Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crabby Appleton -- "Go Back" (1970)

And you know it's not right
When you kiss me tonight
You pretend his lips are mine

This post is going to digress and meander more than most -- I believe it will represent a personal best for me in terms of the number of links and embedded videos.  But before we get to me watching cartoons and quiz shows at my grandmother's house in Joplin, Missouri, let's do our duty and spend a few minutes discussing this song.

Read the three lines I quoted above one more time.  That's an odd way to put it, isn't it?  Sounds sort of backwards to me -- she's kissing me while thinking of him, so I'd think the line would be "You pretend my lips are his" instead of the other way around.

Whatever . . . it doesn't pay to spend a lot of time analyzing a perfect little three-minute AM-radio song like this one.  The words of such songs rarely impress you when you read them -- it's the music that counts.

The best perfect little three-minute AM-radio songs ("PL3MAMRS" for short) are those recorded by one-hit wonders.  They're charming due to their evanescent, lighter-than-air quality.  A PL3MPS wastes no time -- you don't want long instrumental passages (a couple of measures to make the transition between chorus and verse is plenty), and even a hooky little chorus begins to bore after two or at most three repetitions.  We're looking for something that gets right to the point and doesn't waste our time -- wham, bam, thank-you ma'am.

Crabby Appleton was a short-lived Los Angeles band that released two well-reviewed LPs and opened for some high-profile groups -- including the Guess Who, Three Dog Night, and the Doors -- before disbanding.  I think I heard this song when it was released in the summer of 1970, but it wasn't a huge radio hit and I don't remember hearing it since then.  It seems to have been overlooked by most "oldies" stations.

I rediscovered it on a 5-CD compilation set called Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra 1963-1973. (Thank you, Montgomery County Public Library.)  Although its stable of recording artists included the Doors, Elektra Records was not really a rock or pop label -- it leaned more towards folk, with artists like the Byrds, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Phil Ochs, and Richard Farina.  Elektra also signed a band that we'll take a look at in a future post -- the amazing, one-of-a-kind Arthur Lee and Love, who supposedly persuaded the label's co-founder, Jac Holtzman, to give the Doors a chance.  "Go Back" is very different from most of the songs on those 5 CDs.  

Crabby Appleton is a very strange name for a band -- anyone out there know where they got it?  My more mature fans may remember that Crabby Appleton -- his slogan was "Rotten to the core!" -- was the arch-villain on the "Tom Terrific" cartoon that was featured on the legendary "Captain Kangaroo" TV show in the 1950's and 1960's.  Tom Terrific was a boy superhero who wore a funnel-shaped "thinking cap," which enabled him to turn himself into a tornado, a train, or whatever was necessary.

"Captain Kangaroo" was must-see television for kids of my generation -- partly because it didn't have much competition.  It was on CBS five mornings a week, and not just on Saturdays.

We had two television stations in Joplin back then.  One was a CBS affiliate -- CBS was the dominant network back then, with the Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton shows plus "Gunsmoke" and "Beverly Hillbillies" and many others -- while the other station carried a mix of NBC and ABC programming.

Much to my chagrin, the second station chose to stick with the fuddy-duddy ABC western "Wagon Train " in 1964, when NBC introduced the coolest TV show ever, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  I was beside myself.

Both my parents worked, so I spent most of my summer days with my grandmother, who lived only a couple of blocks away.  She was very young and very energetic for a grandmother, and really functioned more like a second mother for me.  (When I was born, she was less than a year older than I was when my youngest child was born.)  My mother was only child, and I was an only child until I was almost 7, so I had my grandmother all to myself.

I have vivid memories of my grandmother's cooking.  She did all the standards -- hamburgers, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, etc.  A favorite Saturday lunch to accompany the major-league baseball "Game of the Week" (broadcast by legendary former players Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese) was macaroni and cheese topped with pan-fried sliced bologna.  When "The Wonderful World of Disney" aired on Sunday evenings, I would watch it while eating my standard Sunday night dinner -- scrambled eggs, toast with grape jelly, and a chocolate milk shake.

But the most remarkable dish she prepared was known as "syrup 'n' bread," a favorite breakfast that I speculate was something that was created out of necessity during the Depression.  To make it, you cut up two slices of white sandwich bread into nine bite-sized squares each, placed small pats of margarine on each, and poured white Karo syrup over it.  (Sort of a poor man's French toast, I guess.)

There weren't a lot of kids in the neighborhood and certainly no summer camps or other planned activities for me, so I spent most of the day in front of the television.  (As I got older, I spent more time reading.  I'd often go to the public library and check out six books --  which was the maximum number allowed -- then return them the next day and get six more.)  After starting my days off with "Captain Kangaroo," I watched several game shows -- "Jeopardy" (hosted by the smooth and very insincere Art Fleming) was my favorite.  (Yes, I kept score.)

At noon, I would have lunch and watch a curious local program called "Melody Matinee," which was obviously aimed at rural housewives and senior citizens -- it featured a country/gospel band (including a guitar player who was missing the third and fourth fingers on his strumming hand -- his name was either Virgil or Earl) and a genial host who acknowledged viewers' birthdays and anniversaries and passed along song requests.  (The TV station's website claims that "Melody Matinee" was the longest running local music program in the U.S.)

After that, my grandmother watched "As the World Turns" and a couple of other soap operas.  Later in the afternoon, there were old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry reruns, "Three Stooges" reruns, and reruns of "Wrestling with Russ Davis" from the Chicago Amphitheatre -- believe me, Hulk Hogan was nothing compared to Gorgeous George and the other stars of that era.

"Rocky and Bullwinkle" was undoubtedly the best cartoon from my grade-school days  (although I didn't appreciate all the jokes until I was in college), but "Underdog" was a close second.  

I do remember "Tom Terrific" from the Captain Kangaroo show, although not that well.  I remember the "Underdog" cartoon series much better.  I thought Crabby Appleton was the villain on "Underdog," but I appear to have confused him with Simon Bar Sinister, who was Underdog's arch-enemy.

This is Crabby Appleton:

This is Simon Bar Sinister:

I think my confusion is understandable.  One black-and-white mad-scientist cartoon arch-villain looks pretty much like the next one.

By the way, Simon Bar Sinister is an example of macaronic language, which mean text that mixes words from more than one language -- here, the name is sort of a bilingual pun on a heraldic mark known as a "bend sinister" in English, which indicates there's an illegitimate birth in the family line.  "Barre" -- pronounced "bar" -- is the French equivalent of "bend."  Hence, Simon Bar Sinister is another way of saying "Simon the Bastard," which he was.  By the way, "macaronic" comes from the same Latin root that also gave us "macaroni" -- which was originally considered peasant food.  "Macaronic" has similar derogatory overtones, and usually refers to crude or humorous writing -- in particular, macaronic Latin refers to writing that satirizes the fractured Latin used in 14th-century Italy by people who were trying to pass themselves off as being well-educated when they were not.

The "Underdog" theme song is a classic:

When criminals in this world appear
And break the laws that they should fear
And frighten all who see or hear
The cry goes out both far and near for Underdog!
Underdog!  Underdog!  Underdog!
Speed if lightning, roar of thunder, 
Fighting all who rob and plunder
Underdog!  Underdog!

Underdog was modeled loosely on Superman.  He was a mild-mannered shoeshine boy who transformed himself into a super-powered hero by taking an energy pill and going into a phone booth to change into a Superman-like costume.  Underdog, who always spoke in rhyming couplets -- e.g., 'There's no need to fear/Underdog is here!" -- was voiced by Wally Cox, whose television persona was that of a 97-pound weakling, but who was actually strong and athletic.  He and Marlon Brando were close friends -- rumor has it that they were lovers -- and their ashes were scattered together in Death Valley after Brando's death.

Wally Cox is probably best remembered today for his frequent appearances on the old "Hollywood Squares' quiz show:  Cox is asked a question about 7 minutes into this episode.

Here's a video that features enough "Underdog" footage to give you a feel for the show.  The music that accompanies is a version of the theme song recorded by the Butthole Surfers.

The Butthole Surfers are a very strange and disturbing band founded by Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary (originally Paul Leary Walthall), who met when they were students at Trinity University in San Antonio in the 1970's.  My sister also went to Trinity -- she was a couple of years younger than Haynes, but knew him because they both played basketball.  (He was the men's team captain and also an accounting major -- she is still Trinity's career basketball scoring leader and became the first female non-tennis player to be inducted into the Trinity athletic hall of fame several years ago.)  She has an old media guide with a picture of him in his basketball garb, and you best believe that he has changed more than most of us have since we graduated from college.

The band's CDs include Locust Abortion TechnicianIndependent Worm Saloon, and Hairway to Steven.  (Think about it.)  Here's the video for one of my favorite Butthole Surfers songs, 'Who Was in My Room Last Night":

Here's a video featuring a slightly truncated version of "Go Back" -- it's an excerpt from a comedian John Byner's TV show.  (The video opens with Byner doing a commercial for milk, so be patient.)

If you want to buy "Go Back," here's a link to iTunes that will allow you to do just that:

Or here's a link to the song on

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