Friday, October 11, 2013

You know, the one what walks around the store

Gene Vincent
I've been thinking lately about one of my favorite lines in rock and roll. Yes: no more really needs to be written about "Be-Bop-A-Lula," Gene Vincent's classic 1956 b-side (the a-side was "Woman Love," equally great) yet I've always obsessed over a line in the second verse. Vincent's ecstatic, breathy vocal renders the words superfluous, really; he's so hyped-up about this girl that you can virtually hear his hard-on. What I love is the age-old disconnect between the urge to say what he needs to say and his inability to say it, the origin point of most rock and roll, I'd argue. The song's writing history is predictably disputed. In 1970, Vincent claimed that he wrote the song with fellow U.S. Naval Hospital patient Donald Graves after a bender and an impromptu glance at a comic book: "I come in dead drunk and stumble over the bed," Vincent recounted. "And me and Don Graves were looking at this bloody book; it was called 'Little Lulu'. And I said, "Hell, man, it's 'Be-Bop-a-Lulu.' And he said, 'Yeah, man, swinging.' And we wrote this song."

Of greater interest is the origin of the song's title. Via Wiki:
The phrase "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is almost identical to "Be-Baba-Leba", the title of a # 3 R&B chart hit for Helen Humes in 1945, which became a bigger hit when recorded by Lionel Hampton as "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop." This phrase, or something very similar, was widely used in jazz circles in the 1940s, giving its name to the bebop style, and possibly being ultimately derived from the shout of "Arriba! Arriba!" used by Latin American bandleaders to encourage band members.
I love that the title evokes the image of a bandleader trying to whip a song into a froth, because "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is as much a song about rock and roll as it's a song about a girl. And for how many countless tunes can that argument be made? (For the record, here's the band lineup: Cliff Gallup on lead guitar, "Wee" Willie Williams on rhythm, "Jumpin'" Jack Neal on string bass, and Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell on drums.) The song's all about the urge to express. Here's the second verse:
Well, she's the one that gots that beat
She's the one with the flyin' feet
She's the one that walks around the store
She's the one that gets more more more
She's the one that walks around the store. That's the line that slays me, every time. He's already drooled over the red jeans that the Queen of the Teens wears, and that she "loves" him. In the second verse he praises her dance moves, but the idle but obsessive observation "she's the one that walks around the store" seals her grip on him. It's the song's most potent line because it's the most surprising line, and the moment surprises him. Of course she's hot in her jeans moving in front of the jukebox. That's she's hot simply walking around the store? Just walking. Around the store. How ordinary a day that must've been as the singer glances up from the register where he's working or stares in through the front plate glass window or peeps from behind his comic book: she's just walking around the store. It's such a daily, trite, boring detail in the midst of a sizzling song, and so it sizzles along with the rest of his helplessly horny observations.

She's sexiest when she's not trying to be. He's hooked. He's sunk:

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