Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Paul Evans and the Curls' "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat"

Automobile safety is one of the most important issues of the automotive age. According to Wikipedia, over 100 Americans own automobiles. And you know what that means. To quote Elvis Costello, "Accidents will happen!" Accidents are totally unnecessary and unwanted. Accidents are real jerks. They can make you late to see the game at Buffalo Wild Wings. They can destroy entire municipalities. Who needs them? But there are ways of preventing them or, at the very least, minimizing their damage. The first approach is to make well-built automobiles. But since that never happens, at least in the United States (ZING!), the other tack is to put out public service announcements, really super duper cute ones that get stuck in your head, that way you will always remember the proper protocol for avoiding accidents. Well, in 1959, the same year Ralph Nader released his first study on automobile safety, another cutting edge artist, Paul Evans, who co-wrote one of the greatest songs ever to appear in the movie GoodFellas, "Roses are Red (My Love)," recorded his masterwork, the top ten hit "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat," with his backing group of unknowns, The Curls. (There is literally no information about them anywhere, ever. Though it is rumored that one of them was named Sue.) The song accomplishes two things, a combination of which had never been done before--or since--in the annals of music: 1) tell a cautionary tale about keeping ones "eyes on the road," and; 2) recount the legend of Fred.

The premise of "Seven Little Girls" is one we can all relate to. The narrator of the song, an unnamed teenage male, is driving a car, in the front seat all by himself. Meanwhile, in the backseat, there are seven "little girls ... kissing and a hugging on Fred." Keep in mind that cars were way bigger in the 1950s than they are today. Most cars were the size of a seventh-floor walk-up apartment in lower Manhattan. The driver, feeling left out, asks one of the girls if she would like to join him in the front seat. They all respond, simultaneously, "Keep your mind on your driving. Keep your hands on the wheel. Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead." The girls' advice about proper driving technique are totally accurate and commendable. But the next thing they say must really perturb the driver: "We're having fun sitting in the back seat kissin' and a huggin' with Fred." OUCH! Everybody knows that kind of pain. He later tries to persuade them that they are being chauffeured around in a sweet ride, with a triple carburetor, which I know is supposed to mean something important. But they remain steadfast in their viewpoint that he must obey proper driving etiquette while they engage in an eight-way make-out session with the inexhaustably lusty Fred.

One of the many reasons why this song is so great is that the narrator is faced with moral and ethical dilemmas. He realizes he has a duty to obey the traffic laws of our country (ethics). But he also wants to make out with at least one of the seven girls in the back seat, and possibly Fred as well, even if it is discordant with the good ol' American values his parents endowed him with (morality). The song concludes with the narrator saying he wishes he was Fred.

This is understandable. According to the Made Up Oxford English Dictionary of First Names, "Fred" has Gaelic origins and means something, loosely translated, like, "Fearless, Ripped, Enigmatic Dude." This gives him the power to make out with seven girls while simultaneously getting them to completely ignore their gracious host. Fred has probably convinced them that the driver is a peeper. This is but another part of the legend of Fred. I conclude that, in conclusion, despite the totally sketchy sexual politics of the song, Paul Evans and the Curls' "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat" is a Homeric odyssey that weaves, like Penelope, an etiological lesson about car safety with the mythical legend of Fred as a way of reaffirming all within us that is proud, headstrong, charismatic, aroused, prudent, and full of Hater-ade. How many other songs achieve all these things? None, I say. None.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)"

Monogamy is a tradition that extends all the way back to 3989 B.C., when the first humans began to begat. The concept of fidelity is codified in Exodus 20:15: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." This concept is elaborated on a few verses later: "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." As such, coveting ass, from thy neighbor, or from Ashley, has been socially taboo ever since. The "free love" movement of the 1960s attempted to put a few dents in monogamy's armor, but ultimately failed. However, in 1979, a French philosopher from France by the name of Jean-François Lyotard, in a book title La Condition Postmoderne, defined postmodernity as "incredulity towards metanarratives." Oh no he didn't! But, seriously, yes, he did. Deal with it. Not coincidentally, that same year, the brilliant singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes exemplified Lyotard's erudite maxim in glorious yacht rock technicolor when he problematized the entire notion of monogamy--and to a certain extent, the self--in his masterpiece "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)."

Holmes, who cut his teeth writing the only Billboard Top 20 Hit about cannibalism some ten years earlier, had touched on some of life's meatier topics in the intervening decade, such as drinking, rum, getting lunch, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Therefore, it was not surprising when he cut a single that addressed three issues with heavy moral and metaphysical implications: 1) that promiscuity, if properly executed, can be a whizz-bang idea; 2) that contrary to earlier scientific discoveries, one can cheat on their significant other WITH their significant other; and, 3) that piña coladas and champagne are a perfectly reasonable means for getting adult humans tore up.

The narrator is a man who is bored with his "lady." He decides to emotionally stray from her by examining the personal ads. He finds one that tickles his fancy, and by fancy, I mean the cockles of his heart, which, for the record, are now warmed. She happens to be looking for a man who likes "piña coladas," "getting caught in the rain," and "making love at midnight," while at the same time being not particularly fond of "yoga." The narrator sees himself in this description and writes back the following poem:

Yes, I like Pina Coladas,
and getting caught in the rain.
I'm not much into health food,
I am into champagne.
I've got to meet you by tomorrow noon,
and cut through all this red tape.
At a bar called O'Malley's,
where we'll plan our escape.

Exquisite! This poem makes William Shakespeare's sonnets seem like a fishy flu fart in comparison. I mean, come on: GAME OVER. Rupert Holmes' real coup though is the song's twist, which reportedly inspired the ending to every single M. Night Shyamalan film. When the narrator goes to meet up with this date, it turns out to be, GET THIS, his current girlfriend. What?! At this point, the foundation of Enlightenment culture begins to erode. Can somebody cheat on their girlfriend with their own girlfriend? Is it even cheating? Is this just a strange Ouroboros loop? Is it possible that bears can read minds? Rupert Holmes incredulity toward the metanarrative of monogamy--as well as faithfulness, "the keys to a successful relationship," and girly drinks--in "Escape" is without question the single act of artistic expression that ushers in the postmodern age.