Friday, March 10, 2006

Random Ten

1. "Dream Some," Shelby Lynne
2. "Birthday," The Sugarcubes
3. "Don't Explain," Billie Holiday
4. "Freedom," Charles Mingus
5. "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," Bob Dylan
6. "Sedan Delivery," Neil Young
7. "Our Love Is Here to Stay," Ella Fitzgerald
8. "Free Money," Patti Smith
9. "Cruel and Gentle Things," Charlie Sexton
10. "Walking by Myself," Jimmy Rogers

My first real experience with standards was listening to my parents’ Allan Sherman records. In the early-to-mid Sixties Sherman was the “Weird Al” Yankovich of his day, writing farcical lyrics to well-known tunes. Somewhere around eight or nine I found the albums and was fascinated.

Unlike Yankovich, Sherman’s source material ranged beyond the hits of the day. He used folk songs, nursery rhymes, showtunes and, for his most enduring hit, classical music (Ponchielli goes to summer camp in “Hello Mudda, Hello Faddah). He paid attention to rock only long enough to lampoon it in "Pop Hates the Beatles."

In addition to serving as my introduction to standards, the records were my first exposure to Borsht Belt Jewish humor in songs like “God Rest Ye Jerry Mendlebuff” and “Shake Hands with your Uncle Max.”

For some reason, one of my favorites was “Your Mother’s Here to Stay” to the tune of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Why? Partly the word play was particularly brilliant: “Her evening snack/Would feed a herd of elk/Then she sits back/And watches Lawrence Welk.” Partly because I had some familiarity with the mother-in-law joke.

But I like to think partly it was that I could hear a great tune despite my general lack of musicality. Hearing Diana Ross perform it as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues” was a revelation. A couple jazz fan roommates whetted my taste for the genre, but it was discovering the standards and how the jazz greats constantly reinterpret them that was my real window in.

And it started with a stack of brilliant novelty records.