Song of the Week – Too Much Monkey Business, Chuck Berry, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan, Pump it Up, Elvis Costello, Wild Wild West, The Escape Club

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Over the years I’ve written several posts in what I refer to as the “Evolution Series.” It consists of two sub categories. The first highlights the development of a single song over time by different artists [say, Train Kept A-Rollin’ by Tiny Bradshaw (1951), Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio (1956), The Yardbirds (1965), Aerosmith (1974)]. The other traces a certain song style – i.e. a rhythm or lick – as artists borrow from the past to make it their own (the Bo Diddley beat to Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” to “Magic Bus” by The Who to Springsteen’s “She’s the One” to U2’s “Desire”).

Today’s SotW is another collection in the second category. It starts with Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956).

Berry’s 5th single introduced an unusual rhythm for the vocal delivery of the lyrics. He spits out words to simply describe the frustrations of everyday life, like losing your money in a pay phone (that is, if you know what a pay phone is).

Pay phone, somethin’ wrong, dime gone, will mail
I ought to sue the operator for tellin’ me a tale

Bob Dylan picked up on Berry’s lyrical delivery and raised the bar on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965).

In 2004, Dylan told the L.A. Times’ Robert Hilburn of “SHB,” “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of “Too Much Monkey Business” and some of the scat songs of the 40s.”

It became even more iconic with the D. A. Pennebaker directed scene, from the documentary Don’t Look Back. of Dylan flipping through a series of cue cards with key words from the song, including one of Dylan’s most quoted lines:

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”

Next in line is “Pump It Up” (1978) from Elvis Costello’s second album, This Year’s Model.

“Pump It Up” has some of Costello’s best lyrics from his early days as the angry young man.

She’s been a bad girl
She’s like a chemical
Though you try to stop it
She’s like a narcotic
You wanna torture her
You wanna talk to her
All the things you bought for her
Putting up your temperature

Lastly is “Wild, Wild West” (1988) from the one hit wonder, The Escape Club.

In 1988 I was the DJ at a Christmas party at the famous Cask & Flagon near Fenway Park in Boston. The friends that hosted the party were mostly into the “alternative” rock of the day (Style Council, English Beat, etc.) which was right up my alley. I still remember seguing from “Pump It Up” into “Wild, Wild West” and how nicely it worked – the true test being that no one left the packed dancefloor.

I can think of a couple of other songs that might be close relatives to this series – maybe U2’s “Get On Your Boots” or R.E.M.’s “The End of the World as You Know It.” Can you come up with any others?

Enjoy… until next week.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Too Much Monkey Business, Chuck Berry, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan, Pump it Up, Elvis Costello, Wild Wild West, The Escape Club

  1. Great set Tom! And totally weird to bring in the Wild Wild West after three great songs. But kind of cool too. I like it.

    I’m with “Could not get a temperature” for that line, like dead.

  2. I checked the “word” section of Costello’s home page and it says tha last line is “putting up your temp/rature.” But I like your version too.

  3. I’ll submit AC/DC’s “Ain’t No Fun Waitin’ Round To Be A Millionaire” as a relative. More like a cousin than a brother, but I think this is one of AC/DC’s most underrated songs so I love having an excuse to mention it – a fine example of Bon Scott’s rock ‘n’ roll lyrical brilliance. Always perfect iambic pentameter.

    As If You Care Department:

    Always trying to be innovative (this was back when pop country melding with rock was a novel thing – now pop country IS rock, with a little bit of country sometimes), the early-to-mid ’90s top Chicago country cover band I was in – Workin’ Class – played “Wild Wild West.”

    Line dancing was novel too back then and there was this special dance that wasn’t partners; the entire dance floor made a big circle and did motions and stuff, working their way around, almost like a square dance or something. It may have been called “Wagon Wheel.”

    There was like one country pop country song that went to this dance and we decided “Wild Wild West” would work too. I remember our drummer hated the song so much he cursed me out with the F word one time when I said it was time to play it.

    Steve Moyer connoisseurs take note – I played that rhythm instrument called the Fish during an instrumental breakdown we’d do in the middle. I had to go out and buy one and I still have it.

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