Vaughn Monroe—“Black Denim Trousers”

Since I heard it in a BBC documentary about Mods and Rockers, I’ve been enjoying this Lieber-Stoller rock’n’roll song, sung by the not very rock’n’roll baritone Vaughn Monroe. It uses the rebellious and dangerous spirit connoted by the biker uniform of jeans (denim trousers?) and a black leather jacket, a spirit that some argue has been diluted many times over since Monroe and poor Mary Lou lamented this nameless west coast rider.

He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up ‘cicle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101

Well, he never washed his face and he never combed his hair
He had axle grease embedded underneath his fingernails
On the muscle of his arm was a red tattoo
A picture of a heart saying “Mother, I love you”

He had a pretty girlfriend by the name of Mary Lou
But he treated her just like he treated all the rest
And everybody pitied her and everybody knew
He loved that doggone motorcycle best

He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up ‘cicle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101

Mary Lou, poor girl, she pleaded and she begged him not to leave
She said “I’ve got a feeling if you ride tonight I’ll grieve”
But her tears were shed in vain and her every word was lost
In the rumble of his engine and the smoke from his exhaust

Then he took off like the devil and there was fire in his eyes!
He said “I’ll go a thousand miles before the sun can rise.”
But he hit a screamin’ diesel that was California-bound
And when they cleared the wreckage, all they found

Was his black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
But they couldn’t find the ‘cicle that took off like a gun
And they never found the terror of Highway 1-0-1

What is taste, anyway?

Carl Wilson is a music journalist, and when he was offered a chance to write an entire book about one album, he chose Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk About Love.”


Not because he loves Celine Dion’s music. Because he wanted to understand why so many others did, when he hated it.

Ultimately, he found himself learning about the philosophy of taste. What it means, why we have it (or don’t) and how we judge the taste of others.

Above is a ten-minute conversation between Carl and I on the subject. The rest of the interview - with a lot more Celine talk - will air on my NPR show Bullseye next week, but we wanted to share this as a web exclusive.

Give it a listen… and tell us what you think.

William Onyeabor - Fantastic Man

This is the jam right now.

Songs of Tailors

I mentioned yesterday how I’m working my way through Thomas Girtin’s Nothing but the Best, a book about the history of English craftsmen. It’s full of great little stories. 

Like this one about how tailors used to sit cross legged on the tables and floors of the workroom, as you see above (two of the photos were taken at Henry Poole & Co, the acknowledged “founders” of Savile Row and creators of the dinner suit). Tailors use to sit like this even when pressing and molding the jackets they worked on, and they carried the sleeveboards across their knees. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that a professional tailor’s iron at this time weighed eighteen pounds or more, so working like this for hours on end would physically “deform” the workman. 

Still, Mr. McCulloch, a tailor who was interviewed for the book, remembers those being happy times. He notes that they used to sing songs while they worked, such as this one written by an old trouser maker named Harry Zietz.

Bill Smith was a tailor, a ‘prentice he’d been

Whose work was as perfect as ever was seen

He knew how to build up a front and to press

A frock coat, a morning coat, lounge, or a dress

For full forty years at the trade he had worked

And during that period no job he had shirked

But one fact his conscience continually mocked

He’d not made a job yet that couldn’t be cocked!

Chorus — Fol-de-rol-liddle-lol; fol-de-rol-lay;

     More collar-ology every day!

Said Smith: “Now this frock coat I’m starting to make

Will be absolutely perfection I’ll stake;

Every point will be studied, the collar fit clean, 

The edges I’ll prick with a fifteen between.” 

The fronts then he molded artistic and true

He pinked it so much that his shopmates turned blue

A penny an hour were his earnings if clocked

On this wonderful garment that couldn’t be cocked.

Chorus — Fol-de-rol-liddle-lol; fol-de-rol-lay;

     No collar-ology encore I’ll say …

The song then takes an unexpected turn, as our tailor Bill Smith finds out he made the wrong thing

… the words that gave them a most terrible shock

Were “I ordered a lounge and you’ve made me a frock.”

The chorus ends with:

Fol-de-rol-liddle-lol; the theme of my song —

     No matter what happens the journeyman is wrong!

(Note: “lounge” here means lounge suit, which is another term for the kind of suit you typically see today). 

As a follow-up to that video we posted - the one with Eddie Cantor and his hilarious vaudeville sketch - check out this MP3 clip of Cab Calloway performing “Blue Serge Suit.”

Bobby Darin also riffs on it for a bit at the 2 minute and 20 second mark of this video

Pretty cool. 

(Thanks to Michael for the tip)

“White bucks and saddle shoes
That’s what the kids all choose
Chinos and slacks of course
Oh, yes, they sure look boss
Getting ready to go steady are
White bucks and saddle shoes
Button-down shirt and a crewneck sweater
Lets all the kids look so much better”
— Lyrics to Bobby Pedrick Junior’s "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes." (via Ivy Style)

PTO Man: Ian Bruce

Excerpted from S2E3 of Put This On: “(New) Traditions”

Ian Bruce, painter and member of The Correspondents, on how an artist should dress, the tradition of the Soho Dandy.

"Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?

Isn’t it a nobby one, and just the proper style?

I should like to have one; Just the same as that!

Where’er I go, they shout ‘Hello! Where did you get that hat?’”

- Lyrics to "Where Did You Get That Hat?"

(Pictured: Mayor Willie Brown, who always looks great in a hat)

"Shoppin’ for Clothes" by The Coasters

This Leiber & Stoller tune was written in the mid-1950s after Billy Guy from The Coasters heard "Clothes Line" by Boogaloo and His Gallent Crew on the radio, but couldn’t find it in the stores. I actually like the original version better, but The Coasters version is more popular. The BBC also had a short little skit with the song, which you can see here

The day you wake up with 10% of Sam Cooke’s class, elegance and soul is the day you’re a better man.