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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

February 21, 2011

Song of the Week: Ain't Got a Dime to My Name

The Pax Plena Song of the Week became an instant favorite when I heard it while watching the 1942 Hollywood classic, Road to Morocco. By the by, Road to Morocco has been called the most stereotypical film ever to come out of Hollywood. This, of course, makes it a must-see film for anyone with a sense of humor.

Sung by the greatest singer that ever lived, Bing Crosby's Ain't Got a Dime to My Name is a whimsical musing on the things that are important in life. And despite grappling with fairly weighty subject matter, the song is wonderfully light and fun.

In the film, Crosby's character Jeff Peters has just sold his cousin "Turkey" Jackson (Bob Hope) into slavery. Having been properly chastised by his long-dead aunt (also played by Bob Hope), Bing walks the streets of the nameless Moroccan city looking for his cousin. I won't spoil the ending, but slavery has been mighty kind to Turkey.

Like any cousin with the voice of an angel, Jeff Peters begins to sing Turkey's favorite song in order to draw Turkey's attention, and facilitate his rescue. Enter the song of the week.

The genius of the Jimmy Van Heusen-arranged piece is that it combines Crosby as the lone soloist with an airy jazz assortment typical of the era's big band music. This gives the song a smooth, swing feel that immediately focuses the ear on Crosby's singing. From there, the performance is pretty much effortless, despite the silly dance number Bing performs in the middle of the song.

The piece itself has a balanced mix of brass and wind instruments, that are accented nicely by an up-tempo percussion line. The gem of the song is brief jazz harp solo after the fourth stanza.

The lyrics, written by Johnny Burke, tell the story of an impecunious person who 'ain't got a dime' to his name. But rather than sinking into the depths of despair, the man glibly replies, "ho, hum."

The incongruity of the response makes the song especially fantastic. For most, money will always be a worry of sorts. But the song reminds listeners that a 'shady ole tree' can be as tremendous a luxury as 'shirts made of silk.' The point is as well taken now as it was then. The roots of our consumer culture, apparently, run quite deep.

True to form, the song concludes with the simple observation that the singer will 'never get rich.' This prompts the greatest line of ho hums in the entire song.

Please, enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Ain't Got a Dime to My Name (Ho Hum) as performed by Bing Crosby.


Ain't Got a Dime to My Name
By Bing Crosby

Ain't got a dime to my name,
What a terrible shame
Ho Hum, ho ho Hum.

Just found a hole in my shoe,
And my stockin' shows through
Ho Hum, ho ho Hum.

I know that when you're as free
As a bird in a tree, life is a wonderful whim.
Look at the crank with his dough in the bank,
Don't you feel sorry for him?

Rolling along at a loss,
Never gathering moss,
Ho Hum, ho ho ho hoo Hum.

(Take it!)

I'm no terrific success,
I often worry I guess
Ho Hum, Wo ho ho Hum.

I like a shady ole' tree,
Whats a matter with me?
Ho Hum, ho hohoho Hum.

There's nothing quite as grotesque,
As a man at a desk,
Looking outside at the sun,
Shirts made of silk,
And a diet of milk,
Maybe he thinks he has fun.

I've got the vagabond itch,
Guess I'll never get rich
Ho Hum, ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho hmm...
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February 14, 2011

Song of the Week: L-O-V-E

Since today is St. Valentine's Day, I couldn't think of a more appropriate song of the week than Nat "King" Cole's L-O-V-E.

L-O-V-E was recorded on a sunny Wednesday afternoon on June 3, 1964 in Hollywood, CA. Having listened to the song in numerous movies, and in my own music collection, whenever I hear L-O-V-E I can't help but think of a ride I once took down Hollywood Boulevard en route to the Capitol Records building, palm trees swaying against sun-drenched skies.

Isn't this basically how love feels? Every cloud has beauty. Every kiss is an exciting mystery. It's as if the skies were painted blue by God Himself, just for you. This feeling of wonderment associated with 'love' is what Cole's song captures so well.

Oddly, what makes the piece work is the almost imperceptible crescendo of the music. As Cole begins his etymology of love, the initial lines are soft, if not sultry. As Cole delivers line after classic line, the music builds, interspersed by trombone vignettes, and trumpet solos. By the time Cole bellows that 'love is made for me and you' the music is enthralling enough to actually believe him.

The song itself is performed in a masterful legato style that is every bit as smooth as Cole's baritone voice. The sound is one unique to the artist combining elements of Jazz with Cole's provenance as a big band singer. At the end, the music almost has a dixieland band feel, concluding the song splendidly.

And what to say about the lyrics? The lyrics have really almost become their own definition of love. At the very least, it seems fair to say that Cole's lyrics are the most famous acrostic in history. But perhaps the more intriguing part of the song is the way Cole's simple melody has come to inform our consciousness of what love is and means.

Cole's song reminds us that two people in love can 'make it', damn the odds and divorce rates. It reminds us that love is really all we can give to someone else. And it reinforces what is most important about our relationships. Sure, we can buy presents. We can devise exotic vacations. We can even share a delicious meal, or a fine wine. But all of these things involve something external to the self. Love, on the other hand, is all we can actually give of ourselves to another.

With that thought in mind, just because I 'love' my readers, please enjoy this very special Valentine's Day song of the week, L-O-V-E as performed by Nat "King" Cole.

L-O-V-E
By Nat King Cole

L is for the way you look at me 
O is for the only one I see 
V is very, very extraordinary 
E is even more than anyone that you adore can...

Love is all that I can give to you 
Love is more than just a game for two 
Two in love can make it 
Take my heart and please don't break it 
Love was made for me and you

L is for the way you look at me 
O is for the only one I see 
V is very, very extraordinary 
E is even more than anyone that you adore can...

Love is all that I can give to you 
Love is more than just a game for two 
Two in love can make it 
Take my heart and please don't break it 
Love was made for me and you 
Love was made for me and you 
Love was made for me and you

 

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February 5, 2011

Song of the Week: Haven't Met You Yet

The Pax Plena Song of the Week is a bit of an enigma to me. I enjoyed the song when it was first released, but the video of the piece is perhaps even more endearing than the song itself.

When Michael Bublé's Haven't Met You Yet was released in August 2009, the first thing that caught my attention was how clear Bublé's vocals were throughout the piece. This wasn't a surprise really. In fact, it was very much befitting the performance one would expect from an international music sensation. But I had grown accustomed to hearing Bublé singing softer, more contemplative songs in his earlier work (see here). I was pleasantly surprised to hear how fun the music of Haven't Met You Yet was. Accented by a driving beat, and bright chords, the melody aptly captures the whimsical thoughts conveyed by the lyrics.

The song tells the story of a lonely bard, making promises to the love of his life. Pledging his persistence, devotion, and commitment, the singer is poised to enjoy a love that lasts a lifetime, but for the seemingly insignificant detail that he has not yet met the love of his life.

The thoughts communicated in the song are familiar ones - at least to anyone who has ever wondered whether there is a 'better' half of them out there. But what's unique about the message of this song, in particular, is the light-hearted way the question is communicated. Far from being a forlorn, brooding inquiry, Bublé treats the matter with a lot of hope, and for better or worse (depending upon your experience) with a lot of optimism.

The qualities of the song's music are amplified in the song's music video.

The basic concept of the music video is that of a smitten Bublé meeting the love of his life in a random grocery store. The stunning blond he meets, of course, is none other than Bublé's real-life fiancée Luisana Lopilato After meeting the woman of his dreams, the video illustrates Bublé's thoughts on the future he expects to have with the girl he has fallen for at first sight. In a nod to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the music video culminates with a high school band performing for the couple in the supermarket, while the entire motley of customers, cashiers, and employees join the mini parade.

Above all, this song is fun. It reminds even the jaded among us that love is something to be hopeful for. Per usual, Bublé's performance is amazing. Luisana Lopilato's doe-eyes, and golden tresses don't hurt either.

Besides, who wouldn't like to fall in love while a ticker-tape parade swirls about?

Haven't Met You Yet
By Michael Bublé

I'm not surprised, not everything lasts
I've broken my heart so many times, I stopped keeping track
Talk myself in, I talk myself out
I get all worked up, then I let myself down

I tried so very hard not to lose it
I came up with a million excuses
I thought, I thought of every possibility

And I know someday that it'll all turn out
You'll make me work, so we can work to work it out
And I promise you, kid, that I give so much more than I get
I just haven't met you yet

I might have to wait, I'll never give up
I guess it's half timing, and the other half's luck
Wherever you are, whenever it's right
You'll come out of nowhere and into my life

And I know that we can be so amazing
And, baby, your love is gonna change me
And now I can see every possibility

And somehow I know that it'll all turn out
You'll make me work, so we can work to work it out
And I promise you, kid, I give so much more than I get
I just haven't met you yet

They say all's fair
In love and war
But I won't need to fight it
We'll get it right and we'll be united

And I know that we can be so amazing
And being in your life is gonna change me
And now I can see every single possibility

And someday I know it'll all turn out
And I'll work to work it out
Promise you, kid, I'll give more than I get
Than I get, than I get, than I get

Oh, you know it'll all turn out
And you'll make me work so we can work to work it out
And I promise you kid to give so much more than I get
Yeah, I just haven't met you yet

I just haven't met you yet
Oh, promise you, kid
To give so much more than I get

I said love, love, love, love
Love, love, love, love
(I just haven't met you yet)
Love, love, love, love
Love, love
I just haven't met you yet

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