Saturday Singles Nos. 33 and 34

Originally posted September 29, 2007

Earworms were on my mind when I began to dig around for today’s offering.

You know what earworms are, right? They’re songs you hear that for one reason or another linger in your brain, running around in your head for a good chunk of the rest of the day.

I imagine that earworms, like taste, are an individual thing. One’s favorite song is another’s dreaded earworm. So here’s a question: Is an earworm always bad? Annoying, perhaps, but it seems to me that songs one loves – or at least likes – can also linger in the brain for hours. And that’s maybe just annoying although I would guess that one’s fondness for a song that becomes an earworm can no doubt wane by the end of the day. But when a song one dislikes starts wiggling its way through the auditory canal, oh boy!

(And just typing those last two words was an invitation to an oldies earworm. If I allow it, Buddy Holly can now take over my brain, singing “All of my love, all of my kissin’. You don’t know what you’ve been a-missin’! Oh, boy!”)

There are a few earworms that I dread. Regular readers here will not be surprised to learn that Horrifying Earworm No. 1 is “Seasons in the Sun.” When it arrives – or threatens to – I rely on the only known defense against an earworm: Replace it with another. So when Terry Jacks invades my brain, I turn to the guitar riff from “Spirit in the Sky” or the introduction to “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and free my brain, for at least a while.

Earworms came up today for three reasons. First, there’s a new TV commercial for the iPod, with the appliance’s screen showing a video that has a chanteuse in a slinky blue outfit singing a simple little song: “1-2-3-4, tell me that you love me more . . .” It’s a catchy tune, and after the third time I saw the commercial, it began wiggling around in my head. I don’t play music when I write – the silence helps me focus – and trying to write about Richie Havens last Monday morning with “Oh, oh, changing your heart” running through my brain was difficult.

(I did some digging and learned that the song is, almost self-evidently, titled “1-2-3-4,” and the performer is a Canadian singer who goes by the name of Feist. The song is from her new album The Reminder. I’ve listened to most of it, and it’s pretty good, maybe a little more poppy than stuff I generally like, but not bad.)

The second reason earworms came to mind is that I was paging through The Billboard Book of Number One Hits this morning, looking for a Saturday Single. I thought I’d see what was on top of the charts thirty years ago this week, at a time when I was in my transition from college to the adult world. During the week of Oct. 1, 1977, the top song on the charts was the “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco, which was not so bad. Not great, but definitely not a horror. Then I looked at the next page and cringed. Earworm alert! Sitting in the top spot on the charts come Oct. 15, 1977, was “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. (I would have thought that it had hit the top spot earlier, recalling the song’s pervasiveness during the summer.) I blinked and thought about Manfred Mann’s version of “Quinn the Eskimo.” Be gone, spawn of Boone!

So, thinking about earworms, I closed the book and made my way to the living room, where the Texas Gal was working on a quilt and keeping half an eye on one of last week’s Dr. Phil shows. What, I asked her, were her earworm horrors?

She didn’t hesitate. At the top of her list is Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus).” “I hated that song,” she says of the 1969 hit, “and it was everywhere!”

Indeed it was. During his run-up to this past Tuesday’s observance of One-Hit Wonder Day, my friend the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted that the Zager & Evans recording was the most successful one-hit wonder of all time, lingering at the top of the Top 40 chart – some would say “polluting the top of the chart” – for six weeks during the summer of 1969. (Being a kind of a science fiction geek at the time, I loved the song. Which only shows that there’s no accounting for my taste.)

The Texas Gal continued. “And then there’s that Bobby Goldsboro song – is it “Honey”?

I sang, “See the tree, how big it’s grown . . .” and she covered her ears.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried. “I don’t want it in my head!”

There are others, I am sure, that would make us cringe. But the third reason earworms came to mind this week is a song we both enjoy: “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues),” written by New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint. Earlier this week, I dug out the Maria Muldaur version – listed as simply “Brickyard Blues” – from her 1974 album Waitress in a Donut Shop. I was humming it a little later, and the Texas Gal said, “That’s a Three Dog Night song!”

Well, yes, I said. Three Dog Night recorded it, too, at about the same time. We wondered who recorded it first. Turns out that Three Dog Night’s version, like Muldaur’s, was released in 1974, on the Hard Labor album. But –according to All-Music Guide – two other artists got to the song first, in 1973: Scottish blue-eyed soul singer Frankie Miller and a transvestite performer named Sylvester, who achieved greater success later in the decade as a disco king/queen.

I have neither of those versions. And, to promote domestic harmony, as the Texas Gal and I differ on which of the two 1974 versions I have is the better one, I offer two versions of “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” as today’s Saturday Singles.

Maria Muldaur – “Brickyard Blues” [1974]

Three Dog Night – “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” [1974]

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