18 October 2007

Only in Melbourne (1) Susan Christie - I Love Onions (1966)

Only in Melbournetracks that didn't chart Top 40 in their countries of origin but did better in the capital of my home state, Victoria. See also: Only in Oz.

1. Susan Christie - I Love Onions
(Donald Cochrane - John Hill)
USA 1966
Columbia single (USA)
CBS single (Australia) #BA-221298
Australian charts: #24 Melbourne (#46 Australia)

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.

In New Zealand the song became known through a popular local version by Sandy Edmonds (1967): see my feature on Sandy's version over at my website.

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 pretty sure that's not true. Their biographies don't seem to overlap, apart from both being from Pittsburgh. Lou's real surname is Sacco, in case that's a clue.) She recorded a then-unreleased album around 1960-70, Paint A Lady, produced by John Hill who back in '66 had produced and co-written I Love Onions. Although Paint A Lady has now been released, Susan Christie has retained a low profile, as in no profile.

You can listen to I Love Onions at YouTube and someone has posted Yesterday Where's My Mind? a 9-minute track from Paint A Lady.

- - -

UPDATE 2021 By now, much more information about Susan Christie can be found online. See, for example, Bruce Eder's biography of Susan Christie at AllMusic. There is a good Wikipedia page about her, and Spotify has her 1969/70 album Paint A Lady (unreleased at the time) as well as a 2018 collection of her singles. Bruce Eder tells us that Christie is from Philadelphia, she had been in a folk ensemble called The Highlanders, and she attended Boston's Berklee College of Music. He also concedes that "she has been something of a mystery, as to her fate and career". The lyrics are easily found online.

Chart positions from Gavin Ryan's Australian chart books.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I am the author of the video "Yesterday, Where's My Mind" Youtube. This is one of my favorite songs... I am Spanish and I do not speak much English and I'm looking the lyrics of this song... you can put the lyrics here, please. Thank you very much.

Unknown said...

I Love Onions Lyrics:


Unknown said...

Sorry. I posted the lyrics for the wrong song.

Lee said...


Here are some kids lip-syncing to it.