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Oh, 1950s song lyrics...

So, this is kind of random and meandering, but I wanted to note it down...

A while back I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't find Frankie Laine songs for sale on iTunes. Laine was a popular singer of the 40s/50s, and when I was small, we inherited my grandmother's cabinet Victrola and a collection of 78s and other antique records of amusing thickness and sometimes amusing colors. (The Victrola itself was painted an unfortunate shade of pea green, and it remained that color until my brother took it and stripped it down to its original oak, and he's had it ever since.) Anyway, my point: from the time when I was very small, I can remember playing Frankie Laine records on that Victrola, and I had my favorites, and I was thinking, you know, I'd like to have copies of those songs that I haven't heard in like 30+ years.

So I guess between the last time I wondered this, and this past Xmas when I was chatting about it with my brother, iTunes *did* in fact get a whole bunch of Frankie Laine songs, so I went in there and bought the Essential Handful that I really wanted ("The Cry of the Wild Goose", "Mule Train", "The Kid's Last Fight", "Rawhide"), and then a couple more that I recognized but hadn't realized Laine had done.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is: "Rose, Rose I love you" (1951) is an INCREDIBLY CATCHY song, and I have it earwormed now, and... it makes me want to punch the lyricist in the face.

Why? Because it's a song about a white sailor guy (probably Navy, during WWII) singing about how he's fallen in love with this Malaysian woman (a rickshaw operator, no less), and it's breaking his heart because now he has to get back on his boat and sail away and never see her again. And his paens to her beauty and grace and style are lovely and all, but -- DUDE. First: exoticism LIEK WOAH. Second: does it really never occur to you, in 1951, that you could not be an asshole, and marry the lady? I realize that interracial marriages faced issues in that time period, but also, it's not like they didn't happen. Move to Hawai'i. Stay in Malaysia. Settle in California, which had repealed anti-miscegenation laws in 1948. SOMETHING, if you love her that much! Geez!

Looking up info on the song, to find out when it was recorded, I then came across some further fascinating facts about it. The song itself was originally a Chinese pop hit, from 1940. With a bit more digging, I managed to find a page that the original lyrics in Mandarin, with a translation of them, and also with the lyrics of the actual Frankie Laine hit.

As you can see, the original song is pretty much a straight-up love song. The love is not without its ups and downs (as the "rose" metaphor is obviously chosen for the fact that roses are lovely, but roses also have thorns), but it's *not* a song about "I love you, my exotic Oriental beauty, but my ship's leaving port and I gotta go". Apparently, we have a British guy to thank for the new English lyrics (although that page doesn't actually mention that he did the lyrics; the page about the song does).

Still, damned catchy.

Also, in conclusion: "The Kid's Last Fight" is just as weirdly inappropriately bouncy as I originally thought it was, given that the story of the song (remember when songs told long, involved stories?) is about a 19th century boxer who just has to win this fight so he can get the money and buy him and his girl the bungalow of their dreams, and how he does win the fight, and then he keels over dead. The end. Even when I was, like, 5, and loved the song because it was bouncy, I had some inkling of the fact that maybe it shouldn't be quite so bouncy when it was about, y'know, DEATH.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
If I recall there were regluations forbidding marrying the locals. If he wanted to marry her he'd have had to stay in Malaysia and that was if he was lucky enough to be able to leave the military right then without being AWOL. If he had to go fight, it wasn't all that likely he'd find her again even if he managed to go back. Many populations in that area at that time were frequently uprooted by the war even if there wasn't any fighting locally.
Jan. 27th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
A verse about "when this war/my tour of duty is over, I totally intend to come back and marry you" would go a LONG way, is all I'm sayin'. I don't mind if the lyrical story of the song is "tragically, war is parting us right now, but I will return to you come what may!" But that's not what it's about, as it stands.
Jan. 27th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
True, but he had no idea if he'd live and he just wasn't allowed to bring her back to the States. You had to apply for permission and it was rarely granted. He'd have had to live in Malaysia, if he could afford to go back, and that outcome is much less likely.

It would have been nice if that was a lyric, but as it stands it is an accurate representation of what actually happened much of the time.
Jan. 27th, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
You made me think of the similar (story) in El Paso, by Marty Robbins, which I just heard the other day and decided I really need to download soon. I've loved this ballad for decades. Wiki has some interesting background on it (Grateful Dead even cover it), explaining the song spawned sequels, and even a movie. Has anyone ever put on a country/western opera? :)

I also have a couple dozen of those 78s that belonged to my mom. I hate to toss them, but as a kid I broke the edges of my favorite ones; they're not as sturdy as vinyl.
Jan. 27th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
You've made me think about the cultural mythology of the 1950's. In the midst ofJoe McCarthy and Nixon and all the other awful stuff was this story of how perfect everything was. I love how your post speaks to just how untrue that was.

PS. Just saw Starting Gate's post about El Paso. Then there's Me and My Uncle....so many tragic songs with catchy happy tunes. :::ponders:::

Edited at 2009-01-27 10:45 pm (UTC)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )