Posts Tagged ‘Procul Harum’

“867-5309/Jenny”
Tommy Tutone
1982

In 1969, Sheraton Hotels forced television viewers to memorize their new toll-free reservation number. The fact that after 40 years I can still recall their campaign of flashing numerals and insanely cheerful female voices singing Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five proves that advertising works. And the fact that in 40 years I have never called 800-325-3535 proves that advertising doesn’t work.

In 1982, history repeated itself, as Tommy Tutone had a hit with “867-5309/Jenny.” (Tommy was the name of the singer; there was no one in the band named Tutone.) The song rose to #4 on the charts and the phone number imprinted itself on our psyches.

“867-5309/Jenny” is about working up the courage to dial a number you found on a bathroom wall. Let’s not think about that again. In the ’80s, Special D and I danced many times to “867-5309/Jenny,” which we heard in bars, clubs, and the midnight dances at science fiction conventions. It’s 3 minutes and 46 seconds of irresistible. It’s perfect for dancing, drinking, and making out. If you’re an air guitarist like me, you know the instrumental break is easy to mimic and short enough not to wear out its welcome.

Run-DMSteve’s Old Technology Shop
“867-5309/Jenny” has joined a class of songs that have become obsolete as the years have flown by. Tommy plans to contact Jenny on a pay phone. A call costs a dime. The same fate has befallen Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” in which it’s still possible to receive extended assistance from a human representative of the phone company:

Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
You can keep the dime

Gary Brooker’s “Switchboard Susan” is also about customer service. It may seem as old-fashioned as “Operator,” and it’s not as sophisticated, but it’s fun to listen to if only because Gary Brooker was once the leader of pretentious twits Procul Harum:

Now when I look at you girl I get an extension
And I don’t mean on Alexander Graham Bell’s invention
Switchboard Susan can we be friends
After six and at weekends

Kodak has stopped making Paul Simon’s Kodachrome. Life before the invention of Amtrak is a central theme in The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarkesville” as well as in “The Letter,” in which The Box Tops sing, “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane/Ain’t got time to take a fast train.” R.B. Greaves dictates a letter to his secretary in “Take a Letter, Maria.” Today of course he would’ve texted her. And sent a crotch shot.

Tommy, Tommy, who can I turn to?
Tommy Tutone, you’ve given us something that we can hold on to. Despite its message of empowerment through anonymous hookups and communication through devices that no longer exist, “867-5309/Jenny” is a killer song that will live forever. Just like Eight-oh-oh. Three-two-five. Three-five, three-five. Except you can dance to it.

My hippie friends want to know why I don’t write about their music. The reason I don’t write about hippie music is quite simple really and that reason is that I have so far been unable to explain what it is.

To give you some idea of what I’m up against in this investigation, consider the following. Does hippie music include folksingers like John Prine and Bob Dylan? Does it include pop-country hybrids like The Byrds and Bob Dylan? Does it include wild-haired rockers like Mountain and Bob Dylan? Does it include people who were just passing through hippiedom, like The Beatles and Bob Dylan? Does it include psychedelic mind-trippers like The Electric Prunes and – no, I can’t make that one work.

Where do you file Quicksilver Messenger Service, except under Crud?

In Search of the Lost Chord
What then is this entry in the continuing annals of Run-DMSteve about? It’s certainly not about to make me a lot of money. What I intend to do is take you step-by-step through the rigorous scientific process by which I discovered that the long-sought definition of hippie music has once again dodged up a side street.

The first thing to do in any successful project is to sweep everything you don’t want to deal with under the rug. So I began by declaring that hippie music is music produced by bands that existed in the 1960s. This yielded a sold historic footing and liberated me from having to think about Phish or Blues Traveler.

To further winnow the field, I decided that hippie bands had to have staying power. If they’d played together for at least a decade or two, they were in. If their principal members had died in the early innings, they were out.

(If we posit the existence of a rock ’n’ roll heaven, I’m sure they enjoy musical performances by an adverbial intensifier of a band. But until we can download an alternate-universe app, we’ll never know what Janis, Jimi, Jim, and their peers might have accomplished. Though I can easily picture Jimi playing Wilson Pickett in The Commitments.)

I eliminated The Allman Brothers because Greg married Cher. Black Sabbath I eliminated just for being.

Finally, I considered the fans. A hippie band should come equipped with its own cult. Did our candidates have fans who routinely spent the summer following them around? Did these fans leave their jobs, if they had jobs, to go to 12 concerts in six cities in two weeks in one chartreuse microbus? Were they following their heroes around in 1970, 1990, and maybe even 2010?

There were only two bands I could think of that met these requirements: The Grateful Dead and The Moody Blues.

This is not my idea of a good time, but at least they’re better than Procul Harum.

Blues for Allah
To keep things simple, let’s refer to both bands in the past tense, even though 60% of the Moodies are still on the road and threatening to visit your hometown.

I confess that during an early adolescent period, when I was pretending to read Herman Hesse, The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed was the most profound musical document I knew. And at a later adolescent period, when I wore my hair down to my belt, The Dead’s American Beauty spoke of my yearning to get back to the land. An odd yearning, given that I’d grown up in suburbia.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of The Dead or The Moody Blues, except to switch stations when the local Classic Rock outlet wheels them out of the morgue. But once I had them under the electron microscope, I discovered some unexpected relationships:

Fig. 1: Sugar magnolia vs. white satin

  1. The Moody Blues experimented with classical music.
  2. The Grateful Dead experimented with disco.
  3. The Grateful Dead rode a train.
  4. The Moody Blues rode a see-saw.
  5. The Grateful Dead had trouble capturing their concert performance in the studio.
  6. The Moody Blues had trouble capturing their studio performance in concert.
  7. Band members left The Moody Blues by resigning.
  8. Band members left The Grateful Dead by dying.
  9. The Grateful Dead were fronted by a charismatic man.
  10. The Moody Blues were five guys with feathered hair.
  11. The Grateful Dead released Aoxomoxoa in 1969. The Moody Blues have nothing to match this, but Pink Floyd does: Ummagumma, released the same year. Which makes me wonder if The Dead and Floyd were actually the same gang of idiots.

Bummer. The only thing this list demonstrates is the astounding diversity of the hippie biomass. I’ll keep working on this problem, even though the budget compromise that has kept the government open has shut off my funding. Someday, I vow, the world will know what exactly hippie music is. Until then, tenere a autotrasporto (keep on truckin’)!