Thursday, January 09, 2014


"52 Girls" / The B-52s

Yesterday's post got me thinking. Thinking about songs named after girls, specifically.

So welcome to my next blog project -- a series called 52 Girls. Each song that I feature in the series will have a girl's name in the title, and will ideally be a perfect little short story in the form of a song. I've already got more than enough in my library to fill out the project, but nominations are always welcome -- half of the music in my library these days seems to have come from recommendations from you guys.

Why 52?  If you have to ask, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to this gem from the B-52s' debut album: 

I've written about this album before, one of my all-time favorites. Technically it doesn't fit the series criteria, as there's nothing to it but a list of girls' names -- excuse me, girls of the U.S.A. -- whom Kate and Cindy claim we can see on the beach. But as a preface to the series, I couldn't resist.
If you want to get picky, in point of fact there are only 23 names in this song. I guess they qualify as 52 girls because they belong to the B-52s inner circle, or something like that. Kate and Cindy themselves appear in the list, but otherwise? I'd love to know if these were specific friends of theirs, though I personally have never run into anybody of our generation named Effie, Madge, Mabel, or Biddie. Plus, the list clearly includes some random celebrities, like Jackie Onassis, and Tina Louise from Gilligan's Island. (Note that I had to put a comma there so you wouldn't think that Jackie Onassis was on Gilligan's Island.)  Is Brenda meant to be Brenda Lee? Is Mercedes Mercedes McCambridge? Because I really don't know any other Mercedeses . . .
Anyway, the song's not about the girls, it's about the party. So enjoy -- and stay tuned for the other girls.


NickS said...

That is a lovely idea, and it will be interesting to see what themes emerge as you build up the list.

I'm sure I'll be thinking about possibilities for the next couple of days.

One thing that occurs to me is trying to find songs in which the titular girl isn't an object of romantic attraction, just to provide some variety. I feel like I should be able to think of a song in which the girl is a best friend, for example, but none leap to mind at the moment.

I'll look forward to making some suggestions.

squeezingoutcolumbus said...

Don't forget "88 lines About 44 Women" by The Nails!

Holly A Hughes said...

So far I only have a couple of rules. One is that a girl's name has to be in the title -- so sorry, the Nails song won't work. (Nor would "52 Girls," actually!) Another is that it has to tell us something about her, not just mentioning her name while really being about the singer of the song. Also, it has to be a real person. So "Victoria" by the Kinks won't really work, because that's about Queen Victoria as an emblem of an era, not about her as a person. I agree, the romantic attachment doesn't have to be front and center. Several songs I'm thinking about using are entirely portraits and don't involve the singer at all. But we'll see how things unfold.

Philip Tugendrajch said...

You are so strict. I have always loved the song "Help me Rhonda" because my bar exam review contracts teacher used it as an example of repeated offers. It was clearly successful as I remember the concept today. Sadly, Wikipedia notes that Brian Wilson revealed that there is no Rhonda.

I forgot about how much I like the B-52s. I will have to get some on my phone.

NickS said...

This is already getting me to listen to songs that I hadn't thought about in ages.

Really, I'm surprised to see that I have fewer songs in my collection that match the criteria than I would have expected.

But I'm sure I will have some to recommend, and my first is "Bare Legged Kate. I know the song through a great recording by Gordon Bok, but until I looked for it know I'd never known who wrote it. The only version I could find on youtube is that one, which is a slightly rough concert recording. But there were moments when I found that carried a lot of emotional power, to know that he was singing about his own mother.

If you're interested I could upload the Gordon Bok recording, but that's worth listening to, and I wouldn't have come across it without this prompt.

Also, a song that doesn't fit the criteria, because it doesn't tell a story at all, but I'll include because it's just so darn good, Laura Nyro singing, Desiree."

NickS said...

Okay, here are some serious suggestions (I know that, as good as "Bare Legged Kate" is, it is so far from being a pop song that it isn't really what you're looking for).

1) Saint Etienne, "Sylvie" -- I liked to this in response to the Greg Trooper song, and it's worth mentioning again. Smart, funny, and somewhat catty, it's also a very good song that meets all of your criteria.

2) Suzanne Vega, "Calypso" -- Not as well known as "Luka" but I like it better. A nice re-visting of the Odysseus story, from the point of view of Calypso (with somewhat dated production). It's also unusual for Suzanne Vega in being relatively directly sexy. Incidentally, I never knew that there was such a cool video for "Marlene On The Wall."

3) Pete Seeger, "My Name Is Lisa Kalvalege" -- I have mixed feelings about Pete Seeger, but this may be his best song. A rare political song which completely earns it's point. It matters that it's based on her statement. I don't imagine that a songwriter would have come up with a line like "And now I also know what it is to be charged with mass guilt." But it's unforgettable once you've heard it.

4) Warren Zevon, "Tule's Blues" -- A heartbreaking song. I don't know if it tells us enough about Tule to count, for your purposes. The story is sketched out, but I think she's more than just an icon for the purpose of the song, and that it is about both of them after the breakup.

NickS said...

A couple more song suggestions to offer up today:

1) Tom Paxton, "Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song" / Caetano Velose, "Maria Bethania" -- Two songs that I like well enough to put on a list of five best songs (or, at least, five best songs that most people haven't heard before).

2) Los Lobos, "Rita" -- I've been feeling increasingly fond of Los Lobos. I only occasionally get one of their albums, but it just impresses me how much they keep going. I got the collection Just Another Band From East LA which was presented as a career retrospective in 1993, and they've not only released another 12 albums since that, it seems like they've just gotten better. This is a lonely and unhappy song song, Rita is clearly gone, but very good.

3) Jill Sobule, "Karen By Night" -- a nice, quirky, character study. Jill Sobule is a bit of an acquired taste, but I think she's good.

4) Tom Russell/Katy Moffatt, "Amelia's Railroad Flat" -- A little bit of twang. The more I think about it the more it seems, thematically, like an updated variation on Ian Tyson's "Navajo Rug" - a song that I never particularly liked. But, like that song it has a good sense of fun, a nice eye for detail, and it doesn't feel forced. And is there an echo of Suzanne's mandarin oranges? "Russian vodka in the freezer / From the Polish liquor store / Spanish rice, Moroccan oranges / Persian rugs upon the floor"

5) The Posies, "Suddenly Mary" -- I've been on a Posies kick for a while (really, ever since I recommended Ken Stringfellow to you, it got me to go back and listen to a lot of their material. This is a song about a relationship that's falling apart, and it has moments of tenderness and moments of complete exhaustion and frustration. Plus great harmonies.

I'll also quote George Starostin on that album (Dear 23) because he is both funny and gets it exactly right.

"I found out later that I was completely wrong. The Auer/Stringfellow duo sure know how to write a song. They also sure know how to sing it, understanding the strengths of both double-tracked harmony singing and solo passages. And they know how to record it in a timeless manner, so you can take it to your Dad and say, 'Hey Dad! Here's a Badfinger outtake I know you'll like!'. But sure enough it took some time to realize that. And it will yet take more time to memorize these songs, because the only thing that really wishes to imprint itself in my head is "jingle jangle drummy drummy drummy jingle jangle whoosh whoosh". Whenever I put the album on, though, it's a total gas, power-pop at its most compelling and inspiring."

"Well, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. Two songs have particularly well-defined hooks, and they're so good because of that ... 'Suddenly Mary' ... is just so lush and resplendent in its slightly psychedelically-tinged goodness I can't help feeling uplifted about it. . . ."

Holly A Hughes said...

Keep going on you'll have your own 52 Girls blog all teed up!

I'll try to find time to listen to these. But just to get this on the record -- Jill Sobule is already slotted in. I acquired that taste years ago and she's one of my all-time faves.

And Phil -- Brian Wilson may not have known a Rhonda, but I have. She's a definite contender.

NickS said...

Keep going on you'll have your own 52 Girls blog all teed up!

Not at all. I was genuinely surprised at how few songs in my collection fit a project like this one. I'm basically done with suggestions. I may think of one or two more (and I've skipped recommending more folky songs) but that's about it.

Now that you mention it, I do remember you writing positively about Jill Sobule before.

NickS said...

One more recommendation for you. I found myself thinking about "Frankie And Johnny."

There are a lot of different versions out there, as you know, and I ended up writing my own post about it, rather than another ridiculously long comment here :)

I link to a number of different recordings, all of which, are great, but the one which might fit best with your project is the a relatively contemporary recording (from 1999 or 2001) by Beth Orton. As I wrote in the post, "It took me a minute or two to appreciate it. At first it felt affected, and I had to adjust to her tempo, which is significantly slower (and the intensity does pick up as the song goes along). But once I got used to it, I have nothing but praise and admiration. I think it’s a completely successful blending of contemporary and traditional style, and up there as one of the best modern recordings of a traditional song that I’ve heard."