18 October 2007
Only in Oz (8) Susan Christie - I Love Onions
Another in my series of posts about tracks that charted in Australia but not in their countries of origin.
8. Susan Christie - I Love Onions
(Donald Cochrane - John Hill)
Columbia single (USA) #43595
CBS single (Australia) #BA-221298
Australian charts: #24 Melbourne
This is one of those songs that is remembered as a hit, and it might have been in some neighbourhoods, but it was never a "hit" in the sense of making the Top 40 in the States, for example. I remember it because I was listening to Top 40 radio from Melbourne, the only major Australian city where it charted. Even then, it looms larger in my memory than #24.
Perhaps its reputation has something to do with its later appearance on collections of novelty songs, and it really is a novelty, with cute, screwy lyrics delivered in a breathy flapper's voice (or do I hear Marilyn Monroe?), backed by kazoo and tent show band. In the States, I Love Onions also became better known through the children's TV show Captain Kangaroo, which apparently gave it a good run.
There was a fair bit of this droll retro stuff around in the 60s. For some reason the jazz era was seen as a source of hilarity by some of the post-war generation, and there was a familiar line of ironic approximations of trad jazz, jugbands, Tin Pan Alley crooners and dancehall spruikers, a line that stretched at least from the Temperance Seven (You're Driving me Crazy, #1 UK 1961) to the New Vaudeville Band (Winchester Cathedral, #4 UK 1966) and beyond. Oh look: there was The Eggplant That Ate Chicago by Dr West's Medicine Show (1966), and Hello Hello by Sopwith Camel (#26 USA 1967).
You know the sort of thing I mean: slightly old fashioned music with its tongue in its cheek, and I usually adored it.
I don't know that there was ever a satisfying name for this tendency, but it was pervasive enough to be found in the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper - visually as much as musically - and in the op shop side of Swinging London fashions. The Beatles had quite a line of their own in retro schtick: the spoken intros to Honey Pie ("Now she's hit the bigtime...") and Magical Mystery Tour ("Roll up, roll up, step right this way.."), and whole songs like Your Mother Should Know and When I'm 64.
The 60s throwbacks were really a selective parody of the past, as if Rudy Vallee with a megaphone were the only singer from the old days. Anyone who actually explored the music of the pre-war years would have found a rich popular culture that easily matched the 60s for its innovation and influence. In the 60s we were entertained by a comic book version of the real 20s and 30s, lots of fun but a bit sloppy with its references.
About Susan Christie not a lot seems to be known. Some sources repeat the theory that she is the sister of Lou Christie, but I'm not convinced that this is true. She released an album in 1970, Paint A Lady, produced by John Hill who back in '66 had produced and co-written I Love Onions. Although Paint A Lady has been reissued by Finders Keepers Records Susan Christie has retained a low profile, as in no profile.
The notes on Paint A Lady at Finders Keepers are pretty much what you'll find around the Net. Bruce Eder at All Music Guide adds that Susan Christie, from Philadelphia, had been in a folk ensemble called The Highlanders and that she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music, but he also concedes that "she has been something of a mystery, as to her fate and career". The lyrics are easily found online.
You can listen to the track at YouTube and someone has posted Yesterday Where's My Mind? a 9-minute track from Paint A Lady. Don't get too excited: the video is mainly a shot of the album cover and some sepia artworks.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.