by carl wilson

Hey Hey, We're the Glee Club

hutchinson.jpg

On what seems to be my blog-of-the week, Faking It, Yuval Taylor posted quite awhile back on the question of "band theme songs," which in the Faking It book is a subtopic in their discussion of autobiographical song. Yuval dates the emergence of the genre in rock to 1967, with theme songs from Paul Revere & the Raiders, Them, the Mamas & the Papas and the Monkees. If the latter were first, it might just have been a genre spawned by the fact that if you're both a band and a TV show, you need a theme. But I bet it also had to do with the counterculture imperative of letting-it-all-hang-out (a much more middle-class-youth version of "authenticity" not far removed from the confessional-song impulse). The Wikipedia account of what happened next is pretty astounding. In the comments, Yuval acknowledges that band theme songs "far predate rock'n'roll," giving a jazz band tune from 1928 as an example.

Well, tonight, I happened across an even earlier case, specifically from 1844: The Hutchinson Family Band, a glee-club style group who were huge stars in mid-19th-century America, made up of three brothers and a sister, had a theme song that told the audience who they were, where they came from and what they stood for: It was called The Old Granite State. It was their biggest hit and they opened every concert with it. I wonder if it was the first case of a band accounting for its existence in song, or if even this drew on an existing tradition?

The easier-to-read version I just linked is a bit less biographical, but in the sheet music they get into serious family detail, much to their descendents' pleasure. The song also doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled, as: (a) a state song (obviously); (b) a pro-temperance song ("We are all teetotalers/ We are all teetotalers/ We are all teetotalers/ And have signed the Temp'rance Pledge"); and even (c) an anti-slavery song (with the later addition, "Yes we're friends of Emancipation/ And we'll sing the Proclamation/ Till it echoes through our nation.") Which is kind of a nice precursor to "we're too busy singin'/ to put anybody down," though the Hutchinsons ain't exactly letting their hair down.

Also, it seems bandleader Jesse Hutchinson was happy to play encores - even in the most trying circumstances.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, April 11 at 11:27 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

COMMENTS

Not to get too clubby with all this, but the Rossums Revolt shout-out was swiped directly from the Bay City Rollers "Saturday Night" -- scans almost exactly the same -- itself a "semi-nostalgic tribute to the imagined music of yesteryear."

Cheers,

Another Rossum

Posted by Jay on April 13, 2007 12:06 PM

 

 

Yup, Capek. We were the Young Rossums. The song was "Rossums Revolt." Picture a hundred or so high school kids, jumping up and down to a Stonesy groove, screaming "R-O-S-S-U-M-S Revolt!"

Our other big hit was our buzzsaw-punk arrangement of "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" which medleyed, via drum solo, into a staight-up cover of "Wipe Out." (Kalamazoo was where we lived. Our drummer was astounding, and his solos were virtuoso and hilarious.)

Ziggy played guitar. (We didn't cover Bowie.)

Posted by john on April 13, 2007 12:29 AM

 

 

PS - Jody, I totally felt like I was writing an Anachronist post there. Though a comparatively weak-ass one.

Posted by zoilus on April 12, 2007 8:38 PM

 

 

John, was that Karel Capek's R.U.R.?

The fake-band theme is a great side issue. I'm sure there must be more, among bands that liked to sing semi-nostalgic tributes to the imagined music of yesteryear or fallen rock heroes. Did Elton John ever do one? The Lovin' Spoonful? (If you kinda combine Nashville Cats and Jug Band Music?)...

Semi-related, the fictional band of folk singers The New Main Street Singers from Christopher Guest & co.'s A Mighty Wind have their "Main Street Rag."
http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/amightywind/mainstreetrag.htm

Posted by zoilus on April 12, 2007 8:37 PM

 

 

The tradition of fake band themes revived in rock.

"Come hear Uncle John's Band!" (Robert Hunter is an under-rated post-folklorist. Seriously.) "Down on the Corner" by CCR. I'm itching to think there are others, but none come to mind.

"Duke's Place" would have to figure as a self-descriptive band theme. "Saxes do their tricks at Duke's Place / Fellas swing their chicks at Duke's Place / Come on, get your kicks at Duke's Place." All to the sublimest 2-note melody ever.

Just remembered -- my high school band had a theme song. It was one of our best songs. We were named after a '20s Czech socialist play about the revolt of the robots, and the song was about the revolt. The lead singer wrote it (not me). I happen to think it was one of the greatest rock songs ever, but . . . I may be biased.

Great post, Carl.

Posted by john on April 12, 2007 4:27 PM

 

 

Carl: you anachronist, you! Great stuff.

There is a related tradition in 19th century minstrel song: the *fake* band theme song, proto-"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." For example:

http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/display.pl?record=025.019.000&pages;=5

Check the lyrics: "We are the Dandy Black Brigade/You've heard so much about/We cause such great excitement/In the town when we turn out."

This tradition continued, of course, in Tin Pan Alley pop of the '00s and '10s. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" is a variant.

Posted by Jody on April 12, 2007 12:11 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson