Monday, March 27, 2017

This Week's Sneak Peek

Checking up on the lyrics to "I've Got a Little List" yesterday, I found that there is a long tradition of altering the words to the song.

And no wonder. The second verse is such that I don't feel I can quote it directly:
There's the [n-word] serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist — I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed — they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she dances, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist —
I don't think she'd be missed — I'm sure she'd not be missed!
My parents had an LP of Martyn Green singing "Famous Gilbert and Sullivan Songs," so in the recording I grew up with, the "n-word" was replaced with "banjo," and the singular anomaly became "the girl who's never kissed." The latter works just fine as far as I'm concerned, but "the banjo serenader" is only slightly less racist, Steve Martin notwithstanding, given the rest of the line.

But you can't change "others of his race" without figuring out what other offensive thing peppermint eaters might do.

I don't remember how the second verse was sanitized the first time I ever saw the song performed live, sometime during the Jimmy Carter administration. I only remember that in the third verse:
And that nisi prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
The judicial humorist — I've got him on the list!
All funny fellows, comic men, and clowns of private life —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as — What d'ye call him — Thingamabob, and likewise — Never-mind,
And Tut-tut-tut — and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who —
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!
"What's-his-name" was followed by "Y'all-know-who." A few years later, I saw it performed with a Reaganesque "Welll...." in that line, which, frankly, missed the mark because Reagan's reputation was not that of an apologetic compromiser.

Something performers and directors might keep in mind if tempted to interpolate an "I can tell you" or "Believe me" in there.

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