Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did You Say Something?

Before I delve into my post, let me note that my friend whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind very kindly invited me to guest-post on his blog. He has scheduled my Baker’s Dozen of favorite caithiseach singles for Sunday. If you happen to be a Great Vinyl Meltdown reader who doesn’t also read whiteray’s prose, you should check him out. If you do read his blog, you have seen the promo paragraphs. Being asked to pin myself down to 13 favorite singles was quite a task, but it was an enjoyable and revealing mental exercise. And now, on to the post:

Late Tuesday, I wrote that I wasn’t at all ready mentally for the school year to begin. Then I attended a two-day faculty/staff workshop, and the presentations my academic dean chose for the workshop performed some kind of magic: I am in a far better state of mind now, ready to take on the tasks before me. The ability of a few speakers to turn my brain around so completely makes me think I am somewhat more impressionable than I thought.

Hey! Being impressionable seems, now that I think of it, to have come close to playing a huge role in four-year-old caithiseach’s enjoyment of music. This trait nearly ended my enjoyment of music.

Twice I caused myself grief by mimicking things that happened in the media. There was a Saturday-morning cartoon in which, during the opening sequence, one of the main characters burst from a large drum. I had a full-size toy drum set (plastic rims rather than metal, for example), and I cut out one of the bass drum’s heads so I could burst through the other side. Mom didn’t find that move at all clever, but I did wind up getting a real drum set soon thereafter.

And there was a cartoon where one of the characters said, “Get the point?” and produced a pin, with which he stuck another cartoon character. Even though the pricked character yelled in the cartoon, I decided to test out that one as well. Mom really didn’t like that shtick, and there was no upside to that one at all.

Impressionable, yes. I stopped short of donning a cape and climbing a tree to see if I could fly, but I am a strong advocate of monitoring the video viewing of small children.

And so, I really wonder what my parents were thinking when they let me talk them into buying “Beans in My Ears” by the Music City Singers (Hit 129) and the Serendipity Singers (Philips 40198). If you know the song, you must know what could have happened if I had decided that sticking beans in my ears was a good idea.

Something about the drum and the pin must have given me a better reality filter, because I didn’t ever try to stick beans in my ears. If I had, I don’t know if I would have gotten much sympathy. My mom might well have said, “Figure this one out on your own, little caithseach.” And I wouldn’t have blamed her.

I was fond of the Serendipity Singers’ previous Top 40 hit, “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man),” a Top Ten offering from the spring of 1964. “Beans” was the follow-up, entering the Top 40 on June 13, 1964. It reached just #30, probably because irate parents of impressionable tots told radio stations to stop playing it, or else. Both songs featured nicely textured harmonies and gentle acoustic folky arrangements.

My first copy of the song was the soundalike on Hit Records. The makeup of the Music City Singers is probably lost to time, but they didn’t lack for talent. That 45, as well as the Serendipity Singers version, was a Victim of the Great Meltdown. I would be interested to hear the soundalike version again, for the sake of comparison.

The Serendipity Singers consisted of Jon Arbenz, Mike Brovsky, Diane Decker, Brooks Hatch, John Madden, Bryan Sennett, Tom Tiemann, Lynne Weintraub and Bob Young. Thanks, Joel Whitburn. I typed the names out so you could copy and paste them as needed. Do note, please, that spelling variations on several names exist online. The act started as a trio, popular at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but by the time all nine were together, they had left CU for the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. They managed just the two single hits, but Philips allowed them to record five LPs.

“Beans in My Ears,” the song that could have ended my blogging career 44 years before it began, was written by Len Chandler, who made a name for himself as a protest songwriter in the mid-1960s. As sweet-sounding as “Beans” is, the punch line anticipates a “Don’t trust anyone over 30” mind set when it states that all grownups have beans in their ears. Chandler was born in Akron, Ohio in 1935.

The Serendipity Singers were too clean to survive the onslaught of gritty Dylanesque folk, but they managed to entertain a kid who was steeped in the songs of the Highwaymen and such crisp folk tunes as “Washington Square.” They did not, however, manage to persuade me to deafen myself, and for that bit of timely good judgment, I thank whatever alignment of stars kept me away from the bag of beans.

Though I lost my 45 in the Great Meltdown of 1972, I reacquired it two years ago at Boardwalk Books in Duluth, Minnesota. Sorry about the pops, but I haven’t come up with anything better, and if it were my original single, it would crackle a lot more than this copy. If you happen to be in Duluth, stop by the bookstore and say hi to Bud and Heather. Tell them Seán sent you, and they may toss in a free 45 if you buy something.

After my Sunday guest post, I’ll be back here with a post that will do something I have not yet seen happen on a music blog. I would tell you what I’m going to do, but someone would surely beat me to it just so I can’t say I was the first to come up with this concept. I’m pretty excited about it, so come back Wednesday. See you then!

Serendipity Singers, Beans in My Ears


jb said...

The Serendipity Singers always sound to me like a bunch of single schoolteachers sublimating their terminally unmet need to get laid by singing silly-sounding songs that are actually filled with angst.

But I suppose I could be wrong.

caithiseach said...

No, jb, you are correct, and if I had been able to concoct such a cleverly succinct way of saying that, you would have been putting quotation marks around my statement and saying, "Right on!" This point may apply most specifically to Lynn(e) Weintraub's semi-operatic take on her vocal parts . . .