Boomers grew up with rock ‘n’ roll, the best music ever, eclipsing Viking horn solos.
Occasionally, however, bizarre lyrics intruded. We would buy albums by the dozens and grab lyric sheets to seek deeper meanings of favorite songs.
Consider “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. The band performed recently at the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days and was heard across several zip codes.
The song “25 or 6 to 4” was played about a million times at sporting events by the pep band of my school, Elmer Fudd High, “Home of the Hunting Wabbits,” and was beloved by acne-challenged horn sections across the country.
As a trumpet player, I was the proud owner of the four-record collection of Chicago’s greatest hits — and other songs like the aptly titled “It Better End Soon.”
The songwriter of “25 or 6 to 4,” Robert Lamm, was living in a house overlooking the lights of Los Angeles with a herd of hippies, which is another name for night people with long hair and sketchy hygiene practices.
Lamm had already written “waiting for the break of day, searching for something to say” when he looked at his watch — even hipsters wore them in those days — and it was either 25 or 26 minutes to 4 a.m. Viola! He had his “catch line” and could finally jump in his bed and get some winks.
“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival is another song that makes Boomers curious. What is a bad moon? And why is it rising? The band, after smash hits with “Proud Mary” and “Susie Q,” needed another single for momentum. Inspired by the black-and-white 1941 movie “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” especially the hurricane scenes, John Fogerty, feeling doomed, said he wrote the song about a coming apocalypse.
“Louie Louie” with lyrics written by Richard Berry is another classic that has Boomers scratching their heads. “Louie Louie, Me gotta go, Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said,” was a strange chorus for a love song — and challenging for cover bands. It is the Kingsmen’s most famous recording, a song Berry first recorded in 1957 with his band, the Pharaohs.
Another song with strange lyrics has a local connection. It’s “Witch Doctor,” a No. 1 hit recorded in 1958 by David Seville of Chipmunks fame. The song goes: “Hey witch doctor, give us the magic words. All right, you go ooh ee, ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang.” What songwriter Ross Bagdasarian Sr. was thinking when he wrote the song in 1957, the year of my birth, is anybody’s guess, but ever since people have been singing it with gusto.
Other weird rock lyrics that spring to mind include The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” about eggmen and goo goo g’joob and “Tom bo li de se de moi ya, yeah jambo jambo” by Lionel Richie in “All Night Long.” Again, good luck to cover bands.
A few strange songs deserve honorable mention. They include the catchy “Horse with No Name” by America (1972) — “In the desert you don’t remember your name.” Weird. Apparently you can’t remember your horse’s name either.
Also head-scratchers are “Muskrat Love” by Captain & Tennille (1977) about a rodent love affair, and the Trashmen in the early 1960s with the impactful “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.”
Of course, back in the day, when ears were expendable, I listened to these songs at jet-landing volume.
Now, when wife Wonder asks me to do the dishes, with “ting tang walla walla bing bang papa-oom-mow-mow” ringing in my ears, I feign deafness. Never works. But a man’s gotta try.