Wednesday, August 04, 2010

So long, Mitch Miller. (Or why I know the words to every corn-ball song written in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.)

Has anybody here seen Kelly? K-E-Double-L-Y? If you did, it was probably by the light of the silvery moon. Or perimagehaps even under the shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky. Or maybe you spotted Kelly the banks of the Wabash, long ago?

Gee, but I’d give the world to see that old gang that sat around our family room on Friday evenings, Singing Along with Mitch by the light of our B&W television. Friday was the night my grandmother, uncles, and aunt came to dinner, and, in the early 1960’s - when Mitch was every much a Friday night staple in our house as was fried haddock – stayed to watch Mitch Miller and warble along.

For those too young to remember, “Sing Along with Mitch” presented a male chorus, conducted by Mitch Miller, which sang tunes from The Great and Not So Great American Songbook. Those of us in the viewing audience were encouraged to sing along. We did.

And when Mitch wasn’t on TV, we could play his albums – including the one  pictured above - on our Webcor stereo. At least when the family stereo wasn’t occupied by the “Four Roses Song Fest”. (Not to be confused with Guns ‘n Roses, even though when you google ‘four roses record album’ and awful lot of Axel Rose comes up.)  If only we’dJoin the Four Roses Song Fest II LP Record Album Vinyl hung on to all those old LP’s, rather than box ‘em up and drop  ‘em off at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Shop.  This sucker’s going for $19.99 on e-Bay. I ain’t saying we’d be rich, but $20 for a Four Roses Song Fest here, $20 for a Sing Along with Mitch there. Throw in an Allen (“Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder”) Sherman platter or two, and the Vaughn Meader First Family Album, and it all adds up.

Not that we had to rely solely on Mitch or those fueled-up, song-festing funsters from Four Roses to learn songs of yore

My grandmother, in her own parlor, liked to tickle the ivories on her upright. Her limited, but enthusiastically addressed repertoire, included “Maggie” (“I wandered today to the hills, Maggie.”) and “Mockingbird Hill” (“Tra-la-la, tweedle-y dee-dee, it gives me a thrill, to wake up in the morning on Mockingbird Hill.”). [Note to family members reading this post: the “Black Hawk Waltz”may have had lyrics, but I don’t recall anyone singing them.]

Not that my sibs and I were completely abnormal finks. We all had our ears glued to WORC for Elvis, The Beach Boys, Shelly Fabares and whoever else was popular during the reign of Mitch Miller. (My first call-in request to WORC was to hear “Flying Purple People Eater.”  I was seven or eight at the time, but even at the young age there were clear indications of my refined and sophisticated taste.)

It’s just that, in addition to knowing all the words to “He’s a Rebel” and “Surf City”, we also knew all the words to “There Is a Tavern in the Town” (where, no doubt, they poured Four Roses).

This week’s death of Mitch Miller, as you can see, got me thinking about the early 1960’s, and why I never run out of shower tunes.

Sure, Mad Men portrays the early sixties as a louche world of clever, Brycreemed Madison Ave. chain smokers and the glam girls on their arms (or elsewhere), but most of us who were there witnessed a parallel reality that included a lot more Gunsmoke re-runs, May Processions, and trips to the library to check out more Ellery McQueen mysteries than it did 4-Martini lunches, fab clothing, and deep, dark, mysteries. (Not that there weren’t family secrets, and some of them were pretty darned deep and dark. It’s just that no one seemed to brood about them – at least if your family was composed of equal parts of the double repression whammy of Irish Catholic and German Catholic.)

And now Mitch Miller – aged 99: apparently, singing old chestnuts keeps you, if not exactly young, then alive – has passed away to his blue heaven, where he’s roaming in the gloaming, in the good old summertime. (By the way, Mitch had a quite successful career as a record company executive, and worked with popsters like Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, and Patti Page).

So long, Mitch.  Be kind to your web footed friends.*

Meanwhile, Bill Bailey – whoever you are, wherever you are – won’t you please come home.


*Mitch’s show always ended with the song “Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends”, sung to the tune of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

It's like I wrote this myself. Thanks for the memories Mitch!