Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vernon Green & The Medallions: Of Puppettutes and Pizmotalities


Vernon Green at 6 o'clock.


Much has already been said regarding the true meaning of “sweet pizmotality” and “the puppettutes of love” as these phrases were uttered by the Medallions on their 1954 single “The Letter.” Many have speculated on their etymology--or should we say "etyzmotality"? Some trace that jive back to the ancients, still others to the label on cans of Royal Crown Hair Dressing.

Of his own enigmatic lyric, Medallions lead man Vernon Green once said, “You have to remember, I was a very lonely guy at the time. I was only fourteen years old, I had just run away from home, and I walked on crutches.” Teener love eluded young Green, whose body had been wracked by polio at an early age. And so, between joyrides and acne creams, he dreamed of other-wordly things. From these dreams he wrought doo-wop gold.
   
As a single, "Buick 59" b/w "The Letter," on the DooTone label, might perfectly illustrate that old schizoid doo-wop formula, where a revved-up rocker on the A-side was almost always coupled with a ballad, often a sappy one at that, on the B-side.

For more on that let us refer to the September 1954 installment of “Notes from the R&B Beat” (does anyone know the original source for this column?) as compiled in Galen Gart’s incredible serial First Pressings: The History of Rhythm & Blues:
 
“After seven years of trying to break into the record market with a big hit, Dootsie Williams, prexy of DooTone Records has at long last come up with a big one. His latest waxing of ‘Buick 59’ b/w ‘The Letter’ by the Medallions has cracked wide open here in L.A. and it’s still a toss-up as to which side is the biggest. Spinner Hunter Hancock picked both sides of the disk as his ‘Record of the Week’.”

All of this happened when the imaginative balladeer was just a kid, and that kid knew that nothin’ could shake the heartbreak of frustrated pizmotalities better than a fine set of wheels. The most Cruise-O-Matic of Medallions sides, “Buick 59” and “Speedin,” (there were others: "' 59 Volvo" "Push Button Automobile" etc., etc.,) don’t merely describe so much as they sonically re-enact in full doo-wop glory the thrill of burning a “tankful of ethyl gas.” For these exploits, Green, ever the dreamer, even invented a car that didn’t yet exist. In fact, it would never exist. No Buick 59 ever rolled off the line in Detroit, or anywhere else. But if it had, then you know that bucket would have burned only high-grade pizmotane. Nothing but the best when your puppettutes is ridin’ by your side.

In “Speedin’,” released after “Buick 59,” also on the DooTone label, the premise is simple enough: the singer’s gotta meet that girl, so he’s “Speedin’! Doo-do-do-do-doo.” However, without gas, even a Buick 59 becomes just another hoopdie. Green’s bucket always either runs out of gas, blows a tire, or the cops catch up to it just before it carries him to that dreamed-of Shangri-La.



It’s the classic American bummer: fulfillment of desire remains always just beyond reach. Behind the dream lies emptiness, a lonely crockashit. 

After the early singles, as Green’s performances matured, we begin to hear real desolation, as in the ghostly “Sweet Breeze,” from 1956 on the Specialty label, credited not to the Medallions, but to Vernon Green and the Phantoms. Here, Green didn’t have to invent goofy words to say it:

The wind has a feeling and a soul.
 I trust in thee, but please don’t be cold.
The sweet, sweet breeze
blows softly through her golden hair.
Tell me, does she really, really care?
It just isn't fair.

Gone is the Clearasil, gone the greasy kid stuff, and the remedial math of matrimony. In the end there’s only the wind, that, and maybe a can of Royal Crown Hair Dressing.

No comments:

There was an error in this gadget