Lost Or Forgotten Hit Records – Novelty Records part 1

Far too many hit records get buried in the sands of time, but the sands seem to storm more solidly on novelty records.  Here are a dozen novelty records that seem to have been misplaced by radio stations:

My Daddy Is President by Little JoAnn. Once upon a time we loved our president; I’m thinking, of course, of the days of Camelot when JFK was in the White House. This song from 1962 wasn’t really sung by Caroline, but she does show up in the pictures in the video.

The Princess and the Punk by Barry Mann. I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I bought a K-Tel album simply to get a copy of this forgotten oldie. Barry wasn’t a stranger to novelty records since his first solo hit record was Who Put the Bomp in 1961. This hit followed a long time later (in 1976), but along the way he also wrote any number of hit records for other artists. Perhaps his biggest success was You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, perhaps the most played record of the century.

Little Blue Man by Betty Johnson. This record was one of four top forty records for Betty in 1957-58, although this video was created as a school project by Tyler Holtman. Betty’s career didn’t end with those four records, but it rapidly faded with her last two charted records: the novelty records Hulla Hoopa (about the hula hoop craze) and You Can’t Get To Heaven On Roller Skates.

Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann. Long before there was rap we had spoken word songs. This 1999 single was based on a speech that dispensed advice to a graduating class of 1997. This one has aged better than most of the novelty spoken words of the past (I can only cringe when An Open Letter To My Teenage Son by Victor Lundberg flies through the airwaves).

Astronaut (Parts 1 and 2) by Jose Jimenez. Jose was a character created and played by Bill Dana. This record pretended to be an interview with the person chosen to be the first US astronaut to be sent into outer space. Listen at your own risk: the record is probably too politically incorrect to be played anywhere anymore.

I Knew the Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll by Nick Lowe. The song may only be mildly a novelty, but the video makes up for it. The song was produced by Huey Lewis (and some of the News are probably playing on it as well) and Huey plays the harmonica parts.

The Bird On My Head by David Seville. Before he invented the music of the Chipmunks, David came up with the idea of speeding up his voice. The result was his first big hit, the number one smash The Witch Doctor. His follow-up record again used a funny voice but didn’t quite have the impact as his previous hit.

The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor by Joe South. Yes, that Joe South (who later wrote dozens of successful songs for other artists and won a Grammy award for the best song of 1968 he wrote and recorded). He started his career in 1958 with a novelty crossover record. The title of the song references the 1958 novelty records by Sheb Wooley and David Seville. While Joe would later write most of his own records, this one was written by J. P. Richardson, a disc jockey who recorded his own novelty records as the Big Bopper.

Little Space Girl by Jesse Lee Turner. We continue down the road of speeded-up voices with this entry, a novelty record from 1959. Fortunately, David Seville’s success with the Chipmunks mostly put an end to these annoying outer space voices.

Macarena Christmas Remix by Los Del Rio. Just in case you weren’t already tired of hearing the Macarena, this present arrived just in time for the holidays nearly two years later. Somebody had the bright idea of interspersing parts of the original record with various other Christmas songs, and the resulting train wreck somehow made it up to #57 in the Hot 100. At least we got new outfits in the new video.

Your Nose Is Gonna Grow by Johnny Crawford. Johnny’s career is known primarily as a star on the Rifleman television show from 1958 to 1963. As he got older, he also managed a recording career as well. This was the second most successful of his four top forty singles, but he somehow managed to stretch his recordings into two greatest hits albums.

Got a Girl by the Four Preps. The Four Preps had a string of over a dozen chart records from 1956 to 1964. Near the end, they recorded this ode to the misery of competing with teen idols. While most of the group went on to obscurity, Ed Cobb wrote several successful songs and Glen Larson wrote countless television scripts and created a string of successful television series.

I Got A Wife by The Mark IV. I guess once you’ve got a girl, if you’re lucky you eventually get a wife. Well, if you’re lucky she doesn’t turn into this wife!

A Treatment For Alzheimer’s?

From the time we’re really young (and already hate it) our parents probably take us to the dentist on a regular basis. There are lots of reasons for this, but the most important one didn’t even exist until 2018.

Healthy teeth are clearly an asset. If you brush and floss regularly you end up with nice white pearly teeth, and a nice smile is the second (or third) thing most people notice about you. Failure to properly take care of your teeth can lead to expensive treatments for cavities or even more expensive and painful treatment for gum disease.

It’s also nice to be able to eat things like corn on the cob and meat and that takes working teeth.

But it turns out that good oral care has an even more important benefit: it may help fight Alzheimer’s!

A study in Chicago that was released in 2018 introduced Porphyromonas gingivalis (commonly referred to as gingivitis in scary toothpaste commercials) into test subjects (aka mice). Follow-up examinations revealed that the bacteria caused the creation of clumps of amyloid beta, a protein that is present in Alzheimer’s patients. Based on studies at Havard, that protein appears to be created in the brain as a defense against microbial infections. The onset of “neurodegeneration” in the infected mice was also found, indicating some deterioration of mental abilities.

Additional studies by Cortexyme reported in January 2019 in Science Advances Magazine supplied additional support for a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s. These studies examined the brains of fifty people who died with Alzheimer’s symptoms and fifty people who had not yet shown symptoms and found significantly higher levels of gum disease-related toxins in those who were ill. The company has also begun testing a medicine that targets the removal of the toxins on humans and has found that the drug appears to improve cognitive abilities.

While this doesn’t yet prove a cause-and-effect relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s or verify a long term treatment it gives us hope in that direction. And makes it clearly important that the elderly especially should pay more attention to their teeth and gums! Many Medicare Advantage plans now include coverage for regular teeth cleanings, and those who are covered have a real incentive to see a dentist regularly. Even if you don’t have coverage, you owe it to future you to take care of yourself.

Declan Patrick MacManus was a British musician who started writing and performing as D. P. Costello. When he signed a contract with a record company his manager (Jake Riviera) convinced him to change his name to Elvis Costello. Using Presley’s first name seems to have helped his career along, and he produced a series of successful albums in the seventies and eighties. His most successful single in the US was  Veronica, a song he co-wrote with Paul McCartney. Be sure to check out the lyrics; the song is one of the most powerful statements about dementia ever recorded.

Here’s Proof That We Can Accomplish Changes and Save the Planet

The Green New Deal has brought Climate Change back into the news with lots of debate over whether or not we will make significant changes to combat the challenge we face. There’s a simple reason to believe we can:

We already did it before.

When I was in high school in the sixties we were required to take gym several times a week, and at the end of the class, we were also required to take showers. Since a shower would (we hope) wash off any deodorant or antiperspirant we had used that morning, a lot of kids would then pull out a spray can of Right Guard and spray a level of protection back on. The locker room would normally smell more like Right Guard than a locker room, and that was probably a good thing.

Aerosol seemed like the perfect modern delivery system. A can was loaded up with both a propellant and something that the propellant would deliver, and when the spray nozzle on the top was pressed a combination of the two would come out as a mist. The earliest successful use appears to have been bug spray used to fight mosquitos during World War II. Right Guard was developed in the early 1960s and rapidly replaced Ban roll-ons and similar deodorants and antiperspirants. Other companies released similar aerosol products to compete, and by the early seventies over 80% of the market was dominated by aerosol sprays.

Then came the bad news.

The most-frequently used propellant were Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals made from carbon, chlorine, and fluorine that didn’t interact with much of anything and therefore seemed totally safe to use. The aerosol spray would deliver its active content, and the CFCs would simply drift away into the atmosphere. And float up and up and up until it came to rest in the ozone layer. Ozone is a naturally occurring version of oxygen that groups together three oxygen molecules instead of two and does an excellent job of blocking solar radiation/ultraviolet light that would otherwise cause harm to all living creatures (humans would suffer a lot more skin cancer if that radiation were to start reaching ground level). In 1974, American scientists claimed that while the ozone layer was stable, chlorine gas could act as a catalyst and one molecule of chlorine could destroy nearly 100,000 molecules of ozone.

I was convinced enough by the initial studies that I switched from using spray cans to roll-ons (and, later on, stick antiperspirants). I even got a phone call survey about the situation and surprised the survey host when I volunteered my change in buying habits even before they got to that question. I’m pretty sure that call was from one of the companies that were investigating public knowledge and opinions on the ozone layer problem.

By 1976 there was overwhelming evidence that CFCs would break down into component parts once they reached the ozone layer of the atmosphere, and the ozone layer was being destroyed.  It turns out that Right Guard literally threatened our lives!

The evidence was strong enough that in 1978 the US, Canada, and Norway banned the use of CFCs in aerosols even though other European nations refused to follow suit. CFCs continued to be used for air conditioners since it was assumed that freon (a brand name for a CFC compound) was not normally released into the atmosphere.

The polar regions normally had the thickest areas of ozone, but in 1985 an actual hole in the ozone layer was discovered over Antarctica. This was enough evidence to prompt more severe action, and in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was passed and signed by every single country. Replacement chemical compounds were used that would not deplete the ozone layer, and in another 30 years or so the ozone layer will have recovered to pre-aerosol levels.

So why are we facing such strong resistance to the Kyoto Protocol that was drafted to fight a similar problem with greenhouse gases and climate change?  Several reasons show the differences:

  • Global Warming wasn’t a good name for the challenge we face. Climate Change may be more accurate, especially since many people just shrug if you threaten them with temperature changes of only a few degrees.
  • Correlation is not the same as cause and effect. With CFCs, we had a clear definition of the chemical reaction and measurement that proved it was happening. Climate change is a lot more difficult to define and prove, especially since the weather is affected by a lot more than just greenhouse gases.
  • Early predictions of impending doom turned out to be incorrect. While slight increases in temperatures have occurred, no coastal cities were flooded out of existence by the year 2000.
  • CFCs were replaced with other compounds without a major difference in cost. No such easy replacement of carbon-based energy sources exist (yet).
  • The economic impact of trying to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions is especially brutal for developing countries.

Perhaps we need a program as massive as the Space Program to solve the problem we face now, but the Green New Deal doesn’t appear to provide a blueprint for getting there. Instead of looking to a focus on a scientific approach to finding affordable alternatives to the use of carbon-based fuels, it proposes:

  • We turn back the clock and undo President Eisenhower’s choice and replace our interstates with trains. And we start riding bikes and walking to work.
  • Cows are the major source of methane gas, so beef and maybe even milk have to go.
  • ALL buildings and houses need to be rebuilt to be more energy efficient.
  • We need to replace gasoline-powered cars with electric cars (just ignore that the electricity is often created by burning coal).
  • We need to generate all our electricity using renewable sources in spite of physical limitations that make that impossible unless we radically reduce our energy usage.

While the goals of the Green New Deal may be admirable, they don’t appear to be either practical or affordable. What would help is significantly cheaper solar power or working seawater fusion (a much better name for it than nuclear fusion). We have a limited amount of fossil fuels, and it would be best to find a way past them before they are gone.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt if we all planted a lot more trees and ate more turkey and chicken and fish. And walked more.

Nuclear power has always been controversial. Nuclear fission turned out to not be as safe or cheap as we were promised, and the problems of disposal of nuclear waste and the use of nuclear by-products to produce dangerous weapons still pose threats. In 1979 the No Nukes concert was held to focus protest against it. The keystone song from the concert was probably Power. The large amount of power currently produced by nuclear fission makes it even more difficult to switch to renewable energy sources.

10 Signs That Spring Is Finally Here

We used to be able to identify the arrival of Spring easily – the first red, red robin came bob bob bobbing along and we took note and retired our winter clothes for a few months.

Nowadays, things have been complicated by climate change.  It seems like we have a lot of much warmer days in the Winter, and then it gets much colder and the clouds drop snow and sleet and ice onto our misery.

To help alleviate the confusion, I present to you a more up-to-date list of ways to know it’s finally Spring:

  1. The groundhog saw his shadow and it has been at least eight weeks.
  2. The drive to work becomes less of an obstacle course because they’ve started filling in the potholes that formed during the Winter.
  3. Your dog is finally willing to go outside to poop and pee again.
  4. The clueless local television station stops advertising its amazing on time announcements of school closings and delays that always showed up about two hours after you got a text message from the school.
  5. The local grocery store takes down the Easter display they put up February 15th and starts trying to sell you bathing suits you won’t be able to use for a few more months.
  6. The ground has thawed enough that the birds can finally have worms for breakfast. They probably still prefer that you fill the birdhouse with food.
  7. The squirrels show up again (and start eating the food you left in the birdhouse).
  8. The kids don’t spend ten minutes searching around the house for their hats and gloves and are less likely to stall going outside to wait for the bus.
  9. You don’t have to scrape ice or snow or frozen fog off your car’s windshield each morning.
  10. The groundhog didn’t see his shadow and it has been at least eight weeks. That rodent isn’t any better at this than we are.

Just in case you still lean toward watching for the arrival of the birds, Doris Day hit the charts briefly in 1953 with her ode to the red, red robin.

Hungry – Plese Help

When I was driving down the main road that goes past Reader Copies this morning, an elderly person was holding up a cardboard sign that had a big bold misspelling:

Hungry – Plese Help

I lived in Wheaton and worked in downtown Chicago for a little over a year, and very quickly got used to seeing panhandlers on street corners.  It became clear that they weren’t necessarily just down on their luck since the same people were on the same corners every day as long as I walked the downtown streets.

This was different.  It was cold this Christmas Eve morning, and the person with the sign was bundled up.  They had on gloves, boots, and a coat with a hood that was pulled so tightly around their face that it was difficult to tell if it was a man or a woman.  What was clear was the wrinkles on their face that evidenced their age.  There was a large coffee on the ground behind them as they moved back and forth to keep warm and attract attention.

It’s not like I don’t have sympathy for those struggling with food insecurity; we routinely send money to Second Harvest when we have more than we need and last month the store even ran a food drive and collected over 400 cans of food for one of the local food banks.  At times I’ve even handed some people five dollar bills and told them to go get a meal, even when I didn’t have a steady income myself.  It’s probably not enough, but it’s likely more than most people do to help.  There should be help readily available to them, but I’m pretty sure they needed money because their resources had run dry, and I can’t really help with that very much anymore.

Like all the cars ahead of me and behind me I simply drove on without stopping to help.  But I couldn’t help but worry about the future we all face in this country.

The Social Security trust fund was not intended to be the way funds were accumulated to pay benefits – Social Security is a pay-as-you-go plan where taxes paid now are immediately paid out to those people receiving benefits.  The trust fund was intended to hold about one month’s benefits, not a huge sum.  In the early seventies, actuaries (the math wizards who worry about such things) projected that as the Baby Boomers started to retire the taxes collected would not cover the cost of the benefits that had to be paid, and as a result, laws were passed to increase the level of taxes.  The extra taxes for the next few decades were to be invested and used to pay the extra benefits required starting well, starting now when taxes are not enough to cover benefits.  Of course, the federal government managed to “borrow” those funds to use to add to general revenues, and the money didn’t really accumulate as much as they should have, so now income taxes have to repay the money that was borrowed to cover benefits.  In fact, the shortage is so bad that it is estimated that by 2034 (at the latest) the trust fund will be depleted and (at best) benefits will have to be reduced by 20%.  And that’s what I was worried about this morning.

Not so much for myself (I do have a small pension and an annuity as well as Social Security) but for the typical Baby Boomer.  The average Boomer has less than $100,000 saved up for retirement, and most of them probably are not debt free.  When Social Security is their only source of income, what will happen if their monthly checks are reduced by 20%?  How many people living paycheck to paycheck could survive a 20% pay cut?

How many of the elderly will be in the situation where standing in the cold with a cardboard sign seems like a good idea?

There are three simple ways we can fix Social Security so no reductions in benefits are required:

    • Raise the retirement age.  Right now the age is slowly moving upwards from 65 to 67, and the age should probably be moved even higher – people are living longer, and Social Security cannot easily cover all those extra years of benefits.  Phasing in a higher full retirement age of 68 or 69 or even 70 would solve our problem.  This is the solution offered by the Republicans and despised by Democrats.
    • Raise the amount of income that gets taxed by Social Security.  Right now you pay 12.4% of income up to $132,900 to Social Security (your employer probably pays half of that), but nothing beyond that is taxed.  If we raise or eliminate the limit (without adjusting retirement benefits) Social Security is solvent for a long, long time.  This is the solution offered by Democrats and despised by Republicans.
    • Increase the tax rate.  Instead of paying 12.4%, require people to pay 13% or 14% or whatever it takes.  This is the solution proposed by nobody who wants to run for office ever again and is despised by everybody.
    • Decrease future benefit calculations.  This is a non-starter, so there’s no need to even suggest it.
    • Finally, we can increase payrolls by increasing population and productivity, but AI and computerization and robots are making that look less and less likely.

Perhaps the only possible solution is one that uses little pieces of all these possible solutions, but it still generates pain and lower benefits to people so politicians will continue to kick the can down the road.

Since our divided Congress is unlikely to grapple with this problem any time soon (What, Me Compromise?), the date we face disaster and the amount of the reduction in benefits will continue to creep ion our direction – you cannot affect reality by wishing it away.

But we really do need to do something before there are lines of people with cardboard signs seeking more help than we can provide.


Really? Christmas Edition

Once upon a time, Billboard listed the Hot 100 records based on something simple – sales of single records. Then came airplay, and then streaming, and now the results are in: oops!

Thanks to the full court press of Christmas music on radio stations desperate for listeners and streaming by people who should really know better, lots of Christmas singles are finally hitting the Hot 100 rather than the special Christmas chart. The only problem? It’s old, older, and older than me records rather than new recordings. Here’s a list of the records in this week’s list (all of which I usually punch out immediately if I’m listening in my car or on my portable radio):

#7 All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey *
#16 It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams **
#21 Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
#22 A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives ***
#26 Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
#29 The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) – Nat King Cole
#34 Last Christmas – Wham
#36 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry
#41 Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin

No sign of Baby It’s Cold Outside thanks to all the recent bannings of the formerly popular song.

* Extra Credit: guess how much Mariah has made off writing and recording her Christmas record. Give up? Over 60 million dollars. Merry Christmas to Mariah!

** The next week Andy’s Christmas tune moved up to number 10, giving him a new record: it was over 41 years between the last time Andy Williams hit the top ten (the Theme to Love Story) and this record — crushing the 30 year span for Dobie Gray that previously held the record.

*** And one week after Andy’s trip to the top ten, Burl Ives crushed his record by getting into the top ten 56 years after his last trip there.  He also eclipsed Paul McCartney’s record for longest stretch in the top ten and in the top 40 (Paul grabbed the record when FourFiveSeconds briefly got into the top ten a few years ago).  Louie Armstrong probably still holds a few longevity records.

Christmas Records Buried in the Snows of Time

A very long time ago, radio stations put occasional Christmas records into the rotation in December, but that’s a thing of the past.  A few stations began playing Christmas music full time on some of the weekends, and their ratings soared (this is long before streaming made it easy to hear what every you wanted to).  It wasn’t too long before we started getting wall to wall Christmas music on some stations as soon as Thanksgiving, and SiriusXM radio now has year-round Christmas music on at least one channel.

While the expansion of Christmas music may sound like a good idea, that isn’t quite what we got.  Instead of stations playing hundreds of different Christmas records we get what seems to be the same ten or so songs by various artists over and over and over.

Sure, it’s nice to hear George Michael sing Last Christmas again (okay, the label says “Wham”), but a half hour later we hear the song “performed” by the Glee crowd or  Ariana Grande or even Taylor Swift.  Then here comes Little Drummer Boy by Joan Jett or Justin Bieber or the Temptations or somebody else at least once per hour.  Lots of cover versions of the Christmas Song (“Chestnuts Roasting”), White Christmas, Blue Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and maybe even a few now politically-incorrect versions of Baby It’s Cold Outside (and, sadly, a few newer versions that are adapted to be politically correct — sigh).  I can barely stand to listen for even an hour thanks to the endless repetition.

It didn’t take long to make up a list of songs that have been “misplaced” and no longer seem to be on the air.  The hard part was winnowing down the list to a manageable number.  In no particular order, here are a few songs that might help you remember a Christmas past:

Whatever Happened To Christmas by Frank Sinatra. This 1969 song was on the Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas album; the real surprise is that Jimmy Webb wrote the song.

Christmas Mem’ries by Rosemary Clooney.  Rosemary sang and danced her way through the movie White Christmas in 1954 (which was a remake of 1942’s Holiday Inn, renamed due to the popularity of Bing Crosby’s biggest record). This version of memories of the past was written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and put to music by Don Costa by 1975.

This Time of the Year by Brook Benton.  A 1959 television performance of Brook lip-syncing the song, one of the 67 records that Brook got onto the Hot 100 pop charts.

Little Toy Trains by Roger Miller. While he may have continued climbing the Country charts for a few more decades, this record came near the end of Roger’s success on the pop charts.

Christmas Night In Harlem by Louis Armstrong.  At about the midpoint of his career, Louis recorded this Christmas song in 1955.  The original hit version of the song was by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra in 1934, but that version contains some lyrics that aren’t quite acceptable in these modern times.

Snowy White Snow and Jingle Bells by Vaughn Monroe.  From 1945 to 1952 Vaughn usually had 4 or 5 hit records each year; the only exception was 1950, the year he released this Christmas song.  Perhaps three top ten records in the next five months was the present Santa left under his tree!

It’s Gonna Be a Lonely Christmas by The Orioles.  This 1948 release by one of the first doo-wop groups shows much of the promise that bloomed later in their career (you are most likely familiar with their biggest hit, Crying in the Chapel, which was later covered by Elvis).

The Marvelous Toy by the Chad Mitchell Trio.  The song was written (and later recorded) by Tom Paxton, who was briefly accepted as a member of the group but forced to move on when his voice apparently didn’t blend in well enough.  Other members of the group at one time or another included Harry Belafonte and John Denver, but the hit record was recorded in 1963 by Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, and Joe Frazier.  Numerous versions have been recorded since then, but the radio pretty much ignores them.

Merry Christmas, Baby by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers.  This is the original 1947 version of the song, featuring vocals by Charles Brown.  The 1962 version that Charles recorded as a solo record didn’t get much traction, but the next two years the two different versions of the record (as well as a third version) went into heavy rotation at Christmas and all the modern covers followed after that.

The River by Joni Mitchell.  Not many Christmas songs get released in June, but this entry was on the album Blue, which was released that month in 1971.  That album is widely considered to be her best.  The River appears to have been written about her breakup with Graham Nash (of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and is one of the saddest of the Christmas songs.

A 5 Pound Box of Money by Pearl Bailey.  I really don’t need to hear Santa Baby once an hour by Ertha Kitt and Madonna and Glee and Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift and… hmm, isn’t this list starting to sound familiar?  Here’s a similar plea from Peal Bailey from 1959 that concentrates on one simple gift request.

A Howdy Doody Christmas by The Fontane Sisters and Howdy Doody.  Okay, I got to sit in the Peanut Gallery once upon a time, so how can I ignore Howdy Doody’s 1957 entry into the Christmas Hall of Fame?

May Every Day Be Christmas by Louis Jordan.  If the radio isn’t going to play Baby It’s Cold Outside by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, perhaps the record he cut two years later can gain some traction.

Santa’s Beard by the Beach Boys.  The Beach Boys Christmas Album in 1964 contained their most played Christmas song, the Little Saint Nick, as well as a stack of covers of classic hits, but this song about searching for the real Santa Claus seems all but forgotten.

There are, of course, many, many more – I’ll pick out another stack of tracks next Christmas!