Previous month:
April 2015
Next month:
June 2015

ELDER MUSIC: Answer Songs

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

In the fifties and early sixties, answer songs were all the rage. That is, once there was a big hit, someone would come out with another song, usually with the same tune but different words, from the point of view of the other person in the original.

In all my research for this column, I found only one answer song that was as good as the original. There were two or three that came close. I've included all of those.

I'll begin with the pair I thought of first, starting with JIM REEVES.

Jim Reeves

Okay, I could trot out all those velvet-voice clichés but my goodness, what a fine singer he was. This is probably his best known song, He'll Have to Go.

♫ Jim Reeves - He'll Have To Go

In this case, the answer was quite successful in its own right, so much so that several people recorded it – Skeeter Davis was one but a better version was by JEANNE BLACK.

Jeanne Black

Jeanne actually sold over a million copies of the record, something that most answer songs could only dream about.

Her answer has the fairly obvious title, He'll Have to Stay. The great session pianist Floyd Cramer is prominent on both songs. I hope he received a percentage of the royalties for his work.

♫ Jeanne Black - He'll Have To Stay

Here is a rare example of the genre where the answer is a completely different song. How do we know it's an answer song, yo/u may ask? Well, you have to listen to the words. The original is by JOHNNY CASH.

Johnny Cash

This was quite an early song from Johnny back when he was still at Sun records. It was a bit of a hit, at least in my neck of the woods, Don't Take Your Guns to Town.

♫ Johnny Cash - Don't Take Your Guns to Town

The answer I discovered completely by accident. I didn't realize that there was a follow up to Johnny's until I played this one quite by chance by JERRY LEE LEWIS.

Jerry Lee Lewis

It was a song I wasn't familiar with. Well, goodness me, I said (or something like that) when I played it, that one has to be included in a column I haven't yet devised.

Thus today's column came into existence. Jerry Lee's song is Ballad of Billy Joe.

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Ballad Of Billy Joe

Even the great RAY CHARLES makes an appearance today.

Ray Charles

Ray's song was a big hit for him in 1961, Hit the Road, Jack, written by Percy Mayfield.

♫ Ray Charles - Hit The Road, Jack

Only another great artist could answer Ray and that one is NINA SIMONE.

Nina Simone

Nina's version is a bit different from Ray's, which is good, so you won't get bored. It wasn't ever released on an album, just a 45 and was quite rare until recently when it appeared on a CD collection.

Nina's song is Come on Back, Jack.

♫ Nina Simone - Come On Back, Jack

Now for the one where I think the answer is as good as the original and both are by BUDDY HOLLY.

Buddy Holly

I found a few cases where the same artist created their own answer song but none did it as well as Buddy (goes without saying, really).

The original is one of his most famous songs, Peggy Sue.

♫ Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue

Buddy's follow up isn't really an answer song like the rest today; it's more a continuation of the story. In this case, Peggy Sue Got Married.

This was one of the songs Buddy recorded just with acoustic guitar at home before his fateful trip. It had other singers and instruments added for this version. There's another, different, one as well which is pretty awful, as well as the original unadorned version out there.

The song's interesting (to me anyway), it doesn't have a conventional verse/chorus structure - it's rather free flowing. It makes you wonder what else he could have produced.

♫ Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue Got Married

It comes as no surprise that ELVIS is included today.

Elvis Presley

I could have chosen several of his which had the answer treatment but I settled on Little Sister as it had the best reply song. This was a two-sided hit for the king as it had His Latest Flame, an even better song, on the other side of the record.

♫ Elvis Presley - Little Sister

LAVERN BAKER is Elvis's answerer.

LaVern Baker

Her song title isn't anything obvious like Big Sister. Instead, it's called Hey Memphis. Both songs were written by Doc Pomas and Mort Shuman. I guess they thought if you're on a good thing... (well, that's the whole point of this column).

♫ LaVern Baker - Hey Memphis

A couple that got me laughing out loud is this next pair. Starting with the original, of course, by NEIL SEDAKA.

Neil Sedaka

Actually, this one wasn't all that funny. It was Neil's first hit and a big one at that, Oh! Carol.

♫ Neil Sedaka - Oh! Carol

The Carol mentioned was CAROLE KING.

Carole King

She and Neil dated for a while when they were still at school; she was still Carol Klein at the time. Later they were both members at the Brill Building, churning out songs - she in partnership with her then-husband Gerry Goffin and Neil with his old friend Howard Greenfield.

Naturally her song is called Oh Neil and she didn't take it at all seriously.

♫ Carole King - Oh Neil



Back in the 1930s and '40s, Alice Barker was a chorus line dancer at such famed venues in Harlem as The Apollo, The Cotton Club and the Zanzibar Club.

She appeared there with such headliners as Gene Kelly, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Frank Sinatra, and she appeared a number of movies of the era and later, in TV commercials and shows.

What with one thing and another in life, Alice had never seen herself on film until Mark Cantor of Sound Improvisations website, finally made that possible. Take a look:

(Thank you to many TGB readers who emailed this story.)


When I was writing last Monday's post about the oxymoron of elder fashion, I had intended to include a couple of paragraphs about the awful labor practices of the fashion industry, but it felt like too much and like mixing apples and oranges.

As soon as that story was published last Monday and I checked John Oliver's HBO show, Last Week Tonight (as I do every Monday morning), I wondered if I had acquired the psychic ability to channel the program's production meetings.

Last Sunday, Oliver took on the fashion industry's reprehensible practices.


No one makes real musical movies anymore. Even on Broadway, they are almost entirely revivals. Yes, many were silly, but there was a lot of singing and dancing that was fun to watch.

Here's a song from the 1955 film, “It's Always Fair Weather.” Obviously, from the title, not one of the classics but Gene Kelly's song and dance – on roller skates! the old-fashioned, four wheel kind – is amazing.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the script and lyrics. It was scored by Andre Previn. It starred, in addition to Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Michael Kidd and Dolores Gray. The song is I Like Myself.


Did you know that two-thirds of elders depend on Social Security for most of their income and that one-third rely on the program for 90 percent of their income?

Even so, the U.S. Treasury Department allows the federal government to garnish the Social Security benefit of elders who have defaulted on student loans. The average Social Security payment is about $1164, so it not difficult to imagine the hardship this imposes.

“'Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program - that’s why we don’t allow banks or credit card companies to do it,' [Claire] McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said in a statement."

Another member of that committee, Elizabeth Warren, joined McCaskill in sending a letter to the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office asking for a new study to answer such questions as:

How do offsets affect incomes for those older Americans with outstanding student loan debts?

What is the average income for seniors after their benefits are offset?

What is the typical duration of offsets of individuals...?

There is more information here and the letter is reproduced here [pdf].


I can do no better than reproduce in that headline the note that accompanied this video from Darlene Costner. Watch this video about deer crossing signs and you'll see what I mean:


When I lived in Manhattan, I could buy already cut mangos on just about any street corner so I never learned how to do it myself. After I left there in 2006, I found that stores where I've lived don't do that and I've struggled. (Yes, I know the main technique but it's still messy and cumbersome.)

Then I discovered this a week ago and wow. Fantastic. It's so easy:

I've tried and it works equally well with avocados and kiwis. You might need to fuss around the size of the glass for each fruit, but you'll work it out. I did.


Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in a case about the constitutionality of same sex marriage.

There still are no cameras allowed in that court, but transcripts are released and reported in the media. Predictably, the four conservative justices were skeptical if not outright hostile to the idea but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had it all well in hand.

When the lawyer for the states seeking to preserve their ban on gay marriage, John Bursch, “tried to argue that the sole purpose of marriage was to ensure a stable relationship for procreation,” Ginsburg quashed that argument with irrefutable logic:

“'Suppose a couple, 70-year-old couple, comes in and they want to get married?” remarked the 82-year-old Ginsburg, to laughter, after a protracted debate over whether it was fair to ask couples if they wanted children before allowing them to wed.

“'You don’t have to ask them any questions. You know they are not going to have any children.'”

And one more excellent moment:

”In the end, her bottom line – rejecting the notion that extending marriage rights would somehow weaken the institution – was persuasive enough that even chief justice Roberts appeared sympathetic.

“'All of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available,' said Ginsburg. 'So you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.'”

God, I would love to have been in that court room last Tuesday. Let's give a big cheer for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You can read more here.


Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres was first among many TGB readers to send this video. It was made for Earth Day, 22 April, by American rapper and activist, Prince Ea.

He's talking to his generation, much younger than ours, but we can help too. Take a look.


From Cathy Johnson comes this little video. Wait until you see the costumes.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.

Better Brain Health

I am not alone in my greatest fear of old age: losing my mind. Okay, these days the more polite terms are dementia and Alzheimer's but the words amount to the same thing.

”In 2013, a YouGov survey...found that Americans of age 60 years and older were more afraid of Alzheimer's disease or dementia than cancer, heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.”

That survey is noted on page 305 of a huge new study from the U.S. Institute of Medicine about ageing and the brain, that was released in April. The title provides us with a new-ish phrase we need to learn:

Cognitive Aging, subtitled Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) defines the phrase for us:

”Cognitive aging is a lifelong process of gradual, ongoing, yet highly variable changes in cognitive function that occur as people get older.

“Some cognitive functions decrease predictably, such as memory and reaction time, whereas some other functions are either maintained or may even increase, such as wisdom and knowledge.

“Cognitive aging is not a disease or a quantifiable level of dysfunction. It is distinct from Alzheimer disease and other neurocognitive and psychiatric disorders that affect older adults’ cognitive health, so it is best measured and studied longitudinally among adults who are free of these disorders.”

So cognitive aging is nowhere near the same thing as Alzheimer's disease. Here is a chart from the study comparing the two:

Alzheimer's Cognitive Aging
Chronic neurodegenerative disease Part of aging
Extensive neuron loss Neuron number remains relatively stable but neuronal function may decline
Affects approximately 10% of older Americans Occurs in everyone but the extent and nature of changes varies widely
Declines are often severe and progressive Changes are variable and gradual

There is a handy box at the JAMA website with a list of key features of cognitive aging.

The full study [pdf], which you can download for free at The National Academies Press website, is nearly 400 pages. I've skimmed it, reading more carefully in some places but for this short report, I've mostly relied on others. One of them, from AARP, provides a good overview of the most salient points.

The long-time usual suspects for promoting and maintaining good physical health are equally important for cognitive health: get plenty of aerobic exercise, stay intellectually active, control blood pressure, get a good night's sleep. And this:

”...eating less meat and consuming more nuts and beans, whole grains, vegetables and olive oil. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, have been shown to help cognition in some studies, yet not in others.”

You have probably heard, too, the list of things that are detrimental to brain health: depression, hearing and vision loss, stress and hospitalization, excessive use of alcohol. In addition,

”Adults between ages 65 and 69 use an average of 14 different prescription drugs per year, often leading to serious complications.

“The report singles out strong anticholinergic drugs (including antihistamines such as Benadryl and some antidepressants) as well as benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax, used to treat anxiety and sleeplessness) as being linked to delirium, cognitive impairment and dementia.

“'We aren’t saying don’t take them ever,' [study author, Dan G.] Blazer said. 'But you need to watch out and be aware of the side effects.'”

The report includes an important list of widely-used products that have no proven effect in preserving cognitive function: dietary supplements including vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin D, vitamin E and ginkgo biloba. Not to mention (emphasis is mine):

”Although research shows that brain training on computers and video games can improve attention and memory as they relate to the games, few studies show that those skills transfer to real life.

“The report recommends that consumers carefully evaluate claims of companies selling brain games. 'People may fall prey to using products that have not been proven to be effective and think they will help them in all areas of their lives,' Blazer said.”

As we have discussed here many times, among our worries are that forgetting a name or the reason we have walked into the bedroom could be harbingers of dementia. We cling to “advice” that as long as we can remember what the can opener does, even if we can't find it, it's not incipient Alzheimer's.

What is important about this report for elders ourselves (as opposed to health care professionals and researchers and others who work in age-related fields) is to understand the difference between dementia and this new phrase, cognitive aging. It is good to finally have a name for it.

If you are not up for reading the entire book (it is written in layman's language so it is not difficult to get through), the links I have provided above to The Journal of the American Medical Association and AARP explain the study well.