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Then you’ll know all the heartaches of a fool just like me.

February 11, 2012

One of the nicest ladies I’ve ever known and will ever know is named Judy. She’s a family friend who’s known me before I could form memories and even though I’m knocking on 30, she still kind of sees me as the kid I once was and usually insists I take an extra brownie or slice of pie if my family and/or friends are dining at her place in the summer. She’s awesome. And for the lone fact that she’s been around the longest, she the epitome of “Judy” to me.

Others aren’t so fortunate. Apparently there are a lot of Judys running around. Maybe the Judy you know is an English-lit loving faux beat poet, maybe she’s an easy-to-impress flirt, maybe she’s an honorable take-no-mess sort. Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of them running around.

Or at least there were. For a brief spell around the 1940s, Judy actually ranked atop the list of most popular name for baby girls. Since then it’s been a steady decline (there was a brief resurgence in the early 1990s), but according to the good people at Wikipedia (who’s accountability or accuracy I have no way of verifying), “Judith” was the 652nd most popular name for baby girls born in the United States in 2007. If anyone’s updated those rankings in the past 5 years, that information would help this paragraph, but I’m not particularly interested in digging for it.

My point is that once upon a long ago, there were an awful lot of girls named Judy running around. And there still are to a lesser extent today, but as male songwriters are always looking for muses, an awful lot of songs about women named Judy also surfaced. Enough for a double album compilation, actually. But since I haven’t done a Friday Five in a while, I thought I’d share five about Judys who seem to be cut from a different cloth than the woman who still worries herself that I’m not eating enough.

And here you thought only Crosby, Stills and Nash had got to it.

The Friday Five
Songs about Judy

Billy Bragg and the Blokes – Another Kind of Judy
Bragg’s 2002 album, England, Half English got a lot of stick for pulling Billy down a pubrock route, but I’ve always thought it was a fine little album. It has Ian McLagan on it, for God’s sake. And really, when you get down to it, songs like “Take Down the Union Jack” and “NPWA” are right in line with everything he’d done before. The change came with songs like this one and “Jane Allen,” where he mused on middle age and looking at women in a completely different way than “The Saturday Boy” once did. This Judy? Well, she’s another kind of Judy, obviously—a single mom who’s younger than our narrator and seems to have the ability to spark the fond remembrance of youth only to ultimately prove that remembrance, like youth itself, is a fleeting thing. She actually makes him realize he needs to change, although that’s a hard concept to grapple with if it means forsaking one’s own record collection. Seriously. The lyric “She filled my head with the awful noise of her disappointment and the Pet Shop Boys” makes the whole song. Although I’ve always wanted to ask Bragg’s sometime collaborator Johnny Marr (who’s also a sometime Pet Shop Boys collaborator) for his thoughts on the line.

Bobby Darin – Judy, Don’t Be Moody
This is a cut from Darin’s self-titled debut in 1958. It’s a pretty interesting record—Darin lending his vocals to backing music more in line with the budding rock ‘n’ roll movement as opposed to the big band swing that would dominate his career (and a genre he would dominate, mind). You hear a couple of the vocal ticks that’ll reappear on some of his more well known stuff (listen to the hiccup the last time he sings “Don’t be moody,” a trick he’d bring back in on “Mack the Knife”). The Judy in question on this song seems to be like girls I’ve previously dated—a little self-conscious and paranoid about my impressions of them. Although to be fair, Darin’s buddies apparently aren’t doing him any favors by ratting about his dates with Rosemary, so Bobby finds himself having to do a little more reassuring than your average guy going out with an insecure gal. But when facing an inquisition about the possible other woman, Darin calmly responds: “Why should you think it’s true? Baby, baby, it could never be.” How can you argue with that? It’s not as if guys lie about that kind of stuff …

Hoagy Carmichael – Judy
The oldest cut on this list, dating all the way back to 1934. That means, yes, that Judys were tormenting poor dudes even then. Carmichael takes the vocal here, but the lyrics were actually penned by Sammy Lerner (famous for having penned “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”). This song’s Judy sets Carmichael’s heart aglow like Bragg’s Judy (albeit without the kid), only to inevitably leave him disappointed and forevermore jaded, like every other female muse in the history of pop music. A subsequent factoid illustrates a pretty horrendous difference between men and women. Men would hear this kind of song and share a sympathetic pat on the back and share a heartbreak story of their own. Women would hear this and aspire to be this shatterer-of-dreams. Case in point: A young actress named Frances Gumm heard this song and thought of a stage name. You know her as Judy Garland. Damn.

John Fred & His Playboy Band – Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
Totally kickass song from 1968. I don’t know much about Fred or his band of Playboys, but I’ve loved this song ever since I was digging oldies radio in my youth. It’s one of those songs that has a melody and hook that takes your mind off the lyrics. If you actually examine them, though, it’s eye-opening. This particular Judy carries a bit of that multiple personality disorder that I might find briefly intriguing at the start of a relationship but positively annoying—if not horrifying—two weeks later. OK, OK, those are some convincing sexy-time groans. Three weeks later. Fred’s Judy seems to be a bit klepto, “taking everything in sight except for the strings on my kite,” so you have to wonder about from where the bracelets and brand new car came. Judging by the allusions to lemonade pie and cantaloupe eyes, I’m also figuring she’s got a slight citrus fixation or has supplied this poor man with heavy doses of psychedelics. I’m going to conclude it’s the latter (or that Fred too has reached his three-week threshold), since he ultimately dismisses her as no more than “a circus of horrors.”

Ramones – Judy is a Punk
A minute and a half of classic energy from the Ramones’ 1976 self-titled debut. The title’s totally misleading. Jackie’s actually the punk, while Judy is a runt. And Sheena is a punk rocker, but I’m not sure if that’s quite the same thing. Maybe it’s the fact that even though she is a runt, she’s willing to go down to Berlin and skate that makes her a punk. Or maybe being a runt with a friend who’s a punk but not acknowledging yourself as a punk is somewhat punk in itself. I don’t know. I certainly don’t make the rules and I’ve never paid much attention to them. For all the bottled energy here, the Ramones’ Judy actually seems the most stable mate on offer here. She’s goal-oriented, doesn’t let her shortcomings produce any apparent insecurity, is tough enough to join a radical left-wing army, and perhaps she’ll die, but c’est la vie, right? Tell me this Judy doesn’t make the best case of any on offer here.

Moral of the story? If your name is Judy, be cool. There’s a whole litany of illspeak about you already and you don’t want to add to it. Try taking a young boy under your wing and making sure he eats enough and gets enough dessert. The whole world will think better of you.

Happy weekend, all.

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