Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stuff Smith

Song notes.

1. Necrophilia

When Steve Lawrence sings that he and his love are hoping to get

A room without windows
A room without doors

I remember that the only such room is the grave.

Ervin Drake’s 1964 lyric (he wrote the music too) hammers the point home on the bridge:

If they said "Friend, how would you like to spend the long hereafter?"
I'd tell them what we're after
Is a one-way ticket to
A room without keyholes, a room with no view

Well, yes, the grave is the hereafter, and it does require a one-way ticket. Thanks for making that clear!

The love-death double-suicide desire is creepy, but not as creepy as Paul Simon’s purer necrophilia in this song from two years later:

I wish I was homeward bound,
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting silently for me.

The only possible love who waits silently and supine is a corpse. And if his love is alive, that’s even creepier -- so Goth! (Not that Goths are necessarily creepy; just the image of a silent supine lover waiting for her or his touring rock star boyfriend to come home seems straight out of the Adams Family.)

Corpse-lusting ‘60s goodness!

2. Contemporary echoes of girl group

I heard Amy Winehouse’s hit “Rehab” the other day. Has anybody noted that it’s a girl group song? Not the lyric, quite, but the beat and the attitude -- both updated, but basically ‘60s girl group infectious insouciance.

Next up on that radio drive was Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” -- a little too ‘70s in its voltage, but almost girl-group too. Really catchy song.

3. Fats and Stuff

In a post the other night I speculated that Stuff Smith’s classic novelty number “I’se A Muggin’” may have borrowed its main melodic phrase from a vocal lick Fats Waller may have interpolated into his 1939 hit cover, “You’re Feet’s Too Big.” But I looked it up, and Smith recorded his tune in ‘36 or ‘37, two or three years before Waller’s record. Hopefully someday I’ll track down an earlier version of “Feet’s,” which Fred Fisher and Ada Benson wrote in 1936. (Fred Fisher wrote boodles of other tunes over a few decades, including blackface numbers and sentimental jobs like “Peg O’ My Heart.”)

Until further evidence persuades otherwise, I will conclude that Waller was borrowing from Smith. When the Beatles covered the Waller cover in Hamburg in 1962, they kept Waller’s Smithian interpolation -- and even sang it twice. (Waller sang it once.)

The uncredited seven-second cover by Mingus and Joni Mitchell on Mitchell’s Mingus tribute album reflects Mingus’s bop interest, as the phrase that answers the the title phrase “I’se A Muggin’” is slightly bop-ified.

Smith’s tune got around.

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