Monday, February 20, 2012

I am Not a Number, I'm a Free...Oh, Wait a Minute, I am a Number. Sorry.

IT was conceived, like so many other things, over a beer. I had recently moved my family from the East Village to the Lower East Side (a tiny distance geographically, but a world away in New York City). Whenever time allowed, I'd swing around the block to Lotus, a no-frills corner bar on Clinton Street with big windows and an eclectic mix of locals. Some were on the way up, like Stef, an unremarkable girl from the neighborhood who would stop by to drop off her gig fliers and smoke a cigarette with Ivan the bartender (apparently, she was signed to Interscope and performed around town under the name Lady Gaga). Some were on the way down, like a cohort of regulars known as Rafael the Failed Poet, Full-of-Shit Ken, and Bad Ronald.
That splendid paragraph opens the introduction to If 6 Was 9 And Other Assorted Number Songs -- Vol 1: The No. 1 Song in Heaven to Peng! 33, by my old colleague and chum David Klein. And the "it" being described (in, as it were, utero) is both the book itself and its rationale -- the discovery of a whole new phylum of trivia, i.e. songs with numbers in their titles.

The book had its origins in a column -- aptly titled Numerology -- that Dave wrote for the estimable Merry Swankster music site. The original entries have been cleaned up and expanded for the dead-trees version, but now as then, there are rules for this sort of thing.

Herewith a couple (although not all) of them, as established by Dave, for those playing at home.
The definitive song must have a number in its title somewhere.

The number has to stand alone (so "1999" would not be eligible for 19 or 99; "In the Year 2525" is only eligible for top honors in the #2,525 category. Sorry Zager and Evans fans).

Ordinals are OK ("19th Nervous Breakdown;" "32nd Floor").

Classical music compositions (Mozart's Sympony No. 27 i G Major, K. 199) are not eligible. It would be idiotic to try to compare the relative merits of Haydn's Symphony No. 96 with "'96 Tears."
As you can tell from the title, volume I expounds upon the relative merit of songs featuring the numbers 1 to 33; a second volume, due later in the year, will take the list into the mid-70s. The third (for which the entries have not yet been written) will appear some time in 2013, barring an invasion from space, a la Independence Day.

I should admit, by the by, to a certain relief when I talked to Dave in an expensive long-distance telephone call last week. Which is to say that I didn't recognize scads of the bands and songs he discusses in the book, but fortunately for my critical self-esteem, it turned out that many of them had been unfamiliar to him as well before he embarked on the project. To paraphrase Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich -- "It's called research, Ed."

Interestingly, while two songs that tied for the number 21 honors were by artists who might be described as overly familiar -- Chuck Berry and The Shirelles -- the songs themselves were obscure in the extreme. To wit...

Chuck Berry's "21" comes from his period of greatest innovation but oly came to light fairly recently, on a release of Berry's complete 1950s Chess recordings...While the music is giddy enough, with a rhythmic scheme similar to "Maybelline," the sentiment is rather tame for a Chuck Berry song. The singer is a practical guy who can tamp down his lust and wait patiently for his sweetheart to turn 21 so he can marry her.

The Shirelles - Twenty-One .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine
The young woman belting out the Shirelles' "Twenty-One" has no time for delayed gratification. The song's caffeinated clip and string heavy arrangement give it a touch of camp and, true to it's era, the final verse tries to rein in the singer's ardor...[The song], a B-side written by Luther Dixon, who also penned "16 Candles," "Mama Said" and "Soldier Boy," is a credible slice of teenage life circa 1961.
I should also add that when I asked Dave what was his favorite of all the songs he'd discovered while doing the research, it was this charmingly salacious early 60s doozy by The Showmen (of "It Will Stand" fame....

...which will appear, for obvious reasons as the number 39 entry in Vol. 2.

I should further add that, for my money, this song from the current volume, which shows up in the discussion for the number 28 top slot, is just too cool for words.

In any case, the bottom line is that If 6 Was 9 is simultaneously a really staggering piece of pop/rock historical scholarship as well as perhaps the most entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny bathroom read, in any genre, so far in the 21st (heh) Century.

Dave has advised me that there'll be an official website for the book on-line in a couple of weeks, where you'll be able to listen to audio clips of many of the songs he unearthed along with other neat stuff; I'll remind you all about this when the site goes up.

In the meantime, you can -- and clearly should -- order If 6 Was 9 either as a Kindle-ready e-book over here or in old-fashioned paperback form over here.


Shriner said...

So, is it *all* obscurities in the top 33?

Or are there familiar songs like:

25 or 6 to 4

6 O'Clock


7 and 7 is


1, 2, 3 Red Light


Gummo said...


That's Jayne Mansfield ... with EXTRA booty.

ms. rosa said...

What Gummo said! "Brick House"? pshaw... Bring on The Showmen girls!

steve simels said...

So, is it *all* obscurities in the top 33?

That would be telling.

Seriously -- no. It's a mix.

Brooklyn Girl said...

I sincerely hope the obvious one isn't number one ...

And my words are gnorgan Navigation.

steve simels said...

The link to order the paperback was fehkakteh, but it has now been fixed.

Your welcome very much.

Maude Lange said...

I luv 28. Nickie St. Nicholas?

Enough with the Gaga-bashing already - it's unseemly.

steve simels said...

Hey -- I've totally come around to Gaga since her duet with Tony Bennett. I think she's hilarious, in a good way.

I've moved on making fun of Lana Del Rey, or as I like to call her "Marlene Dietrich on cough syrup."