Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Glad Eye: Johnny Otis and His Orchestra with Marie Adams: "Ma He's Making Eyes At Me"

When it comes to the senses in lyrics, the eyes have it: though hearing and touching are there too, the ability to see far outstrips them and for good reason; it is the first sense to register another person, the Other, and the one that can be responded to most directly. (That said, if you don't like how the Other smells on a regular basis, I would suggest you find another; chemistry has a lot to say about love via the nostrils.)

When a man looks at a woman in a song and falls for her instantly, that song (if it is good, that is) has a swooping, sweeping quality to it, the singer stunned and amazed and perhaps a bit in disbelief - but mainly there is a gratifying intensity to the whole thing, an OMG this is big and my whole life has changed and even if I try to deny it, it won't go away-ness that leads to...well, whatever comes next. Does the Other even know she is the object? Certainly by the end of the song she does, as his delirious love declaration cannot be ignored - not if he is sincere and eloquent enough. (Recent UK #1 "Number One" by Tinchy Stryder & N-Dubz is a fine example of this kind of song.)

But love isn't just words but gestures - and it starts with the eyes.

"Mama!" the singer cries out, "he's making EYES at me!!" This is responded to (yes) by a bunch of screaming girls - this is the first live #2, after all - and the singer (Marie Adams) goes on to sing such deathless lines as "Mercy! Let his conscience guide him!" and "Ma I'm meeting with resistance/I shall holler for assistance/Ma, he's kissing me!"

Now, no girl in the history of the universe ever actually says such things; they are thought. So what's here? Besides a riotous good time with your standard doo wop provided by the Johnny Otis, there's nothing less than the female interior becoming the near-screamed female experience, shared with lots of young women who are shrieking in recognition and response (though maybe some in the Orchestra are making eyes at them?) No wonder there's a call-and-response from the audience to Ms. Adams; no wonder a song that makes the implicit explicit got to #2 and stayed in the charts for a good while, only stopped by such luminaries as Harry Belafonte, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis from getting to the top spot. I can well imagine those who disapproved of the Everly Brothers' hit tut-tutting this as well; the freedom for a girl to scream in public with joy is rare indeed, and having what they feel being said aloud must have been liberating in a time when girls were not supposed to express themselves in such an explosive way. Screaming girls, I salute you - this song from 1921 has just been launched into the atomic age and thing are, as I said before, accelerating far faster than any censor could imagine.


Gemma Files said...

I'm truly starting to think that you need to begin hosting/posting links to these songs somewhere. There's no way they're as odd as you make them sound...IS IT?!?!

Lena said...

I will try to go back and post them when I can; even if it's an old Gramophone on youtube. Once there's videos those will be linked on the page a la LJ. And yes, these are just as weird as I write them up!