Thursday, September 21, 2006

God Bless Google (Lillian Russell Wrestle div.)

God bless Google. I don’t remember my mother ever singing a lullaby—maybe I was too young, or already asleep. But she was topnotch at an inventory of saucy patter songs which she had learned in her free-spirited youth (she didn’t marry until she was 26—positively superannuated for her generation). I suppose I was six when she taught me

A capital ship for an ocean trip
Was the walloping window blind


Father swam under a
U-Need-a Biscuit
Just as the son went down.

Imagine my delight, then, when I stumbled on “The Billboard Song,” long lost to me, but still out there in cyberspace, albeit with no more than 16 Google hits. Angelfire calls it “Trad. and Anon.” Gunther Anderson says it has “long since passed into the folk domain,” but he credits it to Cy Coben and Charles Grean. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. says Coben was born in 1918, and my mother’s singlehood ended in 1929: I doubt that this is the work of an 11-year-old. Answers credits the Coben/Grean version to Homer & Jethro who, per Answers, came together in 1932—so again, the dates don’t seem quite to match—unless, of course, my mother continued to absorb silly songs after she became absorbed with spouse and children.

There seem to be a lot of folky variants on “The Billboard Song,” but here is some stuff that I remember from, oh, say, around 1944:

As I was walking down the street a billboard met my eye
The advertising that was there would make you laugh or cry
The wind and rain had almost washed that old billboard away
But the advertising painted there would have that billboard say

Bay Rum is good for horses, it is the best in town
Castoria cures the measles, if you pay ten dollars down
Have a smoke of Coca-Cola, chew catsup cigarettes
Watch Lillian Russell wrestle with a box of Cascarets

Fuller lyrics are here, here, here, and here.

PS: Sorry, I just can't seem to get the fonts right on this one.


Anonymous said...

We sang the father and son in an oyster stew song and a capital ship too....
We used to sing in the car on trips, and my mom played the piano too.
Also, I ordered an oyster stew one day....alone teehee alone.
Many others too.

Anonymous said...

Have a slight variation to the billboard song. Haven't seen one like this version yet.
As I was walking down the street
a billboard met my eye
and what was written on that billboard
would make you laugh and cry.
A heavy rain had fell last night
and washed it half away
And what was left on that billboard
made it read this way.
Come smoke a coke a cola
Chew hiccup cigarettes
See Lillian Russel wrestle
with a box of cascorets.
pork and beans will meet tonight
to have a finish fight.
And Dr. Fig will lecture on the Golddust twins tonight.
Bey Rum is good for horses, the best there is in town.
Castoria cures the measles if you pay five dollars down.
Teeth extracted without pain for less that half a dime.
Fall overcoats are selling now a little out of line.
Match in the gas tank: fizzle fizzle

Carolyn said...

What are "cascorects"? when I heard this as a child (40s or 50s) it was a box of castanets she wrestled with!

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Google is your friend