“Red Rubber Ball” / The Cyrkle
I think I got 50 cents a week for allowance when this song came out -- it cost nearly two week’s pay for me to buy the single “Red Rubber Ball.” (Albums? Out of the question. I was strictly a single-buyer back in 1966.) I didn’t know it was co-written by Paul Simon -- back when I could read the tiny print of songwriting credits, I didn’t think to do so. I didn’t even know that the Cyrkle was managed by Brian Epstein, who’d suggested that deliberately misspelled band name to imitate the Beatles. It was just a catchy, upbeat tune I’d heard on the radio, with nifty harmonies and a memorable organ riff. And who knows, maybe I saw this appearance on Hullabaloo (dig the Paul Anka intro...)
But whatever it was that sucked me in, I knew I just had to own this record.
I was too young to have had a boyfriend -- I could hardly judge whether this was a convincing break-up song. And yet I think I did pick up on the complex emotions in “Red Rubber Ball.” At first the singer claims he’s moved on – “Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea / If I never hear your name again, it's all the same to me” – but doesn’t it seem like he’s bluffing? Especially when we get to the chorus -- the drumbeat turns edgy and aggressive, tambourines shiver loudly, and we shift into a minor key: “And I think it's gonna be all right / Yeah, the worst is over now / The morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball.” I don’t know, that “red rubber ball” image always sounded unnatural to me. He’s not out of the woods yet.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I pick up on all the zinger disses tucked away in the lyrics -- “You never cared for secrets I’d confide / For you I'm just an ornament, something for your pride / Always running, never caring, that's the life you live / Stolen minutes of your time were all you had to give.” The vocals sound so sincere, I totally side with the singer, pulling for him to get through this messy break-up. “The roller coaster ride we took is nearly at an end / I bought my ticket with my tears, that's all I'm gonna spend.” Now that organ riff makes sense – it’s the calliope playing on the carnival midway, and the swoops of the verse’s melody are roller-coasterlike indeed. Well, when I was a kid I loved roller-coasters, loved to feel my stomach plunge and my heart hammer. Now I avoid them like the plague.
The Cyrkle weren’t entirely a one-hit wonder. Their follow-up single, “Turn Down Day,” was a groovy track with a hint of psychedelia and harmonies to die for. Still, the band faded soon into obscurity (half of them went into jingle-writing for Madison Avenue – Tom Dawes wrote that classic Alka-Seltzer “plop-plop fizz-fizz” jingle). Was this brilliant single just luck? Who knows? I only know that I still perk up when I hear it. It’s a good starting-over song . . . a good song for spring. Enjoy.