Get the Message Songs
Having had a household were I was outnumbered by three females to one male (me), I think for the most part “I got the message”. I am versed on at least the basics like “put the toilet seat down”, don’t ask how much she spent at the hair salon and yes of course one must get their nails done at least twice a month! My wife also has messages about Global Human Resource Strategies, (my since moved on) two daughters messages about; Linguistics and Advanced Geriatric Care respectively, these I understand much less. Apart from those and a few others I’ve picked up messages through songs, so I thought it might make for a good topic and if not… it’s been nice talking to you all every week 😉
I have blogged what I (from a male perspective anyhow) and many others consider one of the most powerful female message songs ever, “Respect” from the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin . Of course a cover of the Otis Redding written song, but Aretha changed the lyrics to come from a woman’s point of view, and make it one of the greatest songs of all time. I am sorry for constantly bringing this song up, I’ll not find a better one to make my point(s), but I will find another one soon!
Let’s see if you agree that the theme suits these songs, most written by women, all were sung from a female perspective and by a woman (not always the case). Aside from the words themselves it can be about the delivery and the impression the song will leave with the listener.
We could go back further but let’s just start from 1901, when Carrie Jacobs-Bond published the song “I Love You Truly” and her message was “I love you truly, truly dear, Life with its sorrow, life with its tear, Fades into dreams when I feel you are near, For I love you truly, truly dear.” First recorded by Elsie Baker with Orchestra in 1912. In the days before recorded music became accessible, “Parlour Music” was a popular way for people to be entertained by musicians and singers, to that end Jacobs-Bond wrote “A Perfect Day” published in 1910, the manuscript sold a stunning 25 million copies and yes she was a very wealthy woman! She also wrote among many other tunes besides “A Perfect Day”, but it was first recorded by Cecil Fanning in 1911 and then by Elsie Baker in 1913, and by Bing Crosby with Ken Darby Singers (1951). The song “I Love You Truly” appears in “It’s a Wonderful Life” sung by the original Bert and Ernie. Connie Francis with the Jordanaires (1961).
I’ve also blogged about Ma Rainey (Gertrude Pridgett) known as the “Queen of the Blues” in past posts, she most certainly was not shy about delivering a message, which took incredible courage to record back in the 1920’s-but she also took full advantage of the fact there were no established rules at that time. There is a biopic due out this year on NetFlix. “Farewell Daddy Blues” was written and recorded by Ma herself in August of 1924 at a studio in New York City. It was the ‘B’ side to a song with lyrics that would put some modern rap music to shame, too much for my blog I’m not afraid to say. The message to her man in the ‘PG’ rated song was “When you look for your mama, she’s gone with the farewell blues”. Covered by Margot Bingham who played Daughter Maitland in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’.
Saying goodbye to your man was not an uncommon theme for a Blues song and the legend Billie Holiday wrote “So sorry dear it end this way, Since the world begin, The old folks say, Everything happens for the best” in her 1939 song “Everything Happens for the Best“. For writing and singing her own songs Holliday is best known for “God Bless the Child” (co-written with her collaborator Arthur Herzog Jr.) from 1939, first recorded in 1941. Cover by Dee Dee Bridgewater (2010).
I talked briefly about the great Édith Piaf in my post on World Music, but there’s so much more to talk about, like her recording in 1950 where she and (oft collaborator) the prolific writer Marguerite Monnot wrote “Hymne à l’amour“. This song has been covered over 170 times not only in French, but Danish, Finnish, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The English lyrics were written by Geoffrey Parsons, and the first recording was in 1953 by Vera Lynn (with Orchestra and Chorus directed by Roland Shaw – Charles Smart at the Organ). If ever there was a song with a message of love than it’s this one, just beautiful. Paul Carrack (with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010).
Another early remarkable female songwriters with a message was “Odetta” (Odetta Holmes) who along with Nina Simone and Billie Holiday was a strong voice for the Civil Rights movement. “Hit or Miss” by Odetta (1970). “Four Women” by Nina Simone (1965).
“You Don’t Own Me” was not written by a woman but by John Madara and Dave White, a pair of professional songwriters. When sung by the 17 year old Leslie Gore in 1963 however, ‘The New York Times’ referred to it as “indelibly defiant”. It is credited with inspiring young women and being part of the so called “Second-wave feminism” movement of the 1960’s through to the late 70’s. This demonstrates my earlier point “about the delivery and the impression the song will leave with the listener”. A cover by Grace (2015).
I seem to have developed a bit of a chronological order here and I’m running out toward the end so there will be at least a part two depending on how popular this is. I want to explore many more songs up to and including at least the near present which is a bit of an exception for me, anyway, here is another song.
“Sing in the Sunshine” was written by Gale Garnett when she was around 20 years old. The message in this song is pretty self explanatory if you listen to the lyrics that are in part “I will never love you, The cost of love’s too dear, But though I’ll never love you, I’ll stay with you one year”. Covered over 30 times including by Dolly Parton, Dean Martin and Bobby Bare & Skeeter Davis.
Actually it was first recorded by Gale’s then boyfriend, Hoyt Axton (who later wrote “Joy to the World“). To say she has led an interesting life is an understatement. Born July 17, 1942 in Auckland New Zealand, in 1953 at age 11 her family moved to Canada. Her parents died when she was young and left to her own resources she pursued her already growing acting career. She then fell into singing as a way to make money and soon became known on the burgeoning 60’s music club scenes in New York and San Francesco. Which is when she met Hoyt and wrote the song for him. It was not a hit and the Record Company compelled her to record the song herself. So she did and it became a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart and hit # 4 on Billboard Hot 100 in the US and #2 in Canada. It hit #1 on the Cashbox chart and was a #42 hit on the Country chart as well. It won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1965 and this launched her somewhat reluctantly, into a singing career which lasted for four solo albums and two with her group ‘Gentle Reign’. Like in the song, I don’t believe she ever married and has long since moved back to Canada, on to more acting on stage and in film and TV. She now has a successful career as a novelist.
I found a fascinating piece of trivia about Gale, in the original 1963 ‘Pink Panther’ movie (with David Niven, Peter Sellers and Robert Wagner) she was the voice of the owner/holder of the diamond, Princess Dala. The actor Claudia Cardinale, who played the role was Italian and her english was not very strong so they dubbed in Gale Garnett reading the lines.
Hello and best wishes to all my friends and ‘listeners’ at McGarrell Place!
References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com, https://billieholiday.com, https://www.lyricfind.com/, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057413/?ref_=tt_ch
images: https://www.gigsalad.com/Singers/Singing-Group, Gale Garnett (1969, photograph by Boris Spremo).
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[…] Talk. Some of my past posts on this topic include; Women in Music, Women of Rock, Sexism in Song, Get the Message Songs, Nina Simone, Rebel Girls, Linda Ronstadt and Aretha Franklin among […]