Guest-blogger Grandjoe checks in by email on the subject of the real-life Colonel Sanders, whom I blogged on a few weeks ago:
In the mid-1950s, a friend of mine from college and his family owned a cabin in Keene Valley, NY that had previously been owned by Colonel Sanders. The latter left there a collection of 78 rpm records, including “There goes Barney Google with his Goo-Goo-Googley Eyes.” We played it quite a lot, with fascinated amusement. That’s it.
I had never heard “There Goes Barney Google…” before, but I gather it was something of a smash hit at the time:
In general, I’m pretty interested in early pop music from 1930s, 40s and 50s– not the jazz stuff that we now regard as classic, but the mainstream ephemera pop like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” And when I say ‘interested’, I don’t mean that I think it’s good. Most of it is blandly cheerful, shrill and somewhat creepy. What I mean is that it interests me because it was the last beachhead of really white pop-culture music sensibility before basically everything became influenced (generally to its benefit, I would add) by African-American music. You can argue that later artists like Pat Boone provided a super-white alternative to conservative teens, but musicians like Boone operated in a kind of consciously reactionary way, presumably aware of their own non-blackness. ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’ or, for that matter, ‘Barney Google’ are sung with no apparent awareness of their racial makeup, an awareness that was impossible to skirt after Elvis. As far as I can tell, Perry Como (who I do legitimately enjoy) is the the cut-off point, as he was the last big star before Elvis.
Another corollary group of interest is pop songs from the 40s and 50s that were in fact clearly influenced by African-American musical traditions, but seem to have a total lack of self-awareness about the point. I’m sure there are zillions of good examples of this, but the one that jumps to mind is the great scene in The Big Sleep where Bogart stalks Lauren Bacall to a party and inexplicably finds her singing with a band in some kind of parlor room:
What a knockout. Anyway, as a disclaimer, I should probably add that I’m grouping together three instances of pop culture that occurred in a 30 year span, so my generalizations about pre-Elvis pop aren’t terribly specific. Or informed. But, if it’s a necessary pretext to posting footage of a 22 year-old Lauren Bacall, so be it.