Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Song Lyric of the Day (High-Maintenance Minx, Sashaying Over to “Santa Baby”)

“Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree,
For me.
Been an awful good girl,
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.”—“Santa Baby,” by Joan Ellen Javits, Philip Springer, and Tony Springer

Will you get a load of this one? Four lines and already she’s starting with the wishes-turned-demands.

With my salary in this recession, even this first item would be a tall order. (Maybe if she’d compromise a little—like accept a sable a bit worse for wear…)

Here, in order, is what else this material girl (yes, Madonna give new oxygen to the tune by covering it in the late 1980s) wants, according to the lyrics:

* A ‘54 convertible (“light blue”)
* A yacht
* The deed to a platinum mine
* A duplex
* Checks
* Decorations bought at Tiffany’s
* A ring (yes, the kind you wear around your finger)

My salary would be wiped out in no time flat. Even Tiger Woods might have some trouble with it, over the long term. (Having a woman in every port, or what seems like it, for months at a time can put a strain on the ol’ finances, too…)

Now one of the writers of this song, Philip Springer, has a most interesting explanation of its history and how it’s really taken off only in the last 20 years because of copyright issues before that, all of which you can read about here. (One particularly interesting tidbit: Tony Springer was a legal fiction to enable the real songwriters to get their work recorded.) But I suspect something’s been left out of this tale.

Here’s my theory: I think its refrain really began as “Sugar Daddy.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Same four syllables, same first and last letters, same rhyme.

I mean, it’s a much shorter progression between these two titles than between “Yesterday” and Paul McCartney’s first place-holding title for his melancholy melody: “Ham and Eggs.” With just some minor tweaking of the seasonal vocabulary (e.g., that chimney), it’s easy to imagine this in another setting.

You don’t need the album cover accompanying this post to know that this song became a 1953 hit for Eartha Kitt, who, in her long career, went from sex kitten to cougar, senior class (for evidence, check out her performance in Eddie Murphy’s Rock Hudson-style romantic comedy throwback, Boomerang).

There’s another name associated with this song somewhat less familiar: Javits. Those six letters might be recalled, though, by New York-area voters of a certain age. Yes, Joan Ellen Javits is the niece of the Empire State’s longtime senior senator from the now dead-as-a-doornail “Rockefeller wing” of the GOP, Jacob Javits.

Ms. Javits, now 81 years old, is a good representative example of a phenomenon only dimly realized by most mall shoppers this time of year that they should toast promptly: the huge contribution of American Jews to our best-loved holiday music.

This should come as no surprise, when you think about it—Americans of Jewish descent are already heavily represented in the Great American Songbook (e.g., Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen). Still and all, would you believe that more than half of the 25 most popular holiday songs, as measured by the American Society of Composers and Publishers, were written, in whole or in part, by Jewish songwriters?

Or, as Yogi Berra said, when informed that the mayor of Dublin was Jewish: “Well, what do you know—only in America!”