Monday, April 11, 2005

Those Songs

What are those songs for you?

You know what I mean?

Those songs that seem almost visceral. You hear the song and then there is an aroma that you can almost smell and a person you can almost remember and a long-ago date in a far-away place that seems so current.

Songs can evoke such responses.

My mother was a real fan of pop music. She sang pop songs of the forties and fifties when I was a boy. She learned the lyrics to Beatles songs and Beach Boys songs. She knew Marvin Gaye songs and Michael Jackson songs. She knew disco hits and Top 40 schmaltz. She knew lyrics to pop songs that were released after she became a grandmother.

My mother knew a song for every country, state, city, area and geographical region. She knew a song for every word in my vocabulary. No matter what word was in question, she seemed to know a song she could sing as part of her explanation of the word. I knew that Istanbul used to be Constantinople long before my fifth grade ancient history lessons about Rome, not because I'd read about it, but because my mother sang the song. She probably could have done an entire afternoon of songs with geological references, too.

I knew about Chattanooga and Mississippi, and Chicago and San Francisco, and I knew Irish songs and opera arias. I knew about the Grand Canyon by listening to an old scratchy copy of Grand Canyon Suite and looking at the pictures on the album sleeve.

She made watching the weather amusing by singing songs about it! Her knowledge of songs made everything fun.

The first LP I purchased was The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart. I liked The Supremes and this was the least Supremes-like record they'd ever released. While other households were singing along to Supremes-A-Go-Go, I was listening to Flo Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross sing Mountain Greenery. Not because I thought Mountain Greenery was a better song than Hang On Sloopy, but because I had heard my mother sing Mountain Greenery years earlier.

Rodgers & Hart wrote some amazing pop songs. In some ways they defined modern American pop music with their incredible catalogue. Mountain Greenery, Little Girl Blue, Lady Is A Tramp, Blue Moon, Falling in Love with Love, My Funny Valentine, I Could Write a Book, Thou Swell, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue, I Wish I Were In Love Again, Johnny One-Note, Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Lover, Manhattan, There's a Small Hotel, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, This Can't Be Love, You Took Advantage of Me. They wrote amazing pop songs!

I came home from Woolworths, where I had bought my first LP for $1.99, peeled off the cellophane shrink-wrap, put the album on my record player and read the liner notes as the girls broke into "Lady Is A Tramp." Gene Kelly, who my mother preferred to Fred Astaire (who was too fey when compared to the athletic Kelly), had written the liner notes and he was about to open my eyes to another genre of music. Kelly's liner notes bemoaned that his daughters were listening to The Velvet Underground, and a new song titled "Heroin." I was nine years old, living in the projects in Roxbury, listening to the Supremes sing show tunes from decades past, and my next music purchase was being decided by the man whose fault it was that I was sent to dancing school every Saturday morning. The Velvet Underground. I was mesmerized by the name!

Woolworths did not carry The Velvet Underground Featuring Nico Produced By Andy Warhol; I never found it at Sears either and it eventually dropped off my list to be replaced with releases by The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, T.Rex and The Who (whose records WERE sold at Woolworths). But I digress . . . this article is about neither The Velvet Underground nor T.Rex, nor Gene Kelly nor Fred Astaire. It is about that song.

At the end of my wedding reception, my mother asked why the band hadn't played Mountain Greenery, and I was shocked that I had forgotten to put it on the list. I stood in front of her with my jaw dropped and shocked myself by saying I didn't know! How had I forgotten that song on the night that the band had to play every song I requested? I still don't know! But I do still know all the words!

Mountain Greenery

In a mountain greenery,
Where God paints the scenery
Just two crazy people together.

While you love your lover,
Let blue skies, be your coverlet,
When it rains we'll laugh at the weather.

And if you're good,
I'll search for wood,
So you can cook
While I stand looking.

Beans could get no keener reception
In a beanery
Bless our mountain greenery home!

Mosquitoes here
Won't bite your ear.
I'll let them sting
Me on my finger!

We could find no cleaner retreat
From life's machinery
Than our mountain greenery,
With its mountain scenery,
Bless our mountain greenery home

I had many fun musical experiences with my mother. Remind me to tell you the one about The Kinks' "Lola." But for today, I will leave you with this:

In 1975, I sat with my mother and watched the Grammy Awards. I was watching because David Bowie was scheduled to appear and my mother was watching, I imagine, because she was totally shocked that I was staying in the house to watch television with her.

My mother liked David Bowie for all the right reasons: he had good pop songs and good looks, he was a real star in every sense of the word ("He reminds me of Edith Piaf or Marlene Dietrich," she had said to me), and his public persona constantly shifted. She knew the songs "Space Oddity" and "Changes" and that was enough for her to be a fan. A few years later, she pointed-out that "Golden Years" is a cha-cha. OMG! It is!

We sat watching the Grammys. I was stoned on grass, she was sipping tea with milk and sugar. She was being kind and generous about the tedium of the show, and I was complaining about the tedium of it all. Then Bowie appeared. He was cocaine-addict-thin, dressed in masculine formal wear, and his make-up made him look like a corpse. He was presenting the award for best soul singer. My mother gasped: "What's happened to him? He looks terrible. He's going to die."

I ignored her remarks and watched the young and very nervous Bowie.

Aretha Franklin won the award and said: "I'm so happy I could even kiss David Bowie. . . ."

That was it. I made my way to my room and left my mother to the television.

My mother made music part of my life. I love songs. I am not an audiophile. I am not a musician. I just love songs. I have a tin ear and can't carry a tune in a bucket, I just love to hear songs and I love to sing songs.

Today, Mountain Greenery is the song that moves me most. I don't know why and I don't care. It just does.

Which song does it for you today?

An article about Rodgers & Hart songs

Here's what today's post will look like when I redesign the site. You can post a comment over there to give me feedback about the planned design change.

Dick Mac Recommends:

The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart
The Supremes

No comments: