The Andrews Sisters didn’t sing about hookers, which shatters my longest-held perception.
Backstory: Lyrics aren’t my strong suite; I typically hear just enough for my brain to make up its own lyrics, bearing no resemblance to the originals. It’s caused some problems.
No matter the era, though, I’d lose the lyrics in a swirl of bad diction and nonsensical meanings.
When I was a kid, Bringing in the Sheaves, that classic old hymn, became Bringing in the Sheets. It made perfect sense to someone who sometimes helped Grandma with the laundry: If you managed to get the bed linens off the line and into the house ahead of the rain, you’d rejoice, too.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland became Walking in our Winter Underwear. Elvis sang You ain’t never called me rabid so you ain’t no friend of mine.
Sometimes the lyrics changed as I puzzled through the logic. Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line started out as One Toad Over the Line, which didn’t make sense; why would anyone traffic in amphibians? I listened again and decided it must be One Toe Over the Line. The guy was obviously running from the state cops, or maybe playing football, equally unfamiliar occupations.
Years later, I read an article terming One Toke the number one misunderstood song in existence, and the article included the actual lyrics. Whoa! I was right the first time, it WAS about trafficking green stuff, only it didn’t hop.
Buy Me, Mr. Shane is probably my longest-lived misperception. It was one of Dad’s favorites, an old standard by the Andrews Sisters, and I probably first heard it in the cradle. I loved its shape,* even if I didn’t quite understand why some woman was asking this guy to buy her.
Slavery was abolished in the US well before the Andrews Sisters, so that wasn’t it. I’d heard a song about a weary dance hall girl entreating strangers to pay her to dance, but the song didn’t mention dancing.
Then I discovered the concept of prostitution. I tested it against the lyrics (the ones I understood, anyway), and it kinda made sense.** So I tagged it “Dad’s Hooker Song,” and left it at that.
…Until last night, when I heard Dad’s Hooker Song again. Just for kicks, I tried looking up the lyrics. Marvel of marvels! Did you know you can Google “Buy Me, Mr. Shane,” and actually get the real song?
Bei Mir Bistu Shein? Huh?
So, for the first time EVER, what you hear the singers singing really is EXACTLY what it sounds like. Turns out, this is a remake of a Yiddish song that Sammy Cahn rewrote and gave to the Andrews Sisters, except that the only Yiddish in it is the title.
It was their first big hit, made #1 on the 1937 charts. Four years later, when the US officially entered World War II, the Andrews Sisters would include it in their Allied entertainment tours, along with equally incomprehensible songs like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
Ironic, that the queens of WWII troop shows made their mark with a Yiddish song, considering who they were fighting.
*For as long as I can remember, my favorite music has had shape AND sound. Michael Jackson’s ABC is a tight two-dimensional spiral. The first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter Concerto is a compound corkscrew that travels, like a double helix but with more flourishes. Gaga’s Poker Face resembles a sea urchin, spherical with bursting spikes. Ravel’s Bolero is a mobius strip, endless and tight at the same time.
Buy Me, Mr. Shane (or rather, Bei Mir Bistu Shein) is a near-spherical song, as many of the Big Band-era songs seem to be.
**Credit my childhood knowledge of prostitution to the Dewey Decimal System; I spent most summers in any library within biking distance, methodically working my way through the stacks. I reached 364.9, History of Criminology, right around the age of 11 and became fascinated with crime in Victorian London. That introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper… and prostitution.
Exactly what those Victorian ladies were selling wasn’t clear, but it seemed to involve getting paid to take off your clothes. That amazed and delighted me, since Mom insisted I remove all clothing prior to bathing. Given the number of baths I’d had to take so far, I figured Mom owed me a LOT of money.