2003 AUGUST 11 #223
When my older sister was a small child, like many other kids, she had a lot children's records that she loved to hear over and over again. Being that this was the age of 78's, this would have meant a lot of getting up every three minutes to change the record for most parents of children too young to do it themselves.
Ah, but our dad had bought one of the first commercially available reel to reel machines a year or so earlier (1952), a behemoth of an item made by the Concertone company. Our parents taped all of my sister's favorites, including some records she liked which were owned by the neighbors, onto a reel of tape. Turn the machine on, and she could hear her music for 30 minutes straight without anyone's help. (I still own that Concertone machine, by the way. It would work great if not for the fact that the flywheel was snapped in half 34 years ago. Any help in finding a way to replace the broken parts for this 53 year old machine would be greatly appreciated.)
So it was that, when I came along in 1960, I grew up hearing this tape of records, most of which we no longer had (perhaps they'd broken) or never had owned (they'd been borrowed). My two favorites were always "Where Will the Dimple Be" (which I later learned was a cover version of a Rosemary Clooney Record) and "I'm Dressing Myself", which struck me, even as a child, as wonderfully weird.
"I'm Dressing Myself" was the sort of recording I remembered for years, and I played it for friends well into adolescence and adulthood, because of the uncommon degree of weirdness which permeates it (being that this quality - weirdness - is shared by most of my friends and me). Playing the monaural tape on a stereo reel to reel machine, I could hear the entire contents backwards on side two in the right channel, and as a result, I learned to sing this song (and "Where Will the Dimple Be") backwards. "Little Socks, Socks" for example, is (roughly) "Coss, coss otill". I told you I was weird.
Flash forward to the early '90's: One category of records I've learned to keep my eyes peeled for at record sales is anything on the "Young Peoples Records" label. We had several of these when I was a child, but my reason for searching them out now is because many of them tend to feature a few of my folk music heroes like Pete Seeger and Tom Glazer. In addition, I've learned that some of the people involved with the label had also been part of the famed (and doomed) "People's Songs" organization out of New York in the late 1940's.
The Young Peoples Records label was vilified as a communist front, although the only way you could discern any socialist aims from most of their records was that they were often concerned with peaceful subjects and sometimes had moral messages about getting along. In one remarkable record for the label, Groucho Marx (of all people) tells a long story whose moral is that the best jokes are those which don't make fun of anyone. Pete Seeger did do one wonderful record about how "the farmer is the one who feeds us all", but that bit of propaganda seems to have been the exception, rather than the rule.
Getting back to "I'm Dressing Myself", I was astonished and delighted to find my very own copy of the record about ten years ago, and was equally pleased to find that it was a "Young Peoples Records" release. I offer it to the world here. Unlike every other record on this label I've ever seen, no artists are named on either side of this record. Musically, the record is a wonder of sound, one of those songs which adds a new item with each verse, with a different musical answer for each item.
The same things which struck me as odd 30 years continue to bring a smile to my face today. For instance: Why do mother and son sound as if they are roughly the same age? Why do they have noticeably different accents? Isn't he far too old to not know what these items of clothing are? And the biggest question for me: why does the mother wait until after telling him that he's been putting on what are apparently the wrong clothes throughout the song to tell him that he's found his party clothes? Wouldn't he have to start getting dressed all over again?
In trying to find out more about this recording, in order to write this piece, I've been told that the singers of "I'm Dressing Myself", who as mentioned are unnamed on the label, are Artie Malvin and Lois Winters.
Coss, Coss Otill,
- Bob Purse
TT-2:33 / 2.3MB / 128kbps 44.1khz
from Young Peoples Records 78 #803-A
Andrew Lenahan writes:
Apparently "I'm Dressing Myself" has made an impact on many people. Oscar-winning actor Brad Dourif sings (well... recites) the chorus of it in his 1985 thriller "Istanbul".
Wonderful! A Young People's Record! They, and their sister label the Children's Record Guild, are favorites of mine as well. Thrift store seekers are advised to keep an eye out for "Train to the Zoo"--credited to narrator Norman Rose and/or the Gene Lowell Singers, the musical group on it is obviously the Weavers.