Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Would Like a Monkey of My Own, Please

I want to preface this post with an invitation to anyone living within a 20-hour drive of Bloomington, Indiana to check out the 15th annual Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, which will feature around 25 acts from more than 20 nations. Check out the artist roster and feed the compulsion to attend. When you hit town, look for the Ryder Magazine of the Arts and read the Festival preview; then, after October 7, download a PDF of the October issue to read interviews I conducted with two of the acts. Now, on to the scheduled post.

Three-year-old caithiseach surely owned more 45s than 98% of the three-year-old population, yet I always thirsted for more. I don’t know if Uncle Tom kept buying me 45s because I wept when he arrived for a visit sans discs, or if I gave him the cold shoulder (and I fervently hope I didn’t), or because of the joy I remember expressing with each fresh batch of singles. I’m thinking this last scenario is the most likely one, because he wasn’t one to be manipulated by ingratitude.

But with all those 45s, I couldn’t help but want some songs that were on the radio as well. I never heard my favorite 1963 song, “Yakety Sax,” on the radio, but having it available on my grandparents’ restaurant jukebox, a mere five hours’ drive away, was enough. On the last day of August, 1963, a new song turned up on the radio, and we weren’t going to Shoals, Indiana anytime soon. I can tell you now that this Top Ten hit would not have made it to the Country-oriented jukebox at the Dwyer Café anyway.

I was digging this tune so much that, for the first time in my life, I requested that my parents purchase it. It predates “Hello, Dolly!” by Louis Armstrong by six months. We also bought a couple of other 45s in 1963, but I guarantee that they were Mom-inspired purchases.

The honor of being the first Top 40 hit I purchased (with parental money, of course), out of 8,000 I now own, goes to “Mickey’s Monkey” by the Miracles (Tamla 54083).

I found so many things to love about the song. The count-in, the nonsense syllables in the chorus, the sax section and solo (of course), and that guy who was singing, with the girls (Claudette Rogers, Mary Wilson, Martha & the Vandellas, the Marvelettes) echoing his lines. Lots of people agree with me on this one, as it was a phenomenal million-seller with a very long shelf life as a closing number at Miracles shows.

The song is, to my less-than-vast Miracles knowledge, the loudest, most exuberant hit they scored. Known for such gentle work as “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears” and “I Second That Emotion,” the Miracles usually displayed the softer side of Motown, in contrast to the Supremes, for example. Even their 1975 disco smash, “Love Machine,” isn’t as much of a rocker as “Mickey’s Monkey.”

“Mickey’s Monkey” contributed to the dance craze named after that animal. I saw kids doing the Monkey on American Bandstand, even saw neighborhood girls dancing that crazy way, and still I have to admit something silly. I thought the song was about a guy named Mickey who owned a monkey.

Before I delve into my memories of the song, I need to discuss these Miracles. I hesitate to gloss over famous artists at this point, because I now realize that plenty of people don’t know the old stuff from offhand references.

The Miracles were a Detroit-based Motown act, one of the early ones. Led by Bill “Smokey” Robinson, the Miracles recorded the aforementioned hits, as well as the 1970 #1 hit “Tears of a Clown.” They scored 29 Top 40 hits, and Smokey recorded nine Top 40 hits as a solo artist. There are plenty of gems on their compilations, so do some sampling at iTunes or Rhapsody, and buy what you like.

As for the song itself, it was the work of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, a huge writing/production hit factory for Motown and later for their own label, Invictus/Hot Wax. I am reading on Wikipedia that Smokey heard Lamont putting the song together on a piano at Motown, at which point he asked that the Miracles be given a shot at the song. Good idea.

Other Holland-Dozier-Holland compositions include “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Baby Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” “Come See About Me,” “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Please Mr. Postman” (Brian Holland only), “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me),” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and then we start naming the big hits, but you get the idea, so I won’t bother.

Note that these songs were not recorded solely by Motown acts. Everyone from the Hollies to Steve Winwood (“Roll with It”) to the Doobie Brothers to the Carpenters took a turn at a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition. Clearly, three-year-old caithiseach knew a good song when he heard one, despite having heard so many bad cutout 45 tunes.

I love to list such accomplishments for readers who wouldn’t know a Lamont Dozier from a bulldozer. If you are totally old school and could draw the waveforms of these songs from memory, remember that we are inviting a new batch of fans to the party.

And in 1963, I was the newest of fans. This song was new to everyone, but the Miracles weren’t; it may have amused my elders to have me talk about this great new act with a song about a monkey. As a beautiful gift to my future self, my parents fed my enthusiasm for this song and all music.

Now it is autumn, 2008, and in the last couple of days, the chill has started to settle in. “Mickey’s Monkey” still takes me back to summer, and it brings with it specific memories.

After my dad built our house, with my mom’s help until she was five months pregnant with me, he built a shed at the back of the usable property. With the leftover wood, he constructed a screened-in cube for bug-free summer-evening socializing. To make the walk to the house bug-free, he hung from it a contraption that used a circular fluorescent light to attract mosquitoes, which a fan then sucked into a big plastic bag. Mosquitoes flew in, but they didn’t fly out.

In that backyard porch, I sat with my parents and their friends and, when I timed the ice-cream truck correctly, I ate frozen chocolate-covered bananas. I was thinking I could share one with a monkey, if I had one, like Mickey. I never asked for a monkey, though I got some of those little green turtles that have been banned for being salmonella carriers. I don’t understand the ban, as I didn’t get salmonella from them, except for a few times.

Next to that enclosure stood a young apple tree, which finally produced fruit in 1970 and which died in about a week in 1976 when its roots pried into our septic system. The enclosure was long gone, having been blown over the fence into the creek behind our house around 1965. My dad used the frame to build me a fort on the back side of the fence. He put a bunch of branches on it for a roof and encouraged the honeysuckle that cover the back fence to creep onto the branches. That fort stood for years after I left for college in 1978.

And I cannot extricate from these summer memories our trip to Florida in August, 1964. My grandparents were thinking about buying property down there, and my dad drove them down from Shoals. Five of us in the car, and I remember no hassles. In Georgia, we stopped at a restaurant, and after we ate, I asked the young lady who brought the food if she was the cook. She said she was not, and asked why I wanted to know. I requested that she tell the cook he had prepared one of the best meals of my life. Thus began my informal career as a restaurant critic. (OMG, another blog idea?)

When we reached Florida, I enjoyed Six Gun Territory in Ocala. Then, the atmosphere changed. The barometer dropped, Hurricane Cleo drew near, and the adults decided to get out of the Sunshine State. I was annoyed, as I found bent-over palm trees fascinating. My grandparents wound up staying in Indiana for the rest of their days.

All of that flashes through my brain the instant Smokey yells, “All right, is everybody ready?” I can’t help it. I don’t want to.

I still have trouble remembering that the song is not about a monkey.

For Saturday, I’ll bring you a song I didn’t play because I misunderstood the name of the tune when my cousin Jim read the label to me. See you then!

Miracles, Mickey’s Monkey

Here are the Miracles, really live, singing several full-length hits. Move the video to 5:35, and you’ll see how the crowd reacts to “Mickey’s Monkey.” You’ll also see adorable girls doing that crazy new dance.



And, what the heck? Here’s a video of a gunfight at Six Gun Territory. By the way, you can’t get there from here now.

1 comment:

former lurker said...

I used to think it would be SO COOL to have a pet monkey. Well, I had a little brother who liked to climb trees... not as cool.

Anyway, maybe I'm just naturally nosy, but I love hearing the memories other people associate with specific songs. So I like that you include that aspect as well as information about the song and artists involved (no, I didn't know any of these names either, so thanks again!).

And the video was excellent. I think I should try to re-introduce the Monkey next time I'm at a party... it's due for a comeback, no?