Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John": Sequels, parodies, and answer songs


Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" has to be one of the most parodied songs in the history of popular music. It spawned more answer songs and spoofs than any other song I can think of. The song was even made into a movie

The original release of "Big Bad John" concluded with Dean saying, "At the bottom of this pit lies one hell of a man." That kind of salty language didn't sit well with some radio stations, so a second version was released in which Dean says, "At the bottom of this pit lies a big, big man." After it was cleaned up, the single topped the pop chart for over a month in 1961.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at the many songs that "Big Bad John" spawned. Chart positions are from Billboard unless otherwise noted.

Dottie West - "My Big John" (Starday 574, 1961)

"My Big John" is an anemic early performance by West on an answer song to "Big Bad John" that tells the story from the standpoint of John's Cajun queen. 




Phil McLean "Small Sad Sam" (Versatile 107, 1961) #21 Pop

This parody of "Big Bad John" tells the story of small, sad Sam, a puny weakling who saves himself and leaves everyone else to die in a tragic elevator accident. 




Bob Kayli – "Small Sad Sam" (Tamla 54051, 1961)

This R&B cover of Phil McLean's "Small Sad Sam" was recorded by Motown founder Berry Gordy's brother, Robert Gordy, under the pseudonym Bob Kayli. No video, but you can listen to a sample here.


Don Bowman - "Little Bad Dan" (GNP 170X, 1961)

Another parody, this one tells the story of a football player named Bad Dan. 




Marvin Rainwater – "Tough Top Cat" (Warwick M674, 1962)

In Marvin Rainwater's "Tough Top Cat," Big Bad John is hooligan cat named Big Tom. 




Des O'Connor – "Thin Chow Min" (Piccadilly 7N 35028, 1962)

Des O'Connor is an English comedian and vocalist who charted several singles in England in the late '60s and early '70s, including the #1 hit "I Pretend." His politically incorrect "Big Bad John" parody, "Thin Chow Min," wasn't one of his hits.





Casey Anderson – "Sweet Sidney" (from the album The Bag I'm In, Atco LP 33-149, 1962) 

Anderson's intro to "Sweet Sidney" is very similar to the one later used in "Big Bruce." This was the first of numerous gay parodies of "Big Bad John." The excellent Queer Music Heritage website has a discography of gay-themed "Big Bad John" parodies.


Jimmy Dean - "The Cajun Queen" (Columbia 4-42282, 1962) #22 Pop

Jimmy Dean's first sequel to his own hit shifts the focus to John's Cajun Queen. 




Jimmy Dean - "Little Bitty Big John" (Columbia 4-42483, 1962) #110 Cash Box

Dean's second "Big Bad John" sequel, "Little Bitty Big John," is my favorite in the bunch, although the story has several continuity errors. You can't put Dean's three "Big Bad John" songs together to form a coherent narrative.




Patti Page – "Big Bad John" (from the album Patti Sings Golden Hits of the Boys, Mercury MG 20712, 1962)

This isn't a parody or an answer song—it's just a straight cover. But "Big Bad John" seems like a strange choice of repertoire for a pop diva like Patti Page, so I included it. 




Homer & Jethro - "Big Bad John" (from the album At the Convention, RCA LSP 2494, 1962)

Another gay parody. I couldn't find any audio online. 



The Four Saints - "Big Bad Jane" (from the album The Many Sounds of the Four Saints, Warner Bros. LPM-FSR 6201, 1962)

From the 1962 Four Saints album The Many Sounds of the Four Saints. No audio.



Allan Sherman – "Big Bad Jim" (1962)

Sherman wrote an obscene parody of "Big Bad John" that he performed but never recorded. It has been written about a few times. Billboard mentioned it in its Nov. 3, 1962, issue, and AllanShermanBiography.com devoted an entire post to it and included a snippet of lyrics.



Country Gentlemen - "Big Bruce" (Rebel 263, 1966)

The original version of "Big Bruce" seems to borrow from Casey Anderson's "Sweet Sidney," heard earlier in this post. 



Steve Greenberg - "Big Bruce" (first version) (Trip 3000, 1969)

Steve Greenberg's hit version of "Big Bruce" was issued twice with alterations to the lyric. It barely inched into the Hot 100. 




Steve Greenberg – "Big Bruce" (second version) (Trip 45-3000, 1969) #97 Pop


Ben Colder – "Big Sweet John" (MGM K14111, 1969)

The parody by Ben Colder, AKA Sheb Wooley, is similar to Homer & Jethro's version.




Hudson & Pickett – "Big Bad John" (from the album The Hollyweird Squares, Dore LP 334, 1972)

No audio.




Bill Stith - "Big Bruce" (Jamie 1417, 1973)

A lackluster remake of the Country Gentlemen/Steve Greenberg tune. 





Rod Erickson – "Big Bad Tom" (Damon DDM 102, 1975)

I couldn't find audio of Erickson's 1975 recording, but here's a video of him performing it live in 2009. This parody is about cat, like Marvin Rainwater's "Tough Top Cat," which is quoted toward the end. 


Rod Hart - "Big Fanny" (from the album Breakeroo, Plantation PLP-500, 1976)

Hart, known for his gay trucker hit "C.B. Savage," cut a "Big Bad John" parody for the album Breakeroo, on which "C.B. Savage" appeared. No video. Sample here


Reverend Billy C. Wirtz - "Big Jess" (from the album Pianist Envy, Hightone HCD 8051, 1994)

No audio.

Miscellany

Frank Gallop's "The Ballad of Irving" (1966, #34 Pop) is a parody of Lorne Greene's "Ringo" but references "Big Bad John." Jimmy Dean's "PT 109" (1962, #8 Pop) references "Big Bad John" at the end.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Terre Roche's Blabbermouth, a memoir



I've been obsessed with the Roches lately. I've always been a fan, but a couple of months ago I listened to their 1995 album Can We Go Home Now and got hooked all over again. After I bought the few Roches albums I didn't already own, I listened to their guest appearances on other artists' albums. Still wanting more, I ordered Terre Roche's self-published memoir, Blabbermouth.

This slim book (110 pages) came out in 2013 and is a print-on-demand title that is available only through Lulu.com

The Roches' music defies categorization, as critics like to say. The group was associated with the Greenwich Village folk scene, but they weren't a folk act. They were more closely aligned with the '70s singer-songwriter scene but wrote about offbeat topics, peppered their songs with in-jokes and private references, and weren't afraid of dissonance. They were kind of like the post-punk group the Raincoats combined with a traditional pop vocal sister group like the Lennon Sisters. But the Roches were way weirder than the clean-cut Lennon Sisters and more musicianly than most post-punk groups.  

Within the first several paragraphs of Blabbermouth, I felt like I'd wandered into a room where people were arguing. Before the book was published, Terre shared a draft of Blabbermouth with her mother and sisters. They objected to her airing of the family's secrets and wrote letters asking her to cease and desist. Terre put the letters at the beginning of the book. 

As a result of the book, she was ousted from the group and apparently has had a strained relationship with her sisters ever since.

I didn't like the family-feud aspect of the book. I love the Roches' music and would prefer that they live in happy harmony, but that's not the way life is. The entire first half of the book is riveting, though. It describes Terre and Maggie's ups and downs as they pursued a music career, and I couldn't stop reading. 

The story feels complete up to their 1975 album Seductive Reasoning and subsequent professional meltdown. Afterward, Suzzy joined the group, and the three sisters became the Roches. At that point, the story skips ahead to Terre's post-Roches life, when she's struggling to make a living as a guitar teacher and make sense of it all. 

Reader reviews of the book say that it should be longer, and I agree, because it seems as if the entire middle of the book is missing. I wanted to read about the other Roches' albums, the group's attempts to go mainstream, their television appearances, their journey from major to independent labels, and all of the other professional and artistic struggles that surrounded the peak years of their popularity. The book skips past all of that.

In the parts that are included, though, Terre doesn't hold back—she writes about some deep, dark, and personal stuff. The naked photo on the cover symbolizes the nakedness within. I've read plenty of biographies but not many memoirs, so this book got me thinking about the ethics of memoir writing. I decided that I'm undecided: I loved Blabbermouth and felt nothing but compassion and affection for the Roches, but I also can understand why Terre's family didn't want some of these stories to be told. Like the book itself, my journey as a reader was filled with tortured introspection. Now I've moved on to a book about psychopathy, and it seems much lighter.