Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Steppenwolf -- "Happy Birthday" (1969)

Happy Birthday, sweet, sweet baby, 
I hope you read your story book, 
And next morning, you're one day older

Ain't that the truth?  

This song is the final track on Steppenwolf's third studio album, At Your Birthday Party, which was released in 1969.  It was a top ten album, but didn't include a killer single like "Born To Be Wild" or "Magic Carpet Ride," and seems to be largely forgotten today.

I haven't forgotten it.  To tell the truth, maybe I did forget it for two or three decades -- that's how long it's been since I last listened to it.

But I remembered this song when I was looking around for a song to feature when I celebrated the second birthday of 2 or 3 lines.  (If you're a parent, you're familiar with the "terrible twos."  Well, that's what you have to look forward to from 2 or 3 lines, boys and girls.)  And one thing led to another, as it often does -- so here I am, one day older (it's after midnight) after having spent the last half an hour or so listening to other songs from that album on Youtube.

I know I go a little overboard when it comes to old music like this (and not-so-old music, too).  At times, it worries me.  At best, isn't it a fairly trivial way to spend so much of my three score and ten?  And at worst, it's . . . what?  An attempt to escape from the reality of my daily life?  A sad and futile attempt to recapture something that happened -- or didn't happen -- a long, long time ago?

I really get wrapped up in all this.  I wish I could just let go and enjoy it instead of feeling uneasy about spending so much time listening to and thinking about records like At Your Birthday Party.  

But a song like this one is to me what madeleines were to Proust -- the thing that sparks involuntary memory.  (Voluntary memory occurs when you engage in a deliberate attempt to recall the past.  Involuntary memory occurs when everyday things evoke memories without any deliberate effort on one's part to remember.)  

I met my wife at a group dinner party at her college.  During the brief period when one of my law school friends dated one of her college friends, the two of them set up a group dinner party -- six male law students bought some red wine and joined six female college seniors for a lasagna dinner prepared in the group kitchen on their dormitory floor.

The FTC's headquarters
Years later, we decided to get married.  I told a lot of people the story of how we had met.  I could remember the names of five of the six law students who had been there, but one name escaped me.

A few years after that, I said "Come in" in response to a knock on my office door, and in walked a law-school classmate who had just started working at the Federal Trade Commission, where I had been employed since law school.

"That's the sixth guy," was the first thought to enter my mind when I saw the guy.  I couldn't have told you his name -- we hadn't been close friends, or had any classes in common -- but I knew immediately he was the sixth guy.

And I realized tonight that At Your Birthday Party was the fifth album.  

When I was in high school, Walmart or some other local discount had a big record sale one weekend.  Albums usually listed for $4.98 back then, but the discount stores routinely knocked a buck off the price.  I usually bought one LP at a time -- rarely more frequently than an album every couple of weeks -- but this was a very special opportunity:  Walmart was selling albums for $2.22 each.

I have a very clear memory of buying five records that day.  I remember getting Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones, Soft Parade by the Doors, Blind Faith's only (eponymous) album, and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.  

I also remember hiding the records when I brought them home and being careful not to play them when my parents were home until a few weeks had passed.  You see, I was afraid they would disapprove of my engaging in such an irresponsible spending spree -- even though the unbelievable low price meant I was saving money.  (You agree with my logic -- correct?)

But I've never been able to remember what the fifth album was until now.  It was At Your Birthday Party.

"Happy Birthday" is a short song, and doesn't have much in the way of lyrics beyond what is quoted above.  (Oddly, all the online song lyrics sites say the line "I hope you wreck your story book. "  It sounds like "I hope you read your story book" to me, and "read" makes a lot more sense than "wreck.")  

To celebrate the second birthday of 2 or 3 lines, let's take a look at the ten posts that were viewed the most in the past year.

Here they are -- each song title serves as a link to the original post in case you've missed some of these.  (All of them are winners, folks -- trust me.)

10.  Frankie Goes to Hollywood -- "Relax" (1983)

Deborah Shelton
I only know about this song because it's featured in Brian De Palma's 1984 "jep" movie, Body Double, which I've watched about a thousand times.  ("Jep" is Hollywood shorthand for "woman in jeopardy" movie, and Deborah Shelton is certainly a woman in jeopardy in this movie.)

9.  Tubes -- "What Do You Want From Life?" (1975)

I'm pleased this post has proved to be so popular.  It's a classic 2 or 3 lines effort -- an obscure song, some amazing embedded videos, lots of autobiography . . . in other words, much ado about very little.

8.  Black Sabbath -- "War Pigs" (1971)

I'm not at all surprised that so many have viewed this post.  It was the first guest post on 2 or 3 lines, and my friend Linda -- who has contributed several other outstanding guest posts -- really knocked it out of the park

7.  Jan and Dean -- "Dean Man's Curve" (1964)

This was one of the first records I ever owned, and one of the many great car-related records of that era.  This post is a winner -- it has a lot about "The T.A.M.I. Show" (one of the greatest rock 'n' roll movies ever) plus some great video of Jennie Lee, "The Bazoom Girl."

"Hey, beer man!"
This post was a labor of love.  Actually, it was a labor of loathing.  I have to admit that the visitor numbers for this post are a bit misleading -- I put links to it on a bunch of Red Sox fan sites, pretending that it was an encomium to Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett (another drumstick and Bud Light, Josh?), et al., and those dummies fell for it.

A crazy, over-the-top song that obviously has a lot of fans.

4.  Crabby Appleton -- "Go Back" (1970)

This one puzzles me.  It's a really obscure song, and I can't imagine why so many people were searching for it.  I can only guess that it has something to do with the kids' cartoon characters referenced in the post.

This is another puzzler.  It's a beautiful song, and I found a spectacular video of a live performance of the song to embed in the post (which appears to have become a victim of an overzealous copyright holder).  Maybe there are more old hippies out there with Internet connections than I thought there were.

Ditto.  Derek and the Dominoes were hugely popular back in the day, but this was not one of their more well-known songs.  (Three songs in a row from 1970 tells you something about my demographic -- my readers ain't spring chickens.)

And here it is -- the most-viewed 2 or 3 lines post over the past year:

At first, this one was another head-scratcher.  This post got about 50% more hits than the second-place post, and I've figured out why.  A lot of people seem to be interested in photos of ex-model Paulina Porizkova and her husband, Cars' frontman Ric Ocasek.  And if you search Google Images for porizkova ocasek, the first picture you will see came from this post:

It's a little humbling to realize that a lot of my visitors had absolutely no interest in my scintillating writing, but I'll take hits any way I can get them.  Hopefully, a few of those folks clicked on my ads, and that's what it's all about, boys and girls.

Here's Steppenwolf's "Happy Birthday":

Click here to buy this song from Amazon -- or to buy anything else Amazon sells, which is just about everything.  (Doesn't 2 or 3 lines deserve a 4% commission on your next Amazon purchase as a birthday present?)

1 comment:

  1. Just posting to say Steppenwolf rocks! Their birthday song isn't totally forgotten yet. :)