Earworms · Music

April’s Earworms: Ne-Yo, Culture and Kitty Kallen

This month’s earworms are just snatches of songs, a few lines here and there that I sing involuntarily. The first is Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”, a song I didn’t hear when it first came out. It was a UK #1 ten years ago this month, when my wife had her last Big Birthday, and when she was expecting our second child. She didn’t suffer too much from morning sickness during that pregnancy but when she did “So Sick” was top of the charts, first in the US and then in the UK. (Just the one week in the UK; “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley had just come out, and that was #1 for the next 9 weeks.) I finally heard the song a few years later. Ne-Yo is a guy, so he’s not suffering from morning sickness, and the song isn’t about a pregnant partner either. In the song he’s split up from his girl, and the radio stations just keep on playing those love songs. He’s sick of them, and most days, many times a day, I sing that little bit of the chorus: “I’m so sick of love songs / so tired of tears”. I don’t even know how it goes after that, so I’ll listen to it again. You can do so too, here.

Other snatches of songs that keep coming to mind are from Culture’s classic 1977 reggae album “Two 7s Clash”, which I mentioned in last month’s Earworms piece and which I have been playing on CD on the rare occasions when I’m in the car. We’re heading north by car at the weekend to visit some good friends. This CD will be my contribution to the journey’s music choices, probably alternating with songs from musical theatre and my wife’s current favourite, “The Labour Collection”, a 4-CD compilation we put together back in 2004 to accompany the birth of our son. No, we didn’t play a single one of these 80+ songs during the labour itself. Getting back to Culture, on the album they’re getting ready to ride the Lion to Zion, they’re waiting for the Black Starliner, Natty Dread is Taking Over, and they’re Alone in the Wilderness. But the words that my son and I sing most often, from the title track, are an approximation of, “Wat a liv an bambaie / When the two sevens clash”.

This lyrics website explains it all:

“Wat a liiv an bambaie” – means literally, “What is left for by and by” “What will be left”, when “the two sevens clash”.
It was believed that on July 7th 1977 (7-7-’77) something apocalyptic would happen.

I’m not aware that anything apocalyptic did happen on that date, in 1977 (it was a Thursday) but for us Londoners 7/7 is now linked with the bombings in 2005, the worst thing that’s happened during my lifetime in my home city, when the two 7s clashed.

And there’s been a third theme to this month’s earworms: Kitty Kallen’s “Little Things Mean a Lot”. I think that it features in a current advert but the song has been bubbling away in my mind for a while. Kitty died in January of this year (aged 94) and Paul Gambaccini played this song on his show on 6 February, in the “Matter of Life and Death” feature. I heard it then, loved it, forgot about it, and have returned to it. I still don’t know all the words, just the first, beautiful verse (words by Edith Lindeman): “Blow me a kiss from across the room / Say I look nice when I’m not / Touch my hair as you pass my chair / Little things mean a lot”. It was Billboard’s #1 song of the year in 1954, and you can find it here.

So, a varied month of tunes going through my head, displacing “Buffalo Soldier” from last month: an American R&B love song from 10 years ago, a classic reggae album from the 1970s and a 1950s #1 from a female singer who was successful in both the Big Band era of the 1940s and in the rock era. Kitty Kallen retired from view when the Beatles came along. The band covered her 1944 US #1 “Besame Mucho” (“Cha-Cha-Boom”). I have just learnt that it was on their demo for Decca in 1962, when the record company rejected them. You can hear it here. It’s unlikely to displace any of this month’s tunes from my brain.


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