13 Comments »

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.

Posted in Earworms | 23 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #4

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/17/2010

Whenever anybody asks me which movie I’d pick as best animated film ever, as someone did the other day, I always say without hesitation “Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.” Visually, it’s stunning. I’d say it’s probably the only really successful cartoon that incorporated actual film noir techniques in the service of a classic children’s story.

Another thing I love about Pinocchio is its score. “I’ve Got No Strings” could easily be my intellectual theme song. I also love “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me)” and “Give a Little Whistle.” (Always let your consciousness be your guide.)

But I’ve gotta tell you: there’s one song in that flick that has always sickened me. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been creeped out by its pseudo-religious claptrap. Even without the words, the tune itself smacks of churchiness. I’d venture to guess that this number has been largely responsible for spreading the faith meme to American children ever since 1940. And, of course, that very song is the one that’s crawling through my brain as an earworm today.

I’ll first remind you of the original version, sort of. You’ll recognize it as soon as you hear it, even if you have trouble understanding all the words. (If you care to sing along, the lyrics are thoughtfully provided for yøu.)

If you go to YouTube, you’ll find dozens and dozens of pious performances of this ditty. But sometimes, no matter how lush and uplifting the orchestral background tries to be, the singer is just sooooo wrong. Man, I love when that happens.

Here’s an ultra-pretentious rendition in which the singer, obviously, wished for a hat. I can’t explain why, but the longer you focus on that thing, the funnier it becomes.

Well, maybe a Bronx accent helps the song sound somewhat less sanctimonious.

Close your eyes and listen to the melody as an excerpt from Satan’s Cricket, a 50s horror movie.

It stands to reason that deluded theists would find this song attractive. I don’t know whether this “America’s Got Talent” hopeful is a theist, but, wow!, is she deluded. If you’ve got the time, you might enjoy listening to her personal biography before she sings (starting at around 2:30). Apparently, her fifth grade teacher wrote a positive comment on her report card. If you stick around long enough, you’ll even see a hula. Then, believe it or not, this overaged Latin bombshell changes costume and performs the thing again!

I must admit, I sympathize with this YouTuber’s poor cat. (Try picturing it in the hat from a few videos above.)

What is this? (I kinda like it, even though I don’t have a clue what the guy is saying. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing.)

Doesn’t anybody know that the only thing to wish for is an Entenmann’s Chocolate Donut? Accept no substitutes!

This video is too distasteful even for me. But I share it here as a public service.

Not to leave my readers with the impression that I have no heart whatsoever, and to remind all atheists that even we can occasionally be suckers for shmaltz, I’ll include this rendition, which — sappiness and all — does manage to move me because it’s sung so simply and beautifully by one of the greatest Kentucky native “girl” singers ever. Seriously. Ahhh.

And so I wish you good day, dear readers. Makes no difference who you are. Happy whistling.

Posted in Earworms, Freedom from Faith, Music | 26 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #3

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/20/2010

Sometimes, earworms can be enjoyable. I’ve had one rattling around my head all week, and every time I “listen” to it, I return to my teenage years with a big goofy smile on my face. This particular song was one that I used to play on the guitar and sing to every girl I was hoping to entice into my bed through my imagined ability to sound like Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, my bed was in a crowded three-room Bronx apartment I shared with my very loud family, and I sounded no more like a Beatle than any other pimply Jewish kid. So, to tell the truth, the song was no more effective at attracting nubile young females than my Brylcreem was. (FYI: It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned what women really want. Eat your heart out, Sigmund, because the simple answer to your question is: a couple of Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts. Who doesn’t love those?)

Anyway, it never dawned on me that I needn’t struggle to sound like a Liverpudlian genius. I didn’t realize that there were dozens of ways to sing Paul’s tune, and any of them would work equally well at driving girls away.

So this particular “Saturday Earworm” is not a song I dislike. Instead of hunting for funny versions, I’ve decided to play serious DJ for this entry in the series, and I’ve tried to pick out some interestingly odd renditions. In fact, I’ve discovered that this Beatle hit has been played in every style known to Man. Most of the following interpretations are pretty good. I realize that you’ve got only limited time to spend on my blog because you’ve got to get to the grocery before it runs out of aphrodisiac baked goods. But if you like this little ditty, you might seriously want to sample every variation here. Some of them will pleasantly surprise you.

[Addendum: (03/20/10 at 3:25 p.m.)  The list below has been revised to include four new styles.]

The Original
Island Stoner
Choral (a cappella)
OK, not to disappoint you: What Was This Person Thinking?

If you do wind up with an earworm, you’d be well advised to love it … because it will never die. In fact, you might want to sing your earworm to your earworm. As for me, though: I’ll be changing the title’s singular pronoun to a plural, and crooning this classic to my donuts. [Note to Self: Try to sell that idea to Entenmann’s.]

Posted in Earworms, Music | 56 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #2

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/20/2010

Be careful how you choose your adjectives. If you’re unthinking, as I was a few days ago, you can wind up with an earworm.

Here’s the story in brief: Because the citizens of Kentucky (an aggregate that now includes me) are constantly besieged by god-pushers, I found myself doing something that’s antithetical to my nature. Looking for like-minded people who are as fed up with our would-be theocracy as I am, I recently attended a few meetings of freethinkers’ organizations. At the last one I went to, the subject of a stupidly innocuous Humanist billboard (e.g., “Are You Good Without God? Millions Are.”) came up. A coalition of Lexington skeptics is planning to erect such a sign, ostensibly to energize the ungodly community in a nice way. I suggested that, if we had to put up a touchy-feely message at all, we should do everything we could to make the unveiling a big media event: knock on doors to collect friends and acquaintances for a gigantic photo op or even a parade, light a fire under the media’s collective ass to get them to show up, and make sure that everyone who attends is prepared to answer questions if a microphone is shoved under his or her nose. The only problem is: some of the people involved in Lexington’s so-called freethinking community are closet atheists, afraid to be seen on TV without their metaphorical crucifixes. Naturally, the expression of that fear sent me into a diatribe about how useless a dumb sign is when there are self-defined atheists who are unwilling to identify themselves as being among the millions referred to on the billboard. I guess that here in the Bluegrass state, it’s bad luck to come out openly against superstition.

One of the sharpest members of the group responded with a resigned smile: “This is not New York; it’s Kentucky.” Most of the others agreed that “we have to go slowly.” And maybe they’re right, assuming that the total of recorded time so far hasn’t been long enough. Perhaps if we freethinkers are patient and accommodating, we’ll have to wait only two or three measly millenia more before we can have a small say in public policy.

Later that night, when my wife asked me how the meeting was, I said — without pausing to notice any warning lights — “It was a little too Kumbaya-ish for my taste.”

Augggggh. The word was scarcely out before that goddamned tune was urging the various parts of my brain to form a circle and hold hands. Talk about a headache.

But why should I reserve this experience strictly for myself. “Kumbaya” must be shared, because it’s the godmother of all earworms, the sine qua non of gaggiosity.

If you don’t know what I mean, check out the song’s true essence, flawlessly captured here.

In this peppy version, the mere singing of the song by a Great White Father magically creates peace and dancing — and the sudden appearance of bikini-clad women — among warring African tribes.

Who could resist a bunch of Polish women in funny hats? Not me! The group doesn’t seem to have learned the exact tune, but it’s close enough to still be annoying.

Christians can co-opt anything and make it specifically about Jesus. This video takes the song, usually interpreted as a plea for universal unity, and turns it into an evangelical message: In the beginning was the word, and the word was “Kumbaya.”

At about this point, you’re probably asking yourself: “Hey, how would that flatulent ditty sound as an instrumental?”

Yes, that shitty song is heard everywhere.

All that Kumbaya-ing may make you worried about having nightmares. Perhaps you’re afraid that the minute you get into bed, the monsters under your mattress will get all New-Agey on you. But that could happen anyplace you try to relax, as this poor victim found out.

Still, I’m not the only person who finds the number offensive. The German chick in this extravaganza definitely has the right idea.

I wish happy psycho-listening to all my readers. But don’t forget: Someone’s retching, my Lord.

Posted in Earworms, Freedom from Faith, Music, New to Kentucky | 31 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #1

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/30/2010

An earworm is an annoying song that, no matter how much you bang your head against the wall, you can’t get out of your brain. Earworms may pop up out of nowhere, for no discernible reason. Often, though, there’s a trigger. For example, whenever I find myself in the cereal aisle at a grocery store, I can’t help hearing

Kehhhhhh-lahhhhhhhhg’s sugarcornpops (clap clap), Sugar Pops are tops.

I’m sure that some of you other old farts will sympathize with my plight.

Earworms can be songs you like, songs you used to like, or – more commonly in my case – songs you can’t stand but that just won’t go away.

My latest earworm is a little number that’s about 230 years old. It was written by an Englishman, a former slave trader turned curate, named John Newton. He was moved to create this song, among dozens of others, in praise of his god – the very deity who, a few years earlier, had smiled on the buying and selling of human beings.

I’m plagued by this particular earworm because at almost every damn musical event I’ve attended here in Lexington, a performer has been “moved” to sing it. The hoot-‘n’-holler version rings out loud and clear, and the audience always joins in as if it’s the city’s secret anthem. Since I, myself, am descended from New Yawk’s “wretched refuse,” I guess I should think it appealing that there are so many self-proclaimed wretches in my new home. As an atheist, I find the words both revolting and stupid, but the tune won’t leave me alone. I’m speaking, of course, about “Amazing Grace.”

So, in order to pass my earworm along to all those who claim that they get nothing from reading my blog, I’ve collected a few choice samples of some of the worst versions of this ditty. You may find them funny, but – believe me – you won’t be laughing tomorrow. I guarantee that the sound will not be sweet after it has lost its way in your cranium.

First, here’s the definitive awful rendition. An industrious you-tuber (or should I say “ouch potato”) supplied the lyrics, for those Kentuckians who’d like to sing along.

This next version has evidently been recorded by parents hoping to cash in on the saccharine show-busy piety of their young daughter. I don’t think you’ll be able to stomach the entire ride, but do tool along for the first few seconds, at least until you can fill in the blank: “that saved a ___________ like me.”

I’m not a Christian, but f’Chrissake! I’m pretty sure that this interpretation isn’t what the song is supposed to be about. Nevertheless, here’s “Amazing Grace” as a horrifying tribute to our death machines in Iraq.

The video says this guy is from Georgia, but I don’t believe it. He’s gotta be from Kentucky, because he just won’t quit singing that song. Truthfully, I’m glad he didn’t choose the Sugar Pops jingle, or I’d never be able to digest breakfast again.

I’m pretty much in agreement with Drake in this short piece. Far more articulately than I can, the kid expresses our mutual attitude toward this irritating hymn.

Finally, here’s a version that you actually might enjoy. It won’t cure you of that wriggly critter leaving its slime all over your hammer, your anvil, and your stirrup, but it will at least put the song in perspective. So when you find “Amazing Grace” sloshing around and around and around inside your skull, just pour yourself a cold one and hum along.

Posted in Earworms, Freedom from Faith, Music | 68 Comments »