Oh, Come On!

Time once again for me to express sincere dismay over the musical taste of the general public.

In this case, I’m appalled by the results of the poll run by SiriusXM’s “40s Junction” a couple of months ago. The intent was to put together a Top 100 songs of the World War Two era. Voting was in March from a predetermined list–although voters could apparently add their own nominations–and the results were unveiled over the Fourth of July weekend in the form of a broadcast of all 100 tracks.

Oddly, though the show aired several times that weekend, the final list was never published anywhere I’ve been able to find. My thanks to the anonymous SiriusXM staffer who sent it to me. I’m not sure about the legalities of posting it here–the email didn’t state that it would be okay. If I’d compiled it myself from the broadcasts, I’d be on solid ground, but since it’s someone else’s work, I’d just as soon not risk a copyright violation. (Capitalization of the titles is as in the document I received. I’da done it different, but I’m bowing to authority here.)

But I can certainly call out a few of the most egregious lowlights. That’s unquestionably fair use.

And, if we’re talking “low”, where better to start than at the very bottom of the list?

Number 100 is “As Time Goes By”. Yes, the Dooley Wilson recording. The definitive version of an acknowledged classic. Mind you, I have issues with it. It’s sexist and, IMNSHO, unduly conflates love and hate. But regardless, a great song. There are a lot of amazingly good recordings from the early Forties, but for this one to land all the way down at Number 100, there had to have been a lot of truly astounding music, right?

Like Number 99. Which is, uh…”Johnny Zero”, a nearly forgotten piece of tripe about a student with crippling math anxiety–possibly a learning disorder–which forces him to drop out of school and become a wildly successful fighter pilot.

Other classics that came in ahead of Dooley include “Happy Holiday” (93), “Personality*” (87), and “I Said No!**” (89)

* An annoyingly popular ditty that’s sexist and condescending.

** But still better than this one, which–depending on how literally you take the last line–is either an account of date rape or an early precursor to Amway (1959) sales tactics.

So much for that theory. Compounding the injustice? Rudy Vallee’s version landed at Number 27.

Moving on up. Or down, as the case may be.

I’ll skip past “Flying Home” (Lionel Hampton at 97) and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” (Dinah Shore at 84). But how in all that’s unholy did the incredibly sexist and racist ditty “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief” make it all the way up to Number 61? All due respect to composer Hoagy Carmichael, but this isn’t his best work. Not even close.

A similar offense against good taste has the culturally insensitive (not to mention pointless and obnoxious) earworm “The Hut-Sut Song” at Number 44. At least it got beat by the slightly less offensive and much funnier “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (41) and “Tangerine” (37).

I’m not fond of “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”, but I don’t have any actual problem with it. I can live with it coming in at Number 25, though I am glad to see it’s Glenn Miller’s version and not the slightly disturbed Andrews Sisters recording.

In the context of their time “Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer” (24), “When The Lights Go On Again” (16) and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (6) are reasonably positioned. It does bother me to see them so far up nearly a century later. Musically, none are anything astounding, but they’re more than adequate. The sentiments are appropriate for wartime, but it’s depressing to think they still resonate now.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my feelings about “On the Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe” (18), “Swinging On A Star” (13), and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (5). Despite negative comments I might have made about them, they’re all worthy of inclusion on this list. I might not have put them quite this high, but no significant objection.

Likewise, it’s great to see the Mills Brothers put three songs on the list, including two in the top twenty. If I ruled the world (a depressing thought), I’d have put “You Always Hurt The One You Love” (17) higher than “Paper Doll” (7), but that’s a quibble.

And if you think “Johnny Zero” making the top 100 is puzzling, try rationalizing “G.I. Jive” cracking the top ten. It’s at Number 9, just ahead of Frank Sinatra’s “You’ll Never Know”. Frankie making the upper reaches of the list, sure. But an unabashed novelty song?

Then there’s Number 4. “Rum And Coca-Cola“. Catchy tune. Wildly popular. But the themes (American imperialism and prostitution) and the Andrews Sisters’ somewhat disingenuous comments about it make it hard for me to see it as worthy of it’s position near the top of the list.

Weird to see a Christmas song near the top of the list, but I can’t think of a single reason why Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas” shouldn’t be here. If anything, I’m surprised it didn’t make Number 1, given the general public’s fondness for sentiment.

Top honors went to “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, which just beat out “Sentimental Journey”. Train songs are popular, it would seem, as are paens to revisiting one’s past. But while both are worthy of high places in the rankings, do they really belong all the way at the top?

Poor Dooley.

Chicken Fairy

When I was growing up, our family had its own version of “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

Well, not a full version, just a single verse:

When you wish upon a bird

Makes no difference if you’re heard

Legendary Chicken Fairy

Dreams come true

Seems like the sort of thing you would hear on the playground, but I never did. And nobody I’ve asked ever heard it on their playground either.

I always figured Dad had written it. It’s not an unreasonable assumption: like many writers, he liked playing with words. He was responsible for many of the new words that made up our family-specific vocabulary. And many writers string together a parody verse now and then.

And no, the verse doesn’t quite scan. If anything, that lends credence to the theory that Dad wrote it. He had a notoriously poor sense of rhythm–and counting syllables only gets you so far.

But the other day, I decided on a whim to see if anyone else knew that verse. I googled “Legendary Chicken Fairy” and found

The tune is different, of course, but there’s a definite similarity in the lyrics.

When you wish upon a bird

Makes no difference how absurd

The chicken fairy hears each word

And all your dreams come true

I didn’t find any matches for Dad’s verse.

So do we have a case of independent parallel development? Or did Dad–whose grasp of melody was even worse than his rhythm–hear the Blanchard and Morgan song and sometime later warp it into something that matched his spotty recollection?

No way to know, of course. But “Legendary Chicken Fairy” made it to Number 38 on the Country chart in 1972. I’d have been of an age to find the concept of a chicken fairy hilarious*.

* That I still find it hysterical is irrelevant to this discussion.

I could even make a case for the theory that I heard the song, sang my best kid-memory version of it, and Dad, having no idea where it came from, modified it further.

As I said, there’s no way to know for certain, but to me the evidence suggests that our family Chicken Fairy is a derivative work. Which is not going to prevent me from singing it at the top of my lungs next time “When You Wish Upon a Star” comes on the radio.

Sedalia 2022

So, yes, Sedalia.

The festival came off, despite three musicians having to cancel due to COVID-19. Alternates were found, programming went on, and a good time was had by all. Or all in attendance, anyway. I won’t speak for those who were stuck at home. And more than a week after returning, I remain symptom-free, nor have I heard anything suggesting widespread post-festival infections.

The music was, as always, excellent. The upgraded Pavilion venue is a rousing success. And good fellowship ran rampant—unsurprisingly, variants of the phrase “it’s great to be back after two years” were heard everywhere. Arguably, heard a bit too much. Mad props to Taslimah Bey for being the only person* to refer on stage to those we’ve lost over the past two years, whether to COVID-19 or other causes.

* Granted, with three widely separated stages going at once, it’s possible I missed someone else making note of our losses during the outdoor sets. But she’s definitely the only one to comment during the concerts when—theoretically—everyone was present in one place.

I believe attendance was down—unsurprisingly—but there did seem to be more local residents attending than in years past.

One of those unable to attend, regrettably, was Bill McNally. Since Bill is the director for the Ragtime Kids Program, I was worried about how it would work out, but he pulled it off remotely. Both of the Kids did stellar turns—highlights of the festival IMNSHO. Leo Roth’s symposium was well worth getting up for* and Tadao Tomokiyo’s performances drew rave reviews.

* Why does the festival only schedule symposia in the morning? There always seems to be at least one I’d like to attend, but can’t quite drag myself out of bed for. Time zones suck.

The presentation of the Ragtime Kids at the Friday afternoon concert—you can see the whole event on YouTube—went smoothly. Those long, skinny things we gave them are inscribed piano keys; part of their loot bags, which also included posters, books, and their honoraria.

All in all, the festival was a success. But being in Sedalia was, well, uncomfortable. The inhabitants don’t think the same way as us West Coasters. Which I knew going in, but it was still a bit of a shock to see and hear it.

Case in point: over the four days we were there, we went into six restaurants. One had removed tables to allow more space between patrons. Only one—a different one—had added outdoor seating. No locals were wearing masks. And the drugstore we passed every day had a sign out front begging people to drop in for COVID-19 vaccinations (around here, you need an appointment, but apparently even that’s too much to ask of a Sedalian.)

Nor does there seem to be any recognition of climate change. As we were driving into town, we noted a significant paucity of corn fields. When we mentioned it to locals, the response was a shrug and “It’s been too wet to plant corn this year. Now that it’s drying out, we’re planting soybeans.” No one seemed concerned about next year.

But the biggest barrier to understanding between the edges of the country and the center? Gas.

My local gas station has the lowest prices around. When I passed it on my way to the airport, the price per gallon was $6.139. That day, prices everywhere between Kansas City and Sedalia were between $4.129 and $4.159. Over the course of the festival, the price rose to $4.549. When I got home, the California price was $6.359.

Sure, there were some grumbles about the high price of gas. But not the sort of “this is outrageous” rumblings that are driving Californians—and other Coasters—to buy hybrids and electrics. Why should they worry? Filling the tank doesn’t require a bank loan.

If the EPA really wants to drive adoption of alternatively powered vehicles, they should push for legislation setting a single price of gas across the country. Never fly, of course; the oil industry would love the short-term profits, but they’re smart enough to know the long-term effects would kill off their business. A pity.

Next Week

This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Sedalia for the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

Yes, there’s an actual, in-person festival happening this year.

Is this a good idea? Well… On one forepaw, it is Missouri–which the Mayo Clinic says has the 40th lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. And we won’t even talk about masking.

On the other forepaw, the performers and audience are coming from all over the world. I suspect as a group they’re going to be more highly vaccinated than the people who live there. And there’s nothing stopping me, or anyone else in attendance, from wearing a mask.

In truth, the exposure risk seems on a par with what I experience dealing with the public every day at work.

So there’s that.

To be honest, I’m no more immune to the lure of “Get out of the house and do something normal” than anyone else. But this isn’t solely an exercise in COVID denial.

The cancelation of the 2020 festival was a big disappointment, even more so than the reasons why canceling everything else that spring and summer disappointed everyone. That was, if you recall, the Year of the Woman, marking the hundredth anniversary of women getting the vote in the US. And the Sedalia festival was going all-in on the theme, emphasizing female performers and composers.

And on a more personal level, 2020 was going to be the year the SJRF’s Ragtime Kid program–funded by donations to the Foundation in Dad’s memory–would debut. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We used the time to refine our concepts, figuring to go live with the 2021 festival. Which also didn’t happen.

So now we’ve got 2021 and 2022 Ragtime Kids to introduce. Somebody’s got to be there to represent, right?

As if three-plus days of good music and catching up with friends we haven’t seen in three years isn’t enough incentive to attend*.

* And, of course, Sedalia is just about halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. That’s prime BBQ country; hard to resist for a family that travels on its stomach as much as mine.

All of which is a long-winded lead-up to letting y’all know that there won’t be a Wednesday post next week. I’ll do my best to cue up a Friday post so nobody feels fuzzy-deprived, and I expect everything to be back to normal on June 8.

And, of course, this is also a commercial message, reminding you that the Foundation will still cheerfully accept donations in Dad’s memory and use them to support the Ragtime Kid program. Contact information is here.

SAST 20

One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s Google I/O comments was the Chromecast with Google TV. That’s something else you can blame Google for: they didn’t say anything about the gadget.

Quite a disappointment, actually. The CwGT is what the original Chromecast should have been. Though, in fairness to Google, the software wasn’t there at the time. See, unlike the Chromecast–which was designed as a single-purpose device to stream video under the control of your phone–the CwGT is a general-purpose Android device. Yes, it’s only output is via HDMI, typically to a TV, but it’s got the full Google Play Store, so you can install all* your favorite apps. Games, alternate video players, messaging apps, or whatever. All controlled via a simple remote with voice support or any Bluetooth gadget you want to hook up.

* Usual caveats about not all apps in the store are available for all devices apply.

I love mine. I’ll skip the ramblings about why, since this is an SAST post.

But.

It does have some shortcomings. Many people find its storage limited (can anyone really survive on 8 GB today–especially when the OS uses half of it?) and the hardware video decoding support lacks a few recently popular formats. And then there’s the fact that the last software update came out back in October.

So the newsrumor back in January that a new model was on the horizon was greeted with great fervor. Even the thought of the new model being intended as a lower-end option didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. Because of course Google would slip in a few under-the-hood improvements to make up for the maximum resolution of 1080p, right?

Nice theory, anyway. But not a word at Google I/O about the CwGT or a successor. Shades of the late not-so-lamented Nexus Q media player.

Moving on.

A few days ago, I was listening to SiriusXM’s 40s channel on my way to work and–as I tend to do when I’m alone in the car*–absentmindedly singing along with most of the songs. Because I’ve been listening to Swing Era radio stations for more than four decades, I know most of the lyrics. Well enough to sing them, as long as I don’t try to think about what I’m singing. If I think about about it, though, I start trying to rewrite the lyrics and it all goes downhill from there.

* I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on anyone. I’m not that cruel.

Anyway, I was cheerfully semi-oblivious until a verse yanked me into conscious thought.

Halfway through the Martha Tilton/Harry Babbit version of “Let’s Get Away From It All“, there’s this verse:

Let’s spend a day at the White House

Pay Mr. Truman a call

We’ll visit the Veep there*

See Congress asleep there

Let’s get away from it all

* There’s a joke here: there was no vice president for the first several years of Truman’s presidency. And, as the song suggests, I’m not sure anyone particularly noticed or cared when Alben Barkley got the job in ’48.

Don’t understand why my tongue tripped over its metaphorical feet?

Consider: There was a day within living memory when common citizens could take a White House tour and have a chance, however microscopic, of seeing the president. Sure, the song is exaggerating for humor; I doubt anyone would have dropped in expecting meet Harry T.–much less sit down with him over coffee–but see him? Sure, could’ve happened. Not today.

More: Also within living memory, you could make fun of an ineffective politician or two without being branded a traitor, excoriated in the press, and buried under massive piles of letters blaming everything on the other party.

The Forties had plenty of problems, it’s true. And regrettably, most of them are problems we still have today–starting with racism, sexism, a World War, economic disruption, etc., etc., etc. And granted, politics could get vicious, but they were accessible to the concerned individual. Yes, the canonical smoke-filled room, but anyone* could get into politics at a local level and make himself a place in that room. He might have to buy his own cigars, but even so.

* Okay, any male person. Who was white. And not too obviously…you know.

I regret that we’ve reached the point where politics can’t be played by amateurs.

A Dream and a Nightmare

You decide which is which.

Story the First: I dreamt I had moved to a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not so small that it couldn’t support a community orchestra, however. Because I joined the group when the organizers came around.

Our first concert–some indefinite period the future–was going to be an all-Bernstein program. We all show up for the first rehearsal, and it’s obvious that, while some of us might* be accomplished musicians, as a group we don’t have Clue One what the heck we’re doing.

* Strong emphasis on the “might”.

So we start setting up our instruments, looking over the sheet music, and all the things that occupy musicians’ time while they wait for the conductor: calling our loved ones, making dental appointments, playing Wordle, and so on.

Someone steps onto the podium and taps his baton for our attention.

There’s a mass intake of breath. Our conductor is none other than Leonard Bernstein himself*.

* For the record, I’m well aware Mr. Bernstein died more than three decades ago. Tell that to my subconscious.

In some little Podunk town. For a community orchestra that had never played together before.

Leonard Effin’ Bernstein.

We all clearly knew disaster awaited us, but when Leonard Bernstein tells you to play, you play.

I consider it a blessing that I woke up just as the baton swept down to launch us into West Side Story.

The moral here should be obvious. Should be.

“Don’t reach for the stars; they’ll come to you.” Nah. “Follow your leader.” Nuh-uh. “Practice? Who needs practice?” Uh…

Story the Second: As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about Google Assistant’s Commute notification feature. A couple of days ago, I was leaning decidedly toward the negative, thanks to a notification foul-up of epic proportions, but unimportant details.

So I was ranting in a generally Maggie-facing direction; a rant which began “Have I mentioned how much I hate Google?”

When I ran down, I picked up my book and flopped on the bed next to Maggie and started to read. And then, because I do have my occasional episodes of mush, I turned to her and said, “No matter how much I hate Google, I love you more.”

There was a second of silence, perhaps a sliver of a second more, as she prepared to say, “Aww,” and then a voice was heard from the bookshelf where my phone sits while charging.

“I can’t feel romantic love but I think you are wonderful.”

Yes, my phone had misinterpreted “hate Google” as “Hey, Google” and thought I was addressing her*.

* Yes, I do consider my phone to be female. And I have no intention of analyzing why.

While I suppose it’s a relief to know that my phone has no desire to supplant my wife in my affections (yet), I’m not entirely sure I needed to know that I am a figure of wonder and (I suppose) awe.

Talk about inflating one’s sense of self-worth.

And, no question about the moral here: Big Brother is, in solemn truth, always listening.

A Musical “Bah, Humbug!”

Apparently “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the hot song this year. I’ve heard at least five different versions of it.

Which, well…As Christmas songs go, it’s one of the better ones. It’s not promoting consumer greed, hyping any particular religion, or wallowing in tears (“Last Christmas,” I’m looking at you).

But like any much-covered song, the versions run together in memory. C’mon, folks, if you’re not going to bring something new to the song, don’t bother. And no, putting it in a different key so it fits in your vocal range doesn’t count. Tweak the lyrics. Try a different style, or unique instrumentation.

As for the rest of the Christmas playlist, I stand by the post’s subject line.

Remember, I’m trapped in Retail Hell: I have to listen to this stuff all day, every day. And thanks to COVID-19, I can’t even fall back on Odysseus’ solution: wax in my ears would be doable, but I can’t read lips through a mask.

At this point, with three shopping days left until Christmas, I’m firmly convinced that those references to “sleighing” in “Jingle Bells” are typos. Without question, it’s actually a “slaying” song. And probably references all the fun things you can do with an axe.

As for “The Little Drummer Boy,” why do people keep singing this one? Forget the old joke about the last thing any new mother wants is somebody whamming on a drum near her sleeping offspring; the song represents everything that’s wrong about Christmas songs: the message is that if you don’t give something you’re nothing–with a healthy side dish of “them what has, gets”.

TLDB is my slaying song: next time it comes on the store speakers, I will, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, go straight to the audio system with a very large axe and give it a reprogramming it’ll never forget.

To be fair, much of my ire with Christmas songs is due to overexposure. Which puts the blame on whatever marketing person builds the playlists. This is definitely one area where diversity doesn’t even get lip service.

Insert your own rant about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa here. I’m resigned to it being Christmas 24/7 for another four days; I just want a little–or, better yet, a lot–more variety.

There must be some Christmas raps–original ones, not just covers of existing tunes–and hip-hop celebrations of the season. Where are the Spanish-language songs, original or translation? I haven’t heard one yet.

Ah, well. Here’s hoping for a “Silent Night” as covered by John Cage.

Another One

Can you stand another music post? If not, feel free to skip today’s post. I promise I won’t be offended.

It struck me the other day that there’s a medical crisis on our hands. It’s not as flashy as the current pandemic, but it’s been slowly building for the past eighty years or more.

Tony Bennett, of course, left his heart in San Francisco.

Sammy Kaye, Charlie Spivak, Jo Stafford, and the gods only know how many others left their tickers at the Stage Door Canteen.

And that only begins to cover the extent of the problem.

Pepe Llorens’ heart is in Barcelona. Nadia’s is in somewhere California–or perhaps scattered in pieces around the state. Want to check Herb Jeffries’ cardiac health? Better head for Mississippi.

It gets worse.

Edmund Hockridge deposited his heart in an English garden, Linda Scott abandoned hers in the balcony of her local theater–last row, third seat; if she ever wants it back, at least she knows where to look for it. And poor Ernie Tubb left half of his in Texas and the other half in Tennessee.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Eighty years of research and yet medical science has yet to find a way to keep singer’s hearts in their chests where they belong.

It’s a crying shame.

Changing tracks (sorry).

Anyone else remember the Andrews Sisters “Three Little Sisters“?

The punch line of the song is the one about “tell it to the marine“. But in which sense?

The original meaning, dating back to at least the early 1800s, implies “because nobody else is dumb enough to believe it”. But the more recent American implication–circa 1900–is “because they’re the only ones who can do something about it.”

So which is it: are the girls going out on the town, or entertaining the troops at home?

Either way, it’s not a flattering portrait of those teenagers.

Of course it’s possible the song doesn’t know the whole story. Maybe whatever it is the young woman are doing is fully consensual, and the magazine bit is just a cover story for the girls’ parents, the armed forces censors, and anyone else who might get their hands on their letters.

Remember, no email or social media in 1942.

Now that I think about it, the song does say they’ll be “true until the boys came back”. Not a word about their plans for thereafter.

Let us not forget that Kerista was founded in the mid-Fifties. The philosophical underpinnings didn’t come out of nowhere.

I’m sure it purely coincidental that the founder, John Presmont, was–if contemporary accounts can be believed–an Air Force officer during World War 2. Still…one can only wonder how the Summer of Love might have evolved had there been four little sisters.

Getting to Bewildered

Some songs, though raise much more difficult questions.

Remember “Linda”? (Yeah, I’m sticking with the Forties here. Please place any objections in that circular filing cabinet over there. Thank you.)

The lyrics aren’t too bad. Okay, I’m stumbling a bit over why our narrator thinks telling his beloved that she puts him to sleep is a compliment. Other than that, however, it’s a fairly normal pop song.

The thing is, the song lyrics don’t tell the whole story here. See, the lyric sheet doesn’t include the spoken word segments that open and close the recording (dramatized here).

Yes, the post-WW2 period was one of great social change. I get that. And yeah, by some accounts, there was a shortage of eligible males in the latter half of the decade.

But, really!

How does Linda not notice that her stalker has completely failed to answer her perfectly reasonable question? Or does she expect to be ignored? What does that say about her upbringing?

She obviously doesn’t know–or doesn’t care about–the warning signs of an overly controlling, potentially abusive, partner. And that outro feels one set of broadcast standards away from “Forget about the coffee and talking, let’s just go to bed.”

The song–though not, I think, the framing device–was written for a young girl. Is it intended as a proper model for her behavior? An exaggeration for effect? It’s certainly not presented as a cautionary tale. And at the time the song was written, the girl in question* was less than a year old.

* Irrelevant to this discussion, the original Linda was Linda Eastman, the future wife of Paul McCartney–who wrote a few question-worthy lyrics himself. Clearly there’s a generational influence happening here.

And, of course, some questions can’t be answered. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” springs to mind*.

* First published in 1922, but the most popular version is arguably Jimmy Witherspoon’s 1947 release.

When the singer talks about jumping into the ocean, she’s not talking about a little dip. The ocean gives and the ocean takes away; is suicide really nobody’s business but the principal? Morality aside, if the water gives back a body, someone has to deal with it.

Maybe it isn’t anyone’s business but those involved if a woman gives all her money to “a friend”, her man, or her father (or is that still “my man”? The language is ambiguous)–or the other way around, for that matter–but wouldn’t most people agree that an intervention is the correct response, especially if there’s physical abuse involved?

How did this song become such a huge hit?

Bewildered, Bothered, Not Bewitched

I can’t be the only person who finds popular music befuddling.

Not in a “how could anyone like that garbage” sense. Every group has been using that line against the music of anyone they don’t like for the last ten thousand years or more.

But we all have moments where a lyric just stops us dead in our tracks while we try to figure out what the heck someone is singing about.

Case in point: “On the Atchison, Topeka, and The Santa Fe“. The Johnny Mercer song–though I don’t doubt the Judy Garland song has a few headscratchers of its own.

But really: If the schedule is so regular that people use the train as a clock, why does the narrator need to tell Jim to get the rig? Doesn’t Jim know it’s that time already? And how big is that rig–it’s got to hold all the passengers from that “pretty big” list and their luggage. I suppose Jim could make multiple trips, but if everyone is going to Brown’s hotel, is that really the most efficient use of Jim’s time and effort?

Come to think of it, why Brown’s hotel? Is the town big enough to support multiple hotels? If not, why does the narrator specifically say “Brown’s”? Wouldn’t “the” be sufficient? Or if there are multiple hotels in town, why is Brown’s getting all the railroad business–does the singer get a kickback from the hotel for sending Jim’s passengers there instead of spreading the business around? Or does he just dislike the owners of the others?

Maybe these aren’t questions of great cosmic importance, but they’re the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night.

Don’t think this sort of confusion is rare. Consider “A-Tisket, A-Tasket“.

How does the singer know a little girl found the dropped basket, much less that she put it in her pocket? She isn’t reviewing security camera footage; not in the 1940s, certainly. Eyewitnesses? But if she’s found enough of those to confirm the kid grabbed the basket, shoved it in a pocket, and strolled off with it, wouldn’t one of them be able to identify the girl, or at a minimum, tell the singer which direction she went?

Come to that, if the basket was so important, how did she not notice she’d dropped it? Is this some kind of sting operation?

Did girl’s clothes in the 1940s have bigger pockets than girl’s clothes do today? Apparently so. Even if the basket was little, how the heck did the little girl get it in a pocket? And not just get it in, but have it be comfortable enough that she didn’t immediately pull it back out and carry it. It couldn’t have been all that tiny, after all, as the singer implies it was large enough to hold a letter.

This story isn’t adding up. At the beginning of the song, the basket is “green and yellow”, yet just a few verses later, it’s very definitively yellow. In fact, it’s specifically, not green (or red or blue) but yellow. And little.

Wait a second. A letter to her mommy? Where is Mommy that the singer couldn’t just give it to her instead of mailing it? And why is she more concerned about the basket than the letter? Was it a gift from Mommy?

Is it just my imagination, or is this getting awfully deep–and confusing–for a song based on a nursery poem?

And don’t be fooled by the fact that both of these songs are pushing 70. Confusing popular songs are a universal. I’d be willing to bet you can think of an example from your favorite decade with no effort at all.