The Witzelsucht Memorandum

-Where Top-Hat, Red-Carpet Service is Practically A Motto-


The spate of fin-de-siecle musical retrospection, with box sets and tributes to giants like Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, Hank Williams, and Weird Al Yankovic, has set the stage for some long-needed light to be shed on an anonymous group of influential lyricists from whom generations of American children first learned that music could be an instrument of subversive social commentary, and an effective antidote for adult-imposed constraints on creativity. Laboring in an obscure Manhattan office eerily equidistant from the legendary Brill Building and the Madison Avenue home of Mad Magazine, these writers churned out a staggering catalogue of parodies and take-offs that were passed across the country in the oral tradition that has always been the truest expression of American folklore. No sooner would a pompous pop standard, commercial jingle, or inane TV theme song gain currency on the airwaves, than could the dead-on "peoples' version" be heard on the lips of youngsters from Maine to California.

This veritable song-creating engine finally receives just homage with the impending release of the 27-CD "lunchbox" set "IT'S A BONER -- SONGS IN THE KEY OF CHILDHOOD (that you weren't supposed to know)" ($269.95 on Overproductions Records - "You'll Know When It's Over"). Collected here are NOT the bowdlerized, cleaned-up campfire pap that kids learned through official channels with their parents' consent, and which have long been available on record, such as the ubiquitous "On Top of Spaghetti." These are the ribald and rebellious gems that kids passed among themselves and hid from grown ups. They could only be heard in tree houses, recess schoolyards, detention halls, summer camp cabins, and sometimes in that culvert out behind Dugan's Field.

Until now, most of these unexpurgated marvels had never been captured on record, outside of a few rare party tapes available "under the counter" at some record stores and from your friend's older brother Lou who stocked the shelves at Jensen's Market, smoked cigarettes, and could always get cherry bombs and M-80's. Now they're all here in one collection, in takes faithful to the versions that haunt childhood memories. This weighty set takes its name from an early yet flawed hit, a send-up of the Dean Martin 50's honeydripper "That's Amore."

IT'S A BONER (to the tune of "That's Amore")
When your dick stands up straight like the Empire State-
It's a boner.
When your balls hit the floor like a B-54-
It's a boner.
"Boner" was heard by few individuals over the age of 20 and attained great popularity notwithstanding the contrived second verse, which overlooked the twin realities that a) there is no such airplane as a "B-54," and b) rarely will achievement of an erection make one's "balls hit the floor." Despite its success these defects annoyed the song's creators, and they strove to ensure that their next sexually-charged number was a model of factual simplicity:
MY BONNY (To the tune of "My Bonny")

My bonny lies over the ocean,
My bonny lies over the sea.
My Daddy lies over my Mommy,
And that's the beginning of me.

Long before blowjobs were headlines and American advertainment trailblazed the sexualization of children, innumerable boys and girls looked to the songs of their community for life lessons, and when it came to the ways of the birds and the bees, "My Bonny" with its elegant succinctness didn't disappoint. The song was all the more appreciated for its effective skewering of the original's failure to explain to its American-speaking audience just who in heck "Bonny" was supposed to be.

For children of an era when classroom violence was all but unheard of and any kid foolish enough to bring a weapon to school knew he was in for "automatic detention, no ifs, ands, or buts, young man," harmless fantasies of revenge against evil teachers in "GLORY HALLELUJAH" offered outlet for youthful frustrations and presaged by some 20 years the exploration of such themes in gangsta rap:

GLORY HALLELUJAH (to the tune of "Glory Hallelujah")

My eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school.
We have tortured every teacher
We have broken every rule.
We have snuck into the office
And hung the principal.
Our truth is marching on!

Glory, glory hallelujah.
Teacher hit me with a ruler.
I knocked her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
Our truth goes marching on.

This song attained wild popularity, and was even sung openly in class right before the first bell rang, in defiance of the insult inherent in having to kowtow to elementary school music teachers so dim witted as to take umbrage at the predictable disorder that followed their attempts to lead, with a straight face, a class of sixth-grade boys in singing a song called "Tit Willow."

Because the children who learned and shared these songs typically imagined them in the voices of the professional entertainers who'd performed the originals being lampooned, the producers wisely recruited adult studio singers, with a smattering of bonafide stars thrown in for good measure. One standout is Tony Bennett's Lounge-a-palooza take on the theme song from "THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES."

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (to the tune of "The Theme Song from The Beverly Hillbillies")

Well let me tell y'all a story 'bout a man named Jed.
He took Ellie Mae and he threw her on the bed.
Pulled down his zipper, whipped out his worm,
And out from his worm came a bubblin' sperm.

As Ken Burns, hot off his "Jazz" triumph, tells us in his extensive liner notes, the producers omitted the "white gold, children's tea" ending sometimes added in mimicry of the original's "black gold, Texas tea," to avoid the disturbing imagery of semen being consumed in china tea cups of the sort used at children's tea parties, even if children haven't held children's tea parties since the days of "Alice in Wonderland."

The producers did avoid adult singers for one take-off of a song that was originally recorded by children, the old "Beef-A-Roni" commercial. It's also one of the few songs not recorded especially for this collection. This version of "Horse Manure" is a rare old recording by the famous British child singers who supplied the kiddie choruses in Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and the Clash's "Career Opportunities."

HORSE MANURE (to the tune of "We're Havin' Beef-A-Roni")

We're havin' horse manure.
We got it from the sewer.
Horse manure tastes so great,
Makes you throw up on your plate,
Hooray, weeeee
For horse manure!

Devastating takes of popular commercial jingles are a staple of the genre. No tune is as likely to evoke tears of nostalgia in boomers as the theme song for that white powder cleanser, Comet:
COMET (to the tune of "Comet")

Comet- will make your mouth so clean.
Comet- it tastes like gasoline.
Comet- will make you vomit
So get some Comet
And vomit

Not surprisingly, television figures largely in this collection. One of the more obscure tunes comes from the theme song from 1965's "Branded," originally heard over scenes of Chuck Connors, playing a Civil War officer, being stripped of his decorations and sword on a bogus charge of desertion.
STRANDED (to the tune of "The Theme Song From "Branded")

Stranded on the toilet bowl.
What do you do when you're stranded?
And you don't have a roll.
Be a man-
Use your hand.

'Stranded' ran for only a few years and is rarely seen in repeats. Few fans, however, will fail to recall the music from one of the most popular cartoons of all time:
POPEYE THE SAILOR (to the tune of "Popeye the Sailor")

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man (toooot!)
I live in a garbage can.
I eat all the worms,
And smell all the germs.
I'm Popeye the sailor man.

Military songs were often sung in elementary school music classes and have thus earned a rightful place in this commemoration, as with this version of the popular Marine Corps anthem, "From the Halls of Montezuma."
FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA (to the tune of "From the Halls of Montezuma")

From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli.
We will fight our teacher's battles
With spit-balls, glue and clay.
First to fight for rights and recess
And to keep our desks a mess.
We are proud to claim the title of
The teacher's little pest.

"It's A Boner" is set to hit record stores and on-line retailers at the beginning of April. Despite the nostalgia crazy of the last few years, however, it remains to be seen how much of the music-buying public is ready to pony up the two-hundred-and-seventy dollar asking price. After all, the children who once made these songs infamous eventually straightened up and flew right, grew to adulthood, fell in love, got married, had children of their own . . . and along the way completely forgot these songs and managed to convince themselves that their own kids have never heard them . . . or their modern equivalents, which have yet to be written.

The Witzelsucht Memorandum