Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Deck Us All with Boston Charlie

To get us in the holiday spirit.

The song “Vamp in the Middle” (from whose title I take the title of my short story in Helix) come from the album Aereo-Plain by John Hartford. There also appears on that album, this seemingly cryptic spoken-word piece, entitled “Station Break:”
Bill Randall 650, Dorothy S. Ma'm, the Axlewide and Peppermint Endurance Company in Bashful Johnny C, Home of the Grand Ol' Conglomeration, Fannie Hill University and the Bathtub of the South. It's 7:30.

Hartford was a Nashville disk jockey before he found fame and fortune as a singer song-writer, then respect as a flame keeper of “old timey” music, and finally death from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma at 63, in 2001. The words to “Station Break” decoded:

Clear Channel 650, WSM, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ol’ Opry, Vanderbuilt University, and the Athens of the South. It’s 7:30.

We geezers, of course, all know the Pogo example, sung by Albert Alligator, from which the title of this essay is taken:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

The alternate version, somewhat rarer, was performed by Beauregard Chaulmoogra Frontenac de Montmingle Bugleboy, the dog/cop:

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Finally, I was recently moved to recover a memory of this pre-school version of The Pledge:

I pledge our Legions to the Flag, of the United Stakes of America. And Toothery Public for Richard Stands, one Nation, Undergod, Indy visible, with liver tea and just us, for all.

The name for this sort of thing is Mondegreen. Mondegreen's are usually supposed to be accidental, and the intentional versions above don't really pass the "sounds like" test of a true Mondegreen. I just wanted the Johnny Hartford thing to be documented, because apparently the CD/LP is rare, the lyrics hard to locate, and nobody else seems to know what they mean.


Arnaud said...

The unintentional aspect aside, does this qualify as a Mondegreen? :

Calvin and Hobbs

James Killus said...

I'm drawing a blank on what you're figuring as the example. There are so many little fiddly bits in C&H.

Arnaud said...

Sorry bad link, try entering "pledge" in the search box. A bit late now, I know...

I also need to learn to tick the "email follow up" box...

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Old post, but thanks for decoding "Station Break" for me...I've recently been digging into Hartford's discography and always wondered about that one, although it was funny anyway and some of the malaprops are obvious (ie Bashful Johnny C).

It's interesting hearing all his albums at the same time; I wonder what people must have thought as they were released, since he got progressively more eccentric until blowing his esoteric top with the mad masterpiece "Mark Twang".

Either way, nice to see another writer influenced by Hartford.

James Killus said...

One of the joys of this sort of blogging is getting responses to older posts. So thanks for the comment, and it's always good to hear from another Hartford fan.

robzim said...

Just listening to a music stream and when the song ended my first reaction was to launch into "Station Break". I didnt know why, nor remember most of the words, only " bashville johny c... home of the grand ole conglomeration... its 7:30"
So googling that I found your post, thanks!

Rob in NH, USA

Anonymous said...

I came accross this old post and just for the sake of historical preservation, wanted to add another John Hartford classic of the same ilk. It's called the Lowest Pair and the original verse on which it is based should be fairly obvious:

"Now, First thing, is to say this:

Much further out then inevitable
Halloween is thy game
Sky King has come
& Wilma's done
Uncertain as it is Uneven

Give us today hors d'œuvre's in bed
As we forgive those who have dressed up against us
And need us not enter inflation
But our liver, onions, & potatoes.

For wine is a shingle, and amore, and a story for your father.

Hope you enjoy>

Pete Anderson said...


Heard this on the radio and thought it was pretty much the greatest thing ever. Couldn't quite figure out what the bathtub of the south was, though :-p Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How I remember playing that Hartford LP on WLMD in Laurl, MD back around 1975. Not sure we ever aired the station break cut, because it IS pretty arcane. But I always thought of it as Hartford's personal gift to all of us underpaid types who were spinning his records out in tea-kettle radio land.

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Anonymous said...

This 'station break' made its way to Sweden when Jens Lindgren - who knew his esoteric records - used it in one of his quirky radio comedy series ('inbillningsradion', 1980 or so).
And now, nearly 30 years after those programmes were made I find the explanation.
Thank you!

Donna Bentley said...

This is awesome. I was looking up info on Station Break because I could not remember the original. John Hartford was so wonderful and quirky and a joy to so many. Thank you for saving this for posterity. I have all his early albums, but this one brings back special memories. Also had forgotten about the Pogo lyrics. Thank you for bringing this back to me even though the post is old.

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