Posts Tagged ‘Shirelles’

Goodbye To Smudge

July 18, 2011

Originally posted June 25, 2008

When one owns pets, saying goodbye is part of the package. But it never gets easier.

This morning it was Smudge, the cat that the Texas Gal had bottle-raised, the little white lady who had been the Texas Gal’s baby since she was less than a day old.

It was the summer of 1998, and the Texas Gal was still in Texas, working as a buyer for a manufacturing firm in Dallas. One of the warehouse guys came to her office, carrying a small something. He said he’d seen it on the floor as he was driving a forklift. He thought it was a mouse, and he stopped to pick it up intact rather than have to clean it up later. But it was a kitten, no more than three inches long, so he brought it to the Texas Gal’s office, knowing she was a cat person.

The little thing was white with a gray patch on her forehead, so her name was Smudge. The mama cat might have dropped her when she was startled while moving her litter, or maybe Smudge got left behind as a runt. But raised on bottled milk and love, she survived. She never got very big – maybe eight pounds at the most. But she was the Texas Gal’s kitty for just about ten years.

And Smudge was no one else’s cat. She and I shared the same quarters for seven years, and, at best, she tolerated me. I could pet her and she’d put up with it for a moment or two, then squirm away or – if she could not get away – slap my hand five or six times with a tiny lightning-fast front paw. Still, the Texas Gal told me, no one else had ever been able to touch Smudge without her screaming and biting. So I did pretty well.

She was skittish, Smudge was, possibly because of her origins. Loud noises and strangers worried her. And it didn’t help that one of the catboys, Clarence, liked to chase her. She spent a lot of time in dark corners. And she spent a lot of time curled up on the Texas Gal’s lap, the one place in the world she felt safe.

About ten days ago, on a Saturday night, the Texas Gal noticed that something was wrong. We took Smudge to the emergency vet, who corrected the immediate problem with a minor procedure but told us that the root cause was unchanged. The problem was likely to be chronic. Last evening, we concluded, reluctantly, that the vet was right, and Mudgie was only going to be less and less comfortable as time went on. So this morning, we took her to see Dr. Tess, and we said goodbye.

So here’s a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal’s baby.

A Baker’s Dozen of Babys
“Baby Don’t Do Me Wrong” by John Lee Hooker from I Feel Good, 1971

“Baby Please Don’t Go” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960

“Baby Ruth” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind, 1980

“You, Baby” by the Ronettes from Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, 1964

“Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin, Atlantic single 2427, 1967

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by John Hammond from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

“Rock A Bye Baby Blues” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks, 1975

“Baby Let’s Wait” by the Royal Guardsmen, Laurie single 3461, 1969

“Our Baby’s Gone” by Herb Pederson from Southwest, 1976

“Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, Scepter single 1227, 1962

“My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains, Deram single 85058, 1970

“Ruby Baby” by Donald Fagen from The Nightfly, 1982

“Me and Baby Jane” by Leon Russell from Carney, 1972

A few notes:

This set is a little bluesier than most of them get, what with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and John Hammond. Delbert McClinton shades that way sometimes too.

It’s funny that the one track with the word “blues” in its title is one of the more odd blues that one can find. Ray Thomas, a member of the Moody Blues, released From Mighty Oaks during the years when the Moodies were inactive. Like most solo outings from the members of the group, the album sounds very much like the Moody Blues. And even though Thomas’ voice slides into blue tones now and then during “Rock A Bye Baby Blues,” when you consider the non-blues chord progression, his voice and the airy production, well, if it’s a blues, it’s a unique one.

“Baby Let’s Wait” is a dirge-like ballad that reached the lower levels of the Top 40 – No. 38 – in 1969. The Royal Guardsmen are better known for reaching No. 2 as 1966 turned into 1967 with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and for that record’s follow-up, “The Return of the Red Baron,” which went to No. 15 in the spring of 1967.

I wrote some time back about Smith’s version of “Baby It’s You,” which went to No. 5 in 1969. The original by the Shirelles went to No. 8 in early 1962. Smith might have had the better version, but the Shirelles had the better career: Smith had just the one Top 40 hit, while the Shirelles had twelve of them, including two No. 1 hits: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

Veterans Day & ‘Soldier Boy’

November 11, 2010

It’s Veterans Day here in the United States, a day we remember all of those who’ve served in the uniforms of our armed forces. And I’m doing something I’ve thought about for three years.

Here’s Dave Marsh’s comment on “Soldier Boy.”  In 1989, in The Heart of Rock & Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, he ranked the song No. 149:

Down at the bus stop, you’d see them every morning, books clutched to their car coats, high-rise bouffants frosted in the early chill, wearing too much makeup and already, at fifteen or sixteen, a few too many pounds. I did not know their names and you can be certain they didn’t know mine. These weren’t girls who paid attention to guys their own age; they’d have given up on scoring with the jocks or any of the inside crowd and the rest of us were, well, not worth so much as a glance. Not because they were snobs; because they feared the names that “smart kids” would call them, which began and ended in the catchall designation, “slut.”

So I’ll never know for certain if the scraps of conversation you’d pick up from sitting near them told the whole story, or whether it’s really fair to fill in many details. But if you watched and listened, you heard stories that implied an experience no guy of my acquaintance could have boasted, a matter-of-fact knowingness about sex and men and the world at large that the college-bound among us didn’t suspect. These girls might as well already have been women, because their lives were already laid out for them around a narrow set of alternatives: hasty postgraduation marriage and too many pregnancies too soon or else a job at Kroger’s or wherever else they needed a check-out clerk, some job you might be able to get without even a diploma. Or getting knocked up and having the guy ditch her. Or getting knocked up and deciding to have a still-illegal abortion with the risk of being ruined or killed.

Living in those mid-America tank towns back then, you knew all sorts of stories like those, just like you know the stories of their boyfriends, including the one summed up in that line that goes zipping by in “Born in the U.S.A.”: “Got in a little hometown jam, so they put a rifle in my hand.” Off they went, and after a while, you began to notice that not all of them came back. But mostly they did, and while it would be obscene to argue that that was worse, it would be unfair to exaggerate how much.

By the time they were juniors, maybe a little earlier, a lot of those bouffant girls at the bus stop would have boyfriends serving somewhere overseas, most likely in Germany or a quiescent Korea, where bullets did not fly but nights were long and temptations many. Because the barriers between us were huge, I’m guessing again, but maybe they were just devoted pen pals, not doing so well in the high school scene and so transferring their need to be needed to more distant objects. A lot of these same girls were the first to catch on to the Beatles, and the first to go really mad for one or another of the guys, the ultimate sexual unobtainables. Some of them had already figured that game out before the British Invasion, and they were the most loyal fans of local rock groups, often better ones than the style-setters at school listened to.

But sometimes, I suspect, those girls had real relationships with guys “in the service,” not just paper ones, and their lonely nights must have been especially bereft because it was hard enough to land a guy, let alone worry about his existence a continent and an ocean away. Reputations are easy to come by and hard to get rid of, especially in your own mind. And so (I’m guessing again) they fretted.

I mention all this because everything I’ve read about “Soldier Boy” treats its enormous popularity as a mystery. Written on the spot in the studio and recorded in the final few minutes of a session, it strikes other critics and historians as perfunctory and tossed off, its unison harmonies and the unison instrumental break shared by organ and guitar insufficiently elaborated.

But whenever I’ve heard “Soldier Boy,” it’s made me think of those girls and their boyfriends, each of them lost and confused in a world that they not only didn’t understand very well but which manifestly did not like them. And so they found each other, and so they were dragged apart, and so they wondered and pledged and pleaded: “In this whole world, you can love but one girl / Let me be that one girl / For I’ll be true to you.”

Somehow, in a barracks or a bedroom, those sweetly voiced lines must have helped a few million heads lay more comfortably upon their pillows. And so there’s no mystery at all, really, except how so many people can stand right before our eyes and not be seen. Or heard.


“Soldier Boy” spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40 in the spring of 1962 and was No. 1 for three weeks. It was the seventh of the Shirelles’ twelve Top 40 hits.

My thanks to those who’ve served.

(Excerpt from The Heart of Rock & Soul, ©Dave Marsh, 1989)