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Six Pack to Go

Six Pack to Go

As I write this, I am drinking a Brother Thelonious beer. As far as I know, my song god Thelonious Monk did not write any songs of beer, but this beer named for him by North Coast Brewing Company lives up to the name. We Monk fans-slash-beer fans would not abide a lesser beer with the Thelonious name attached to it. Sacrilege!

bro thel

I made a decision a couple of decades ago to abide by the motto “Life is too short for small beer.” No weak, lame stuff; nothing “lite.” If I’m going to drink this type of beverage, I’m going to drink something worth drinking. I once played a street festival at which, I learned, there were only four beer choices offered: Budweiser, Bud Lite, Michelob, and Ultra. It was a very sober gig. I couldn’t wait to get home to my Black Butte Porter.

Let’s look at a “six pack to go” of beer songs I’ve enjoyed.

The Lone Star State's Bob Wills

The Lone Star State’s Bob Wills

 

“Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music” My wife is not a beer drinker; her beverages of choice are Caffeine-Free Diet Coke and a complicated decaf coffee drink from Starbucks. But we both love the music of Turkey, Texas, native Bob Wills. We even traveled to Turkey for Bob Wills Days one year and stayed overnight at the Turkey Hotel. I can’t imagine how much beer Bob and his Texas Playboys downed at their average road-trip gig. Red Steagall (from Gainesville, Texas) came up with this honky-tonker in 1976, the year after Wills died.

lsb

I haven’t actually had a Lone Star in years. In my college days, a friend and I would buy a case of Lone Star beer (we called it LSB) on Fridays at the H.E.B. It was only $3.88 for twenty-four, provided you returned the empties—which we did on Sundays. I recall one Friday night that we made it through the whole case between the two of us in one night. Except for the one my friend’s pre-med student roommate chugged as a study break.

These days, I’d probably listen to this song while slurping on an Abita Turbo Dog Ale.

“Hey Bartender” In 1952, Marshall, Texas, native Floyd Dixon wrote and recorded “Wine, Wine, Wine,” but as a beer man I prefer his 1954 composition “Hey Bartender,” in which he asks the man behind the bar to “draw one, draw two, draw three, four glasses of beer.”

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd popularized the song many years later in their Blues Brothers act. Either version is worthy of an accompanying Guinness Stout or two.

Dixon liked him some grub to go with his beer: He recorded the original version of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and the hoppin’ “Red Cherries.”

“Beer” I really hadn’t intended all of my beer song choices to be by Texans, but it sure worked out that way. The Germans got nothin’ on us beer-guzzlers. (Of course, many Germans settled in Central Texas and brewed all kinds of beer, most notably Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner, but also Lone Star and Pearl.)

The Austin band The Asylum Street Spankers did their one-of-a-kind thing between 1994 and 2011. They started out retro all the way: Not only did their repertoire comprise early-last-century ragtime and blues covers but they performed unamplified—absolutely live, loose, and real.

One of their best numbers was an original that extolled the virtues of “Beer” and trash-talked coke, acid, and all other forms of drugging. It is the perfect beer-drinking sing-along song, not only because of its subject. Its chorus is the word “beer” repeated to a familiar tune—that of Big Ben’s chimes, with “we love beer” at the end. Try it: “Beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer / Beer, beer, beer, beer, we love beer.”

Webb (2nd from rt.) & Pals

Webb (2nd from rt.) & Pals

“There Stands the Glass” Country & Western legend Webb Pierce was a Louisiana native, but he was living right on the Texas state line in Shreveport, Louisiana, recording for small labels, when he was discovered and made a star. In 1966, The Country Music Story summed up Pierce’s career trajectory: “Webb Pierce was a Sears Roebuck clerk in Shreveport before he began singing professionally; now he drives a flamboyant car studded with silver dollars on the inside.” Yee-haw!

Of Webb’s string of top country hits, my favorite is “There Stands the Glass,” from 1953. The lyrics are the essence of “tears in my beer” imagery, and his delivery is raw and poignant, accentuated by weeping steel guitar. “There stands the glass / Fill it up to the brim / Until my troubles grow dim / It’s my first one today.” “And make sure it ain’t that Miller Lite crap, podner.” (My own addition, delivered as an aside.)

“Pop a Top” In 1966, Texan Nat Stuckey (Cass County, Texas) wrote his own variation on the beer-at-the-bar-as-anti-misery-medicine song, “Pop a Top.”

“Six Pack to Go” Waco, Texas, native Hank Thompson gave us this C&W hit in 1960. It’s been a staple of many a bar band, including two or three of mine (and we didn’t play country music—we just knew our beer-guzzling audience members would like it).

This guy has his priorities straight: “Well, I don’t have enough to pay my rent but I ain’t gonna worry, though / I’ve got time for one more round and a six pack to go.”

 3 45s

Great Song Titles: Many C&W and R&B singers and songwriters brought us songs of honky-tonks, sleazy bars, and beer. Among the notable song titles: “On Tap, In the Can, or in the Bottle” by Hank Thompson; “Fifteen Beers Ago” by Ben Colder; “Pickin’ Up Beer Cans on the Highway” by Homer Henderson and the Dalworthington Garden Boys.

Honorable Mentions: The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” was more appropriately addressed in the “Come Rain or Come Shine” post, but it is such a great song, it gets another mention, just for the line “Now I’m sitting here, sipping at my ice cold beer.” Just another sunny afternoon.

What’s Your Name? (part two)

What’s Your Name? (part two)

The song that gives this post and the previous post their name played a part in my musical life. “What’s Your Name?” was a hit recorded by Don and Juan. There was a brief period of time when, during my musician friends’ sing-along gatherings, we’d get on a kick and tag every song we sang with this song’s ending lines: “What’s your name? What’s your name? / Shooby-doo-wop-wa-ahhhhh.” From “My Girl” to “Helplessly Hoping,” every song ended that way. But I don’t drink like that anymore.

Now let’s continue our alphabetical look at songs with girls’ names in their titles.

el paso

Felina Felina is the “Mexican maiden” at the heart of Marty Robbins’ classic western ballad “El Paso.” The song was a family reunion staple, but only my cousin Steve could remember all of the many verses. I just played guitar and harmonized. But it’s a great story and an excellent song.

Georgia The song “Georgia On My Mind” was written with the state of Georgia on Hoagy Carmichael’s mind, and it became Georgia’s official state song in 1979. But it may also be interpreted as a longing love song about a woman. Ray Charles did the most well-known version, in 1960, giving it the patented Brother Ray treatment that eclipses all other versions. But it had been recorded by notables before that, including Louis Armstrong and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, who gave Carmichael the idea to write it back in 1930. And it has been recorded since 1960, by Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others.

mod sounds

It’s among the top fifty in Rolling Stone’s Best Songs of All Time list. It also made the grade to be included in Ted Gioia’s excellent book The Jazz Standards. Gioia notes that the songwriting co-credit went to Hoagy’s friend Stuart Gorrell, but that his role was only some minor tinkering with the lyrics. But Gorrell also suggested the title for Carmichael’s song “Star Dust.” That may make Gorrell “the most remarkable dabbler in pop song history,” writes Gioia. “He only contributed to two songs, but they became two of the biggest hits of the century.”

Hannah My H song has two connections to my G song: Ray Charles had a 1960 hit with it, and it’s about Georgia. Going way back to 1924, Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow, and Charles Bates came up with a nice little number about “a gal who loves to see men suffer.” In addition to Ray, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald did memorable covers of “Hard-Hearted Hanna (The Vamp of Savannah).”

The version that is the most fun (and therefore, with this type of song, the best) was recorded back in the year the song came out by Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards. Ike is the guy to sing lyrics like: “An evening spent with Hannah sittin’ on your knees is like travelin’ through Alaska in your BVDs.”

weavers

Irene “Good Night, Irene” was one of the very first songs from the folk genre to go pop. Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter had written the song in 1933. That song and other compositions reportedly got Lead Belly early release from prison. In 1950, the folk act The Weavers, which included the late Pete Seeger, was spotted in a New York music venue by Decca arranger Gordon Jenkins. He brought them in to record “Good Night, Irene” and it became a surprise hit.

I just finished a fine book, The B-Side, about the American Songbook era and how it fizzled as music became more rhythm-based and diverse, with country-and-western, rhythm-and-blues, and folk songwriters and performers gaining exposure to wider audiences. A hero of the book is Frank Sinatra and the main villain is Sinatra’s nemesis, Columbia Records A&R man Mitch Miller. Miller, who was called The Beard because of his goatee, had Sinatra under contract during Frank’s low period in the early fifties. The Beard forced Old Blue Eyes to sing pop songs like “Good Night, Irene” that were not in his wheelhouse. Frank got fed up, bolted to Capitol, recorded a string of pop albums and singles that were groundbreaking, and never spoke to Mitch Miller again.

b side

Janie Two great rock songs are about girls named Janie. “Janie Jones” was the first song on The Clash’s debut album in 1977. It’s about the rut of a boring job and what is done to relieve the boredom. There are drugs a-plenty, but Janie Jones is a hooker who plays her own part in the singer’s escape from the workaday world. One of their best.

My favorite Aerosmith song is “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Janie is an abused girl who goes after the abuser—her father. Packs quite a message, but also the music is as interesting and dynamic as anything the band ever did.

Honorable Mentions: Fancy Does The Kinks’ trippy song “Fancy” refer to a particular girl? I really don’t know, but I find the song mesmerizing.

Grizelda When I was a young Monkees fan, I found the Peter Tork lark “Auntie Grizelda” delightful. It’s not a good song, and Grizelda is not such a good name. I’ve only met one person named Grizelda. She went by a nickname and threatened with harm anyone who knew her real name not to reveal it. Perfectly understandable.

louis handy

Hagar Louis Armstrong does a wonderful rendition of W.C. Handy’s classic song “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” on his Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy album. He’s having fun throughout this rollicking album, but he really gets down with Aunt Hagar.

Ida Red One of my favorites by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys is the steppy number about “Ida Red,” about whom the singer is “a plumb fool.” Of course he is. To steal from Smucker’s and SNL, “With a name like Ida Red, she’s got to be good.”

malicool

Jackie Thelonious Monk’s niece Jackie Smith gives this 1959 Monk tune its name. Monk’s official website notes that the song “became a regular part of the Monk quartet’s live repertoire.” Malicool, the 2006 meeting of Malian kora player Toumane Diabate and American trombonist Roswell Rudd, included a wonderful cross-cultural recording of “Jackie-ing”—the only Monk cover I know of that features the kora.

Dream Jukebox: Both of the Janie songs are among the songs on my iPod running playlists. So’s the Malicool “Jackie-ing.”

Time Changes Everything

Time Changes Everything

“Time After Time” after “Time.” It’s a playlist of favorite time songs that starts with a song simply entitled “Time.”

  • “Time”—There are numerous songs called “Time.” My pick is the one from Tom Waits’ 8th and best album, Rain Dogs. Although Tom’s voice can be more of a distraction than a complement to his songs, I think–and that’s especially so with his beautiful ballads–some are exquisite. In addition to “Time,” there are “You’re Innocent When You Dream,” “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” “On the Nickel,” and other Waits-penned gems that should be covered by strong vocalists more often than they are.

twaits

  • “Time After Time”—This song was written for Frank Sinatra in 1947 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. I like Frank’s versions of “his” song, but my playlist has the version by Anita O’Day. I also enjoy a cover Little Jimmy Scott recorded late in his career.
  • “Time After Time”— The next track on the playlist is the 1984 Cyndi Lauper song, covered by Miles Davis (although I also very much like Cyndi’s original).
  • “Time After Time After Time”

Now, about that last one. It was written and recorded by uber-eccentric C&W/rock impresario Jack Clement. He was a songwriter, record producer, singer, and musician, but was mostly a kind of Nashville Zelig. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music notes numerous Clement endeavors: Arthur Murray dance instructor, banjo player, record company owner, Hawaiian steel guitarist, horror movie producer, and Marine, among many other things. He produced “Ring of Fire,” and worked not only with Johnny Cash but with Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison over at Sun Recording Studio. In fact, it was Clement that Jerry Lee encountered when he went with his daddy to Sun to show Sam Phillips that he could be the next Elvis. Rick Bragg writes, in Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, that Jerry Lee started playing piano and singing and Jack Clement “just let the tape run. He let it go and go.” When Clement played Phillips the tape upon his return, Sam said, “Who is this cat? Get him down here.” From there it was just a matter of, yes, time.

time after

I heard Jack Clement’s song “Time After Time After Time” on the KNON “Groovey” Joe Poovey show. He played it regularly and I couldn’t get enough of it. Years later, I tracked down a 45 of it, and it remains a prized possession. Not everyone feels that way about it. My wife can’t stand it—it annoys the hell out of her. (It doesn’t help that I insist on playing it loud.)

It features some characteristics that many may consider challenging to the ear. There is a total of two words in the lyrics, “time” and “after,” alternated from the song’s beginning to its end. The musical accompaniment is provided by a banging honky-tonk piano, playing chords in ¾-time with few embellishments. Mr. Clement’s voice is a bleat, maybe even a bray, especially toward the song’s end, where he starts sounding pretty dang desperate.

I can see how these features could cause music appreciators to avoid it. To me, it’s divine! Maybe made more dear because I can only play it when all of my family members are out of the house.

inks

There are some vocal-group haters out there, and they especially hate the smoother groups like The Ink Spots. But I’ve always loved them. Jay Warner, in The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, credits the group with influencing R&B and rock & roll groups to follow, but, of course, that’s hard to hear when one listens to their melodramatic ballads, like my favorite, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” (1941). Another Inks favorite is a time song, “Time Waits for No One,” written by Cliff Friend and Charles Tobias. It wasn’t a hit, but it had the trademark Ink Spots ballad construction and delivery. This one should not be confused with songs of the same name by The Jacksons, Mavis Staples, or The Rolling Stones. (The Stones had another nice time song, “Time Is on My Side,” written by Jerry Ragovoy and Jimmy Norman.)

Bob & Tommy

Bob & Tommy

Tommy Duncan’s voice is no-frills country, plain and straight. I used to think it was too plain, but over time I’ve really come to appreciate Tommy’s place in the Bob Wills line-up. He balances out the swooping steel guitars and careening fiddles—not to mention Bob’s loony, high-pitched interjections (“Aww, haw—Tommy!”). There’s just too much going on to have a flashy, emotional singer get in the way. “Time Changes Everything” is classic Bob Wills, and Tommy Duncan, who wrote the song in 1940, holds it all together.

My candidate for most beautiful “time song,” along with Tom Waits’ “Time,” is “Time on My Hands,” written in 1930 by Harold Adamson, Mack Gordon, and Vincent Youmans for the musical Smiles. It was a Boswell Sisters album that got me hooked on it, even though it’s Connee alone, sans Sisters, who sings it. There are many other wonderful versions of this standard, by Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and Ben Webster’s glorious sax interpretation.

timeless?

timeless?

Honorable Mentions: So many time songs; so little time! Booker T & the MGs’ “Time is Tight,” Willie Nelson’s “Ain’t it Funny How Time Slips Away,” Pink Floyd’s “Time.”

The first beer I remember drinking was at an older cousin’s house. As I experienced this delectable beverage, The Chambers Brothers sang “Time Has Come Today” at full blast on Cousin Larry’s stereo. I’ve loved the song ever since. It’s the cowbell, the way they sing/speak “My soul has been psychedelicized.” And the beer, the beer.

Dave Brubeck named his 1959 album Time Out because some of its songs were in unusual time signatures, most notably “Take Five” (in 5/4) and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” (mostly in 9/8). I am among the multitude who can say that it was among the first jazz albums I ever owned.

Songs I Love to Sing: “As Time Goes By” is one I never get tired of. Pete Hamill referred to it as “the anthem of middle age,” but it still works well at weddings, and also in the bars, where the younger folks know of it from seeing Casablanca. The song was actually written a decade before the movie, for a musical revue called Everybody’s Welcome, but it was Casablanca that turned it into a standard.

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: “This Time,” by Troy Shondell is a sixties hit I love to hate. I find it drippy and lame, and Troy’s voice sounds like someone is dragging a thumb on the record as it plays. There were many who did like it. It climbed to #6 in ‘61 on Billboard, and Tommy James reportedly named his group after Shondell. Go figure!

Dream Jukebox: Jack Clement’s “Time After Time After Time”

Which time songs help you pass the time?

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