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 thought there’d be so many songs about telephones I’d have to beat them off with a stick. That proved not to be so.
What I really mean is those with phone in the title. I found few of those and fewer still with telephone. Of course, there are a lot of songs that use the phone as a major point of the song so I won’t be lacking for anything in this category.
These tunes are all about landline phones, the old fashioned ones, not what Americans insist on calling cell phones and are referred to by the rest of the world as mobile phones.
Whatever you call them, I don’t have one. I plan to be the second last person in the country to get one. I’ll give regular readers one guess who’ll be the last.
I was born and bred in a country town and I remember that our phone number was 273. My current number has considerably more digits than that one.
I’ll start with an actual phone number, one of the old fashioned kind. The singer isn’t very well known these days and if his name does come up, it’s usually as an answer to a trivia quiz question.
We have HAWKSHAW HAWKINS who, along with Cowboy Copas, was in the plane that went down killing Patsy Cline (as well as the others).
Harold Hawkins was from West Virginia and gained his nickname from a comic strip character (not one that I know, but that’s not surprising). He won a talent contest when he was 16.
I’ve found a considerable number of talent contest winners since I’ve been doing these columns but now that I think about it, generally the losers didn’t go on to do anything in show biz.
Hawkins performed on radio and joined the army during the war and fought at the Battle of the Bulge with great distinction. After the war, he continued performing and gained a record contract.
He was also a regular at the Grand Ole Opry. The song, Lonesome 7-7203, went to number one on the charts. Unfortunately, that was after he died.
I just realized I have a bit of a theme going here (well, aside from the phones). I next have another musician who died in a plane crash. This time it’s JIM CROCE.
This is one that Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, said had to be present when I mentioned the topic. I hadn’t considered it, but she was adamant and here it is.
The song reverts to an even earlier time when people called the operator, particularly for long distance calls. Poor old Jim, he had a number of hits in the seventies that pretty much everyone liked and he was going to be the next big thing. You never know. Here he is singing Operator.
AARON NEVILLE and his brothers epitomize New Orleans music – R&B, gospel, Cajun, pop, funk and even a little country in there if you listen hard enough.
Rather surprisingly, this is the only song about a wrong number. I thought there’d be more of them but it looks as if all the others got through (much to the chagrin of some of them, as you’ll see and hear). This is Wrong Number, an early song of his from 1961.
Now for two variations on the same theme, infidelity, and with similar titles. The first of these is by country music artist LEROY VAN DYKE.
Leroy had several country hits and then hit it really big with a crossover song that was huge on the pop charts as well, Walk On By. His next song was also a crossover hit. It wasn’t quite as successful as that other one but it’s the one we’re interested in today, If a Woman Answers.
I mentioned that there was going to be a variation on a theme and as the previous song is called If a Woman Answers, I know that you’re way ahead of me as to the title of this next one. You’d be right.
This second one is not by a country singer, but it’s probably the only area of music he didn’t visit in his lifetime: BOBBY DARIN.
The song is from the sound track of the film, If a Man Answers, which starred Bobby and Sandra Dee, his sometime wife. It’s not a film I remember seeing at the time (or since, for that matter) and I don’t think the song is as good as the previous one, but I’ve included it because of its name.
This is Bobby with the title track from the film.
Here is another song suggested by the A.M. that wasn’t on my original list. Another got the flick to accommodate this one, but it is CHUCK BERRY so that’s okay with me. I wasn’t surprised with her suggestion as Chuck is a particular favorite of the A.M.
Chuck was the premier singer/songwriter of the early rock & roll period, but then Buddy Holly was really the only other one doing that at the time. He really needs no introduction to readers of this column. This is his phone song, Memphis.
Goodness, yet another who should have taken the train rather than the plane. Here is another song with a phone number for a title, but the more modern type. It’s a song with which Wilson Pickett had a big hit, but I’ve already played his version in another column. Instead, a version that’s just as good and how could it not be with OTIS REDDING singing?
Otis was the greatest of the soul singers and no one has come along since to usurp that title. Wilson came close as did Solomon but they didn’t quite make it in my opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, these were a couple of great singers who, unlike poor Otis, had long careers. Oh well. Here is Otis’s version of 634-5789.
STEELY DAN is, or was, officially a group but in reality, it was Donald Fagen and Walter Becker with whichever musicians met their exacting standards for the project they were on at the time.
The phone song was from probably their most famous album, “Pretzel Logic,” and it featured, amongst others, the brilliant but tragic Jim Gordon on drums and the great Jeff Baxter on guitar rather than Walter.
It’s almost certainly the Dan’s most famous track, Rikki Don't Lose That Number. It seems there really was a Rikki who was a good friend of Donald’s. However, he refuses to confirm (or deny) the truth of the tale of the song.
SOLOMON BURKE was possibly the first of the great soul singers, along with Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and he was definitely the last of them as well.
Solomon was not only a soul singer, he could rock it with the best of them and he even delved into country music at times predating Ray Charles on that. He certainly had a flair for the dramatic as will be shown in the song today. Boy, does Solomon get his rocks off on this one, 000000 You.
Quite often you see or hear the phrase, “last but not least.” Well, I’m turning that on its head and I’m going to say last and definitely least. Not just least today. If there’s ever a contest for the worst song ever (and that sort of thing happens now and then) this song would have to be in contention.
Okay, there are worse songs out there but you’d have to have a good look at it nonetheless. It’s a song by PAUL EVANS whose most notable ditty before this one was Seven Little Girls (Sitting in the Back Seat). Remember that one? I sure do.
Besides recording occasionally, Paul was a songwriter who had hits by the Kalin Twins (their most famous song), Elvis, Pat Boone, Jimmy Dean, Bobby Vinton and others.
Today’s is not so much a telephone song as an answering machine song, just like the previous one. However, it may be one of the first to use that device in a song.
For your delectation here is Hello, This is Joanie. I have seen the name also spelt Joni or Joannie. It doesn’t matter as they all sound the same.