November 30, 2021

The odd links between “Louie Louie” and Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe At Any Speed”...


It’s truly odd, but true: the renowned rock song
“Louie Louie” and the history-making book about car safety by Ralph Nader, titled Unsafe At Any Speed, are connected by both a quote and by a date.

“Louie Louie” was written in 1955 by the pioneering American R&B singer and songwriter Richard Berry (1935-1997).

In a nod to the popularity Calypso music was enjoying in the mid-1950s, Berry gave “Louie Louie” a Caribbean flavor by writing the lyrics in an island-style patois.

It’s basically a love song.

A Jamaican sailor explains to some guy named Louie that he misses his girlfriend. He can’t wait to sail home, take his “fine little girl” in his arms and tell her “I never leave again.” In the chorus he says dolefully: “Louie Louie, me gotta go.” (As in, go home.)

Berry recorded “Louie Louie” with his group the Pharaohs in 1957. Their version was a modest regional hit in the Northwest, where it became a popular party song covered by many local rock bands.

One of those bands was a group of white kids from Portland, Oregon who called themselves The Kingsmen. They made a raucous, poorly-recorded version of the song in 1963.

It was released in May and entered Billboard’s Top 40 singles chart on November 30, 1963.

The fuzziness of the recording and the garbled attempt at Jamaican patois by The Kingsmen’s lead singer, Jack Ely, made the lyrics notoriously hard to understand. Nonetheless, their catchy cover version was a huge hit, selling over a million copies.

By 1964, “Louie Louie” was being gleefully sung by teenagers nationwide, often using salacious Mondegreen variations of the words.

The actual lyrics as written by Berry and slightly altered by Ely are not overtly sexual. But many “dirty” versions were made up and spread.

For example, in the original lyrics the second verse starts with: “Three nights and days we sailed the sea. / Me think of girl constantly.”

In raunchified versions, those words were turned into things like: “Each night at ten, I lay her again / I f--k my girl all kinds of ways.”

It was soon rumored that the hard-to-understand lyrics on The Kingsmen record were themselves obscene. This caused much moral harrumphing by parents, the press, politicians and bureaucrats.

Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh declared the record to be “pornographic” and banned it from the state’s airwaves. (And he was a liberal Democrat!) Some radio stations in other states also banned it.

The FCC and FBI conducted official investigations — at taxpayers’ expense — to try to decipher the muffled words on The Kingsmen’s hit single to determine if it should be banned nationwide.

Federal investigators grilled Richard Berry and Jack Ely and listened intently to the Kingsmen record played forward and backward at various speeds, including 33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm.

In February 1964, one exasperated FCC official uttered what became a legendary rock history quote when he reported:

       “We found the record to be unintelligible at any speed.”

Around that same time in 1964, lawyer Ralph Nader was working as an advisor to a U.S. Senate subcommittee that was investigating car safety (or, more accurately. the general lack of safety features in cars built at the time).

Armed with the knowledge he gained from that work, Nader wrote a shocking book on the subject. He titled it Unsafe at Any Speed.

It became a bestseller, gave Nader his initial fame as an industry gadfly and led to many improvements in car safety we now take for granted, such as seat belts and anti-lock brakes.

The similarity between Nader’s book title and the FCC official’s quote about “Louie Louie” suggests that Ralph was either aware of the FCC quote — or blissfully unaware that his title was an ironic echo of “unintelligible at any speed.”

What makes the connection even odder is the fact that Unsafe At Any Sped was published on November 30, 1965, exactly two years to the day after The Kingsmen’s recording of “Louie Louie” entered the Billboard Top 40.

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Further reading and listening…

November 19, 2021

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – and Lord Buckley’s “hip translation” . . .


On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a brief speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the dedication of a cemetery for the Union soldiers who had died in that bloody Civil War battle four months earlier.

Lincoln’s remarks came to be known as “The Gettysburg Address.”

It’s his best known speech and includes two of his most famous quotes.

One is the opening sentence:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The other the closing line, which contains the oft-cited phrase: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  

As noted by many sources, Lincoln appears to have based his memorable of/by/for the people line on words used in a sermon by the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker.

During the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon gave the president a book of Parker’s sermons and speeches. It included a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People,” which Parker delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858.

In that, Parker said: “Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

According to Herndon, Lincoln marked that sentence in pencil in the book before he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

Parker had used similar words in earlier sermons and speeches.

For example, in a speech he gave in Boston on May 29, 1850, he defined democracy as “a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” However, the of/for/by the people formulation was not coined by Parker. 

Scholars have found several of/by/for the people quotations that predate Parker’s.

In the decades since 1863, there have been countless other uses and variations inspired by the Gettysburg Address. (See this post on my Quote/Counterquote site for some examples.)

My own favorite adaptation of Lincoln’s address is the hipster version done by the late, great Richard Buckley, aka Lord Buckley.

Buckley performed as a vaudeville-style comedian from the late 1920s to the late 1940s.

Starting in 1947 and throughout the 1950s, he performed as the character “Lord Buckley,” an ultra-cool hepcat who told wild stories and recited poems using the hipster slang of black jazz musicians and beatniks.

In 1956, HIP Records released a recording of Buckley doing his “hip translation” of the Gettysburg Address. It’s included on a CD issued by Rhino in 1993 titled His Royal Hipness: Lord Buckley.

As I write this, there’s a copy you can listen to on YouTube.

Lord Buckley made it clear in his introductory remarks that, although his version is humorous, he had great respect for Lincoln and he believed Lincoln would have been able to appreciate it.

I agree. So, to honor two of my favorite orators, here in a historic side-by-side “appearance” are President Abraham Lincoln, reciting the Gettysburg Address, and Lord Buckley reciting his hip translation...



Abraham Lincoln:
The Gettysburg Address***
 


Lord Buckley:
The hip translation…
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Four big hits and seven licks ago, our before-daddies swung forth, upon this sweet groovy land a swingin’, stompin’, jumpin’, blowin’, wailin’ new nation, hip to the cool groove of liberty and solid sent with the ace lick dat all the studs, chicks, cats and kitties – red, white, or blue – is created level in front. In straight talk, the same, dig what I mean?

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

Now we are hung with a king-size main-day civil drag, soundin’ of whether that nation or any up-there nation, so hip and so solid sent can stay with it all the way.

We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.

We’s here to dig this chop-beatin’ session on the site of the worst jazz blown in the entire issue – Gettys-mother-burg.

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

We have stomped out here to turn on a small soil stash of the before-mentioned hassle site, as a final sweet sod pad for those who laid it down and left it there, so that this jumpin’ happy beat might blow forevermore.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. And we all dig that this is the straightest lick ever dug.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

But diggin’ it harder from afar, we cannot take no wailin’ bows, we cannot mellow, we cannot put down the stamp of the Nazz on this sweet sod, ‘cause the strong non-stop studs, both diggin’ it and dug under it, who hassled here have mellowed it with such a wild mad beat that we can hear it, but we can't touch it.
The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. Now the world cats will short dig, you hear what I say, short dig nor long stash in their wigs what we is beatin’ our chops around here, but it never can successively shade what they vanced here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.

It is for us, the swingin’, to pick up the dues of these fine studs who cut out here and fly it through to Endsville. It is hipper for us to be signifyin’ to the glorious gig that we can’t miss with all these bulgin’ eyes.
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

***NOTE: There are
five written versions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with slight wording variations among them. The version above is from the “Hay Copy,” stored in The Library of Congress. Some scholars believe it is the version Lincoln used, but this is not known with certainty.

That from all these A-stamp studs we double our love kick, to that righteous ride for which these cats hard sounded the last 'nth bong of the bell of their bell. That we here want it stuck up straight for all to dig that these departed studs shall not have split in vain; that this nation, under the great swingin’ Nazz, shall ring up a whopper of endless Mardi Gras, and that the Big Law of you straights, by you studs, and for you kitties, shall not be scratched from the big race.”

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Comments? Corrections? Questions? Email me or post them on my Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading and listening…

November 06, 2021

“When it rains, it pours” started out as a good thing…


Back in November 2009, not long after I first started writing this blog, I happened to see two news stories in a row that had quotes using the saying “When it rains it pours.” 

One was a story about the Boston Bruins hockey team, which had just lost another in a series of losing games. Player Blake Wheeler told a reporter the team’s losing streak was “a when it rains, it pours type of thing.”

That same day, I saw an article about the controversy over a health care amendment leading Democrats had floated in Congress.

In the story, Republican Congressman Dave Camp from Michigan was quoted as saying: “When it rains it pours. This amendment only increases the government involvement in health care, raises more taxes and opens more taxpayer subsidies to illegal immigrants.”

After seeing the two back-to-back uses, I decided to look up the origin of this idiomatic expression.

One of the interesting things I found was that, while “when it rains, it pours” commonly has a negative connotation, the original, high-profile use that popularized the saying was designed to be positive. 

It dates back to 1911, when the Morton Salt Company developed a new breakthrough in table salt technology.

Until then, most table salt was sold in a raw, coarse-grained form that clumped and caked when rainy weather made the air in a house even slightly humid.  

The Morton food scientists solved this problem by reducing the grain size and adding a small amount of magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent.

As a result, the salt didn’t cake and clump. It could be poured or shaken out as nicely as dry sand, even when it was humid indoors due to the weather.

The Morton execs asked their ad agency – the renowned N.W. Ayer & Son firm – to create a catchy ad slogan for this new and improved salt.

Morton rejected a couple of initial slogan ideas, but the Ayer admen eventually came up with a winner: “When it rains, it pours.”

It was an updated, positive twist on the old English proverb “It never rains but it pours,” which had a negative connotation, suggesting that when troubles come, they come one after the other.

As expected, American consumers, who previously had to put up with inconveniently clumpy salt when the humidity was high, understood exactly what the Morton slogan meant.

It meant that Morton Salt would stay dry and come out of the box or shaker perfectly, even when it was raining outside and humid inside.

That was indeed a very good thing. Nonetheless, over time, the Americanized version of the old English proverb typically came to be used in a negative way, like its forbear.

The Ayer firm also created an image of a little girl with an umbrella to go with the slogan. This famous combination was trademarked by Morton and, according to US Trademark registration information, first used in commerce on November 6, 1914.

Over the decades, the image of the “Umbrella Girl” on boxes of Morton salt has evolved.

The company has adopted other marketing slogans. And, few people today ever think about the “problem” of clumping salt.

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Comments? Corrections? Questions? Email me or post them on my Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading…

October 17, 2021

True or false: Stephen Colbert coined the word truthiness? (Hint: you’re right!)


During the very first Colbert Report show on October 17, 2005, the witty faux Conservative media pundit Stephen Colbert unleashed the word truthiness on the world. (Click here to see the video on the Colbert Nation website.)

He introduced it like this:

“On this show your voice will be heard...in the form of my voice. ‘Cause you’re looking at a straight-shooter, America. I tell it like it is. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. I will speak to you in plain simple English.

And that brings us to tonight's word: Truthiness.

Now I’m sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word.’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don't trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”

In that brilliant bit, Colbert captured the nature of modern political rhetoric and punditry. Indeed, it has only become more “truthy” since 2005.

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem to matter much what “the truth” is.

Whatever is consistent with what someone believes is what they consider to be a “fact.” Whatever confirms their views is their “truth.”

For example, as a huge fan of Stephen Colbert, I believe he coined the word truthiness.

Oh sure, there are some elitist egghead language experts who have noted that the word truthiness already existed before Colbert uttered it and that uses of the word date back to the early 1800s.

Indeed, there’s a series of posts about this on the Language Log, a popular hangout for snooty linguists.

The so-called “facts” in those posts supposedly “prove” Stephen Colbert may have popularized the word truthiness but didn’t actually coin it.

The wordanista who started pushing this absurd claim appears to be Ben Zimmer, producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, language columnist for The Boston Globe and former “On Language” columnist for The New York Times.

As Colbert might say [loudly, while shaking his fist], “Damn you, Zimmer!”

No verifiable proof will shake my belief in the truthiness of my belief that Stephen Colbert coined the word truthiness!

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 Related reading and viewing…

October 02, 2021

OCTOBER 2 - The day we crossed over into The Twilight Zone

 

On the evening of October 2, 1959, CBS aired the first episode of a new television series created by Rod Serling called The Twilight Zone.

It became one of the most popular TV shows ever made and is still shown in reruns.

The name of the series itself became an idiomatic term to describe a situation that seems weird and strange. And, lines and phrases from the introductions spoken by Serling at the opening of the show became famous.

During the show’s original five year run, Serling’s opening lines changed several times.

His voiceover during the animated title sequence used for the first episode and other early Season One episodes goes like this:

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

During the last four episodes of Season One, Serling recites a different intro that ends with a line about the “next stop”:

“You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

Serling came up with yet another beginning for his intros in Season Two, though its ending kept the “next stop.” During the first three episodes of Season Two he said:

“You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

Starting with the fourth episode of Season Two, Serling modified that intro a bit by adding the famed “signpost” ending:

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

Serling’s intro for the episodes in Season Three was similar but had a different ending. He says:

“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

During Seasons Four and Five, Serling used an intro that mixed new opening and ending language with a few words and phrases from previous versions. During the final two seasons of the original series, he introduces the episodes by saying:

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension — a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”

The haunting theme music most fans think of as the music for The Twilight Zone wasn’t used until Season Two.

That opening music begins with the nervous-sounding staccato notes some fans (like me) jokingly mimic with their voices when something is spooky: “dee-dee-dee-dee / dee-dee-dee-dee.” It was written by avant-garde French composer Marius Constant.

Constant’s version was used for Seasons Two through Five of the original series and, with re-recorded elements, for later iterations of The Twilight Zone, including the 1983 movie, the 1985 series, the 2002 series, and the 2019 series. That’s why it seems so familiar.

The original opening music used during the first season was also eerie, but different. It was written by legendary soundtrack composer Bernard Herrmann, creator of many memorable film scores, like the music for Psycho (1960).

The star of the premiere episode of The Twilight Zone was Earl Holliman.

Holliman appeared in scores of movies and TV shows, but he’s best remembered for his portrayal of the male cop partnered with Angie Dickinson in the TV police drama Police Woman during its run from 1974 to 1978.

The first Twilight Zone episode is titled “Where Is Everybody?” In it, Holliman plays a man in an Air Force jumpsuit who inexplicably finds himself in a town where all the people have disappeared.

Just in case you haven’t seen “Where Is Everybody?” I won’t say any more about the plot or the final twist at the end (an element that became a hallmark of the show).

And, if you haven’t seen it but want to after you read this post, here’s a link to watch it on Vimeo.

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Related reading, listening, and viewing…

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