Saturday 9: Mairzy Doats (1944)
Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.
1. While today this is considered a children’s song, “Mairzy Doats” was a #1 hit and a staple on radio stations in 1944. Do you know any of today’s most popular songs? (Here’s this week’s Hot 100.)
I know most of them. These are two my favorites on the list:
2. One of the song’s writers recalled that the song was inspired by an old English nursery rhyme. Tell us a rhyme you remember from childhood.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockleshells And pretty maids all in a row.
The study of folklore and fairytales was part of my concentration in college, and one of the things I researched was the origins of these tales. There is the thought that this rhyme refers to Mary I, born to King Henry the VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Her reign on the throne was short, only from 1553-1558, but it was one marked by the genocide of Protestants. Some scholars believe that the “silver bells,” the “cockleshells,” and the “maids” may refer to torture devices used at the time. Silver bells were thumbscrews, the cockleshells were designed for the manly bits, and the maiden was a device like a guillotine. They also believe that the “rows” refer to those executed for being Protestant. But the reality is that there is no proof that this rhyme even existed before the mid-1700s and clearly Mary preceded that time. So who knows? Super cheery!
3. This week’s group, The Merry Macs, was formed by three brothers — Judd, Joe and Ted McMichael — who learned to harmonize at home. Did you grow up in a musical household?
Absolutely! Grandma Ethel was a music teacher, and Grandpa Vern played the piano. My mom went to college originally for voice, although she switched to teaching. My dad had perfect pitch and could play any instrument he put his hands on. He did a couple of demo records while he was in law school, did a couple of indie albums later in life with different groups. I grew up playing the piano, the alto sax (which I hated), and the flute. And I sang in school, church, and a couple of bar bands.
4. When the McMichaels decided their new group needed a woman’s voice, they asked Cheri McKay to join them. Realizing all their names began with Mc, they began calling themselves The Merry Macs. Have you ever performed with a singing group? (Yes, that garage band you played in after school counts.) If yes, what was your band called?
I guess I answered that! In high school, I was in show choir, the Belaires, along with the other choral groups. Later, I sang with Summer Nights (mostly alternative rock) and guested with a few others.
5. The Merry Macs’ first gigs were playing high school dances. Do you have any memories of school dances you’d like to share this morning?
School dances… I was a teen of the 80s, so it wasn’t a dance without at least one breakdancing circle. And a slow dance playlist of Led Zepplin, Journey, Chicago, Bon Jovi, Poison, Guns n’ Roses, Def Leppard, or the like. Here’s a quintessential 80’s slow dance jam…
6. Once their recording career took off, The Merry Macs went to Hollywood. They appeared in a film with the comedy team of Abbott and Costello. Who last made you laugh?
My kid. We were watching Are You Scared? on YouTube. He hates horror/scary stuff, but he still kept putting on the next one and the next one. It was hilarious!
7. In 1944, when “Mairzy Doats” topped the charts, sunscreen was invented. It was first developed to protect soldiers during WWII, and that original formula was sold to Coppertone. Do you regularly use sunscreen?
I live in Hawai’i, so absolutely. I use 15-30 SPF.
8. Also in 1944, a board game called Murder! was introduced in England. In 1949 it made its way to the United States and was renamed Clue. It’s still popular today. Can you name any of the original 6 “characters” in the Clue game? (Extra credit: One was replaced in 2016; who was it?)
Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and Mrs. White. The latter got the boot, replaced by Dr. Orchid. Her token color changed, too, I think. I think it became pink instead of white. Notably, she’s the first female character in the game to have a job of her own.
9. Random question: The new house you just bought comes with a big mirror on the ceiling of the master bedroom. Would you take it down or leave it there?
Down, down, down. Within seconds.