Writer’s Workshop: Cheap Fun

Sign says “buy 3, pay 2.” Image by katermikesch from Pixabay

You know what word gets no respect? Cheap. It means "low-cost" or "inexpensive," but "cheap" is borderline derogatory. It also means "thrifty," but in a bad way.

People of Scottish descent are notorious for being thrifty. An irate Scotsman wrote to a local newspaper and said "If you don’t stop talking about how the Scots are so cheap, I’ll stop borrowing your newspaper." My mother-in-law would use the term "Scotch" for people who were miserly; she never knew her son-in-law was 2% Scottish, at least according to Ancestry DNA.

In fairness, I didn’t know, either. I always suspected it, because I like bagpipe music and Scotch whiskey (which, by the way, ain’t cheap). When you send your DNA to one of those places that tests it and figures out where you’re from, they tell you based on what they know at the time, which is essentially "based on the people who have also sent their DNA in." As more people use the service, they get a better idea of what indicates where you’re from and adjust accordingly.

Larry Lujack, a longtime Chicago disk jockey who spent most of his career at either WLS or WCFL, had a regular feature on his show called the "Cheap, Trashy Showbiz Report." The source for most of the show business news was the National Enquirer, where most of the cheap, trashy showbiz reports are. The Enquirer has higher journalistic standards than most newspapers, because they can be sued for libel.

The Enquirer is but one of a whole host of what my mother-in-law generally referred to as "scandal sheets." My favorite was the Weekly World News, which was loaded with bizarre stories of John F. Kennedy actually being alive and fathering alien children. One can only imagine JFK showing up at Caroline’s house and introducing her to her… well, would it be a brother, a sister, or something else? The scandal sheets were what we called "cheap entertainment," as was MAD magazine, which would always print "PRICE 50¢ CHEAP" on the cover. At least, it was 50¢ when I was in high school reading it…

Song of the Day: Booker T. & The MG’s, “Hang ’em High” #rmf

We’re getting ready to wind up this year’s Rocktober, and I wanted to get a few of my favorites in at the end. Truth is, they’ve all been favorites, but these are special.

First up is the house band at Stax, Booker T. & The MG’s: Booker T. Jones on organ and piano, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass (replacing their original bassist, Lewie Steinberg, who left in 1965), and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. In addition to playing on many of the Stax hits, they had a number of instrumental hits on their own, beginning with "Green Onions" in 1962, maybe their best-known song. I chose a personal favorite, "Hang ‘Em High," from 1968, theme song from the Clint Eastwood movie from that year. It reached #9 on the Hot 100 and #35 on the R&B chart.

Song of the Day: Rufus Thomas, “Walking The Dog” #rmf

Rufus Thomas was an R&B/soul/funk/blues singer, songwriter, comedian, disk jockey and dancer who recorded for Stax throughout the ’60’s and ’70’s. His most famous songs were his novelty dance songs, such as "Do The Funky Chicken," "Do The Funky Penguin," and his highest-charting single, "Walking The Dog," which reached #10 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B chart in 1963.


Top Ten Tuesday: WKDA (1240 AM, Nashville TN), 11/1/59

WKDA in Nashville was the first station to go all rock & roll, where it competed with WMAK through most of the ’60’s. By the ’70’s it was competing with its sister station, WKDF, which was playing album-oriented rock. Eventually the station was sold to a company that made it an all-gospel station and changed its call letters to WNSG. When the call letters became available, they were taken by a company that now broadcasts a Spanish-language religious station at 900 AM. Here’s their Top Ten from 1959.

# Song/Artist Comments
10 Boo Boo Stick Beat
Chet Atkins
An album track from Chet’s twelfth album, Teensville. The song was written by Buddy Harman and John D. Loudermilk.
9 Lonely Street
Andy Williams
A song written by Carl Belew, Kenny Souder, and W. S. Stevenson and originally recorded by Belew. Andy’s cover was the most successful, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100 and #20 on the R&B chart.
8 So Many Ways
Brook Benton
Written by Bobby Stevenson, it was Brook’s third #1 single on the R&B chart in 1959, as well as peaking at #6 on the Hot 100.
7 Mack The Knife
Bobby Darin
A huge hit for Bobby, reaching #1 in the US and UK and #6 on the US R&B chart. Lotte Lenya, spouse of the composer Kurt Weill, earns a mention.
6 Battle Hymn of the Republic
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Not sure if this was the recording that reached #13 on the Hot 100 and won the 1960 Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus, because there are a lot of them on YouTube, but this is the only Top 40 hit the Choir ever had.
5 Primrose Lane
Jerry Wallace
Reached #8 on the Hot 100 and #47 on the year-end Hot 100 nationally. Was the theme song for the 1971 TV series The Smith Family which starred Henry Fonda and Ron Howard.
4 Just Ask Your Heart
Frankie Avalon
Written by Diane DeNota, Joe Ricci, and Pete Damato, this song reached #7 on the Hot 100 and #59 on the year-end Hot 100.
3 Hey Little Girl
Dee Clark
I’m not sure that I even knew that Dee Clark made more records than “Raindrops.” This peaked at #20 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart.
2 Mr. Blue
The Fleetwoods
A song written by DeWayne Blackwall, it became The Fleetwoods’ second #1 single in 1959. Si Zentner, whose orchestra covered “The Stripper,” played trombone on this track.
1 Put Your Head On My Shoulder
Paul Anka
A song written and performed by Anka, this reached #2 nationally, kept out of the #1 spot by Bobby Darin’s “Mack The Knife.”

And that’s Top Ten Tuesday for October 27, 2020.