This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
I’m going to infect you all with earworms. “What are earworms?” I hear some of you asking.
These are the songs that lodge in your brain and stay there for a day, maybe two, a week - a month even, if the virus is particularly virulent. These are my earworms, not necessarily yours, but they may become yours after you’ve listened to them a time or two.
It also means that my brain will be ruined for the foreseeable future. The things I do for you.
Of course, by playing a bunch of them they might cancel each other out. We’ll see. Don’t worry, we won’t be playing “that bloody Enya song,” to quote Norma, the Assistant Musicologist.
I’ll start with probably the second worst song in this genre. This is no reflection on the song itself; it’s quite a nice one. When I say worst, I mean in the earworm sense. A song that will stay for at least a week, maybe longer, means it has reached the exulted silver medal status.
You may remember MICHAEL NESMITH as one of the Monkees.
He also had a decent solo career, producing some fine albums that didn’t sell a lot but I like them. On one of those albums, “Magnetic South,” is the song Joanne. Another one of his, Different Drum, could have been a contender as well but I don’t mind having that one in my brain, especially Linda Ronstadt’s version.
A song I’ve heard rarely since it was a hit in the sixties, but each time I hear it I wish I hadn’t because, of course, given the topic today, it remains resident in the noggin until flushed by something even more annoying.
This is by DAVID McWILLIAMS about whom I know little.
Checking Dr. Google, it seems that Dave was from Belfast and he almost became a serious soccer player until he was seduced by show biz. He recorded a bunch of albums, the second of which had this song on it, The Days of Pearly Spencer. Unfortunately, Dave died of a heart attack when he was only 56.
As I mentioned with Mike Nesmith, the songs don’t have to “bad” songs to stick in the mind. To demonstrate, the next four are some of the finest pop tunes around, starting with MARVIN GAYE.
Marvin was a singer, songwriter, pianist, drummer and he recorded the most important album Motown records produced (“What’s Going On”). He also recorded some of the best pop songs from the sixties, both alone and as a duet with Tammi Terrell.
One of his songs I quite regularly sit around mumbling to myself is I Heard It Through the Grapevine.
THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS have a couple of songs that could be included in this category.
I won’t mention the others as they have one champion earworm song and that’s California Dreamin'.
JOE TEX pretty much taught James Brown his complete act. Okay, that’s not quite true; it’s more that James shamelessly ripped off the act from Joe. He also tried to shoot Joe once. He missed but hit a member of the audience (not badly, fortunately).
I must admit that I have been known to walk around the streets of Melbourne, particularly when I’m foraging for provender at the various markets I visit, singing this song to myself. I even sing the “ta ta ta ta ta ta” guitar part sometimes out loud which causes the A.M. to tell me to shut up (she doesn’t really say that, she’s a very polite person, that’s just the way I interpret it).
The song is Show Me.
You all know ROD STEWART.
You all know his most famous song. Well, I think it’s his most famous; it’s also an earworm for me. The song came from back in the day when Rod was a great singer on the cutting edge of popular music, before he started marrying tall blondes, before he had so much money he could do what he liked in the recording studio.
Nothing wrong with those songs, it’s just the early ones are far better. Lordy, I’m sounding like a grumpy old musicologist. Here is Maggie May.
THE SUTHERLAND BROTHERS AND QUIVER is the rather awkward name for the next contender.
Gavin and Iain Sutherland started their musical life as The Sutherland Brothers Band in Scotland. They met another band called Quiver who started out as Tim Renwick and John Lodge. The number of people in Quiver fluctuated quite a bit even after the two groups had amalgamated. Never mind.
They recorded half a dozen albums together and eventually split into their original groups. They had one really big hit which is the one we’re interested in today, The Arms of Mary.
Later, on one of their comeback albums, the Everly Brothers recorded a superior cover version of the song which is even more earwormy but we’ll stick with the original today.
JACK SCOTT or Giovanni Scafone to his mum and dad, was from Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit.
His father taught him to play guitar and after the family moved to Detroit, Jack started a band called the Southern Drifters. They were reasonably successful around town and after several years he went out on his own.
After some local hits, he made it big nationally with several songs including What in the World's Come Over You? in 1960. This is his candidate for earworm notoriety. Jack’s still performing, mostly around Detroit.
An unlikely candidate, given that most of these are pop songs, is Dave Brubeck. Or more particularly, the DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET.
Many’s the day I’ve wandered around going “Tum diddly um dum dum diddly um dum dum diddly um dum dum take five, just take five”. The dum diddlies may not have given it away, but the Take Five certainly would.
I’ll finish with the world champion earworm, the gold medal winner, one that’s infected me intermittently for the last 50 years. The A.M. agrees with me on this one. This is the worst infection you can imagine. Listening to this one only once is enough to keep it in your brain for many weeks.
This song was top of the charts, at least around this neck of the woods, in late 1959. EMILE FORD had a few other minor hits but this was his biggest hit, the one he’ll always be remembered for as far as I’m concerned (how could I forget it?): What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?
Postscript: I completed this column several days ago and I must report that each morning since I’ve woken up with my brain singing Joanne to me.