Song of the Week – One Meatball, Ry Cooder & Josh White

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I’ve long been a fan of Ry Cooder.  He’s the coolest guy.  His long career includes early work with Taj Mahal in the influential Rising Sons, as well as with Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman and the Rolling Stones, to name just a few.

His own solo albums are compendiums of American roots music that exemplify his exquisite taste in music.  Take, for example, today’s SotW, “One Meatball” from his eponymous 1970 debut album.

“One Meatball” is an 1944 update by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret of an 1855 song written by Harvard Latin professor George Martin Lane called “The Lone Fish Ball.”  (Sadly, Lane is better known today for his silly ballad than his academic work.)

The song tells the tale of a poor dude that goes into a restaurant to eat but can only afford one meatball and encounters a derisive waiter.

A little man walked up and down,
To find an eating place in town,
He read the menu through and through,
To see what fifteen cents could do.

One meatball, one meatball,
He could afford but one meatball.

He told the waiter near at hand,
To sample dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled, one and all,
To hear that waiter loudly call,

“One meatball, one meatball?

This here gent wants one meatball.”

(Cooder final verse)

The little man felt very sad,
For one meatball is all he had
And in his dreams he hears that call
“You gets no bread with one meatball.”

(Original, third verse that Cooder skips)

The little man felt ill at ease,
Said, “Some bread, sir, if you please.”
The waiter hollered down the hall,
“You gets no bread with one meatball.

There are numerous other versions to check out on YouTube or Spotify.  I’ll treat you to one more of my favorites, by folk/blues artist Josh White.

For those of you in the Bay area, you can catch Cooder with Roseanne Cash at the War Memorial Opera House on December 5-6.

Enjoy… until next week.

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