double timeThe time had come time for a complete overhaul of the iPod. I was tired of hearing the same songs over and over, so I finally bit the musical bullet, unchecked all the songs on iTunes and started from scratch. Sure, I kept a few old favorites and retained some of the newer stuff I’ve added, but in general it’s a whole new set list. Now, for a little while at least, my song selections deliver a lot of surprises.

One of those surprises is Leon Redbone. My friend Bill purchased some Leon Redbone CDs a while ago and burned them for me. I added them to the iPod. When I was skiing yesterday I was quite pleasantly surprised to hear Leon’s dulcet tones singing “Shine on Harvest Moon.” What a jolt from the past!

Like most people, I had never heard of Leon Redbone until he appeared on Saturday Night Live. It was during the very first season, if I recall correctly. He was an odd duck, wearing a Panama hat and a suit, sitting cross-legged on his chair, and singing in a rumbling baritone. He hid his eyes behind dark glasses and sported a mustache beneath a prominent nose. When he did a number called “My Walking Stick” on SNL, he was accompanied by a guy playing tuba. Other than that, it was just Leon and his guitar, stripped down, no frills, no gimmicks. It was like he had wandered from out of the past, a Roaring Twenties troubadour who somehow stumbled into the 1970s. No one knew who this guy was—I even heard rumors that he was really Frank Zappa in disguise. (There was some physical resemblance.) Can you imagine Saturday Night Live featuring someone like that these days? Not only wasn’t he the flavor of the month, he wasn’t even the flavor of past half-century!

Nonetheless, I was captivated, so I made the trip up to the Sonnet and Song at the Turnpike Mall in Augusta, Maine, to purchase his album Double Time. I did not regret the trip or the expense. The album was great from the first track, “Diddy Wa Diddy.” (Years later, I still wish someone would tell me what diddy wa diddy means.) Bill and I would also crack up at “Sheik of Araby,” where Leon delivers all kinds of guttural shouts and growls.

On the TrackI wasn’t the only one to succumb to Leon Redbone’s oddball charms. I remember that my friend Bob Zimmer had the eight-track tape of Redbone’s  previous album, On the Track, the one with the singing and dancing frog from a famous Looney Tunes cartoon on the cover. On the Track included the aforementioned “My Walking Stick” as well as “Lazy Bones.” Those two songs were particular favorites of ours, and sometimes we’d drive around in Zimmer’s blue VW station wagon on hot summer nights, between stops at McDonalds, and we’d sing along. And, believe, me, there’s nothing more threatening than teenagers cruising through town listening to Tin Pan Alley tunes at full blast on a Saturday night.

Hearing Leon Redbone made me think of another eight-track favorite from those days. That was the title song of Carly Simon’s Hotcakes. This is another strange song, and a definite anomaly on a strictly MOR album. It’s almost an instrumental, with the only lyrics going like this:

“Put the spittle on the griddle as you drop that batter into that hot butter.
Round and brown, piping hot, like as not, what you got is hotcakes.
Hubba hubba hubba, puffing up fluffy and sweet.
Now wait. . . and now flip it.”

Then a tuba kicks in and the song turns into a jazzy instrumental  romp. My friends Bill and Tim—rabid Sox fans both—knew this part of the song as the music the Red Sox used for their TV promos, accompanied by shots of Fenway Park getting ready for a game. They reacted with appropriate enthusiasm. We’d all jump around in our seats like maniacs until the song faded out. Then we’d fast forward through the rest of the album (the only other song worth listening to was “Mockingbird”) and we’d play it again.

Yeah. Crazy teenage nights in Augusta.