Do you ever catch yourself…

…listening to lyrics of a song you’ve known and sung for years only to REALLY HEAR THEM for the first time and go … woah.

The sudden realization of how spectacularly weird the actual words are can be jarring. I mean you’ve probably been snapping you fingers, tapping your toe and singing the song for years and then WHAM, you actually process the lyrics … maybe something like “When love congeals – it soon reveals the faint aroma of performing seals.” Uh … oh my.

With that it mind, here are my top six “Strangest Standards” …

#6 “This Old House” (Rose Clooney)/”Is That All There Is” (Peggy Lee)

Peggy and Rose tie for sixth place with a couple of morbid little numbers that hit that always popular musical topic of death! They come at it from  different sides — Rose with a toe tapping up beat “blue-grassy” ditty dedicated to how there’s no reason to fix her house ’cause she’s about to die … OK she uses the barely veiled euphemism “getting ready to meet the saints” … but still.

Peggy Lee on the other hand delivers the most morose standards song I think I’ve ever heard. I mean her version of “Is That All There Is” is damn near a dirge. I get so depressed just listening to the opening sequence about her house burning down, I never make it to the whole losing love, and ultimately “is life really worth living” parts — geez, really.

BTW, I adore both Rose and Peggy and listen to tons of their stuff, just poking at them a bit here!

#5 Lean Baby (Frank Sinatra)

This entire Sinatra song deals with how emaciated his gal is … so much so that she has to wear her engagement ring on her wrist! Give it a listen below … more than a little strange by me.

#4 Popsicle Toes (… let’s go with Diana Krall on this one)

Ah yes, there is a long distinguished tradition in the American Songbook of  songs with semi nonsensical lyrics that subtly allude to sex. There are many in this category but I picked “Popsicle Toes” because it lures you in with a first refrain that seems innocuous and funny and then follows with a second verse that dives straight into those happy go lucky topics of pornography and sex …. lines like “How come you always load your Pentax when I am in the nude” start to filter in and away we go!

#3 “Wives and Lovers” (Burt Bacharach via Jack Jones … giving Frank a break!)

Leading us into the vast subcategory of co-dependent/overtly sexist standards, Jack Jones (Sinatra, others…) and Burt Bacharach bring us “Wives and Lovers”, regaling us with 50’s era cultural mores like … “Don’t send him off with your hair up in curlers … You may not see him again” and “There are girls at the office and men will always be men.”

Hey, there’s no arguing with the notion that putting extra effort into keeping the romance in your marriage is a good message, but the unveiled warning that things will go horribly wrong for you girls if you don’t meet your man at the door looking like Raquel Welch … wearing nothing but cellophane. Hmmm wait a minute … no, no it’s wrong … very, very wrong. Hmmm…

#2 “I Wish I Were In Love Again” (Ella Fitzgerald/Frank Sinatra)

This little ballad continues the codependent theme of “Wives and Lovers” but ups the ante — adding a whole knew dimension to the term “love struck” as it light heartedly chats up idea that love = pain … in the physical sense. “… the daily fights”, “The lovely loving and the hateful hates”, “… flying plates”, “… The blackened eye”  and the like.

Then … it gets weird! This is the song that harbors the line from my opening paragraph — “When love congeals – it soon reveals the faint aroma of performing seals.” I uh … well, I … mmm. Enough said I think … (wow).

#1 “Artificial Flowers” (Bobby Darin)

The absolute winner for me has to be “Artificial Flowers”. This jaunty little number is a great toe tapper that tells a lovely story about a young 9 year old girl, stuck in a dead end manual labor gig because her parents died and left her to fend for herself.

BUT don’t worry, she got her reward in the end … in heaven after she worked herself to death. Yeah, now that’s great stuff!!  (Since this song is #1 and because there are just too many supporting lines to quote, I included the full lyrics below for your reading pleasure – enjoy!)

You know, I sang along with Bobby on this song without a clue for years before a friend suggested I actually listen to the words. Weird … I mean the tune is so snappy and crisp you just sing right by the fact that the little darling — after tragically losing both parents — freezes to death with bleeding numb fingers trying to make artificial flowers for just a few pennies a day. Yeehaw!

To be fair, Bobby wrote this song for a Broadway play dealing with the Tenderloin District of NYC during the depression era — I find it a a great relief that he didn’t just sit down one day to pen a new song and happened to come up with Artificial Flowers! Somehow knowing about the play means my loving this song is not wrong … whew!

So What Whacked-out song(s) did I miss? Drop a comment on me with your Strangest Standards Number!

Full Lyrics to “Artificial Flowers”

Alone in the world
Was poor little Anne
As sweet a young child as you’d find.

Her parents had gone
To their final reward
Leavin’ their baby behind.

Did ya hear?

This … poor little child
Was only nine years of age
When mother and dad went away.

Still she brav-el-y worked
At the one thing she knew
To earn her few pennies a day.

She made artificial flowers
Artificial flowers
Flowers for ladies of fashion to wear.

She made artificial flowers
Ya know … those artificial flowers
Fashioned from Annie’s despair.

With paper and shears
With some wire and wax
She made up each tulip and mum.

As snowflakes drifted
Into her tenement room
Her baby little fingers grew numb.

From makin’ artificial flowers
Those artificial flowers
Flowers for ladies of high fashion to wear.

She made artificial flowers
Artificial flowers
Made from Annie’s despair.

They found little Annie
All covered with ice
Still clutchin’ her poor frozen shears.

Amidst all the blossoms
She had fashioned by hand
And watered with all her young tears.

There must be a heaven
Where little Annie can play
In heavenly gardens and bowers.

And instea-a-ad of a halo
She’ll wear ’round her head
A garland of genuine flowers.

No more artificial flowers
Throw away those artificial flowers
Flowers for ladies of society to wear.

Throw away those artificial flowers
Those dumb-dumb flowers …
Fashioned from Annie’s …

Fashioned from A-a-a-annie’s des-pa-a-a-air.

Give her the real thing!

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