Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh sixties, where is your swing?

Stupid memory tricks: I'm haranguing the boys into getting ready for their half-day at school (parent-teacher conferences in the afternoon), and a tune comes into my head from decades ago. It's one of those insidious novelty instrumentals that have infested the pop charts over the years, like "March of the Mods" from 1964, which became a fixture of teenage dances as a kind of update to the conga.

I vaguely recall that the tune was whistled, and from somewhere in the recesses of memory comes the performer's name "Whistling Jack Smith." A quick Google later -- and who's not up for a quick Google on a damp morning? -- and there's the title: "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman," from 1967.  (A year that otherwise produced some very good stuff. Sergeant Pepper, for example. "All You Need is Love." Spurs beat Chelsea in the F.A. Cup final. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the U.K. The "Summer of Love" began.)

Switch to the glories of YouTube, and you get this.

(Oh, please click. Truly one of the strangest things you'll ever witness. An attempt to do early MTV with three live black and white TV cameras and one man whistling. We were so easily pleased in those days. And apparently -- bless you, Wikipedia -- the character in the video was not Whistling Jack Smith and didn't record the original tune. The whistler who did record the tune wasn't called Jack Smith either, but may have been the same siffleur who did the whistling bits for the soundtrack of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.)

"I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman," as a title, seems to be a play on "I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet," which was also a song (with words!), but this was based on the name of a famous 1960s boutique that popularized the military look used by Jimi Hendrix and -- yes -- the Beatles on the cover of -- yes -- Sergeant Pepper.

I vaguely remembering going into the Piccadilly Circus branch, in the days when I was deemed old enough to be allowed to make the eleven-mile tube trip from Hounslow to central London on my own -- my early teens, early 1970s. I was disappointed that, by then, it just seemed to be another store selling jeans.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Nothing like 2+ minutes of a guy whistle-syncing and making vaguely dancelike movements. I did recognize the song as soon as it started, though I had no idea that was the title.

    Side Note: Lord Kitchener was also personally responsible for a particular style of grafting knitted stitches together for seamless toes in socks. I'm not kidding.