I was recently involved in a Facebook discussion of a stupid article that purported to rank “The 25 Worst Places to Live in America” or some suchlike crap. Conspicuously absent from the list were Gary, East St. Louis, and the entire deep south, but no fewer than SEVEN cities in Ohio took “honors.” As an Ohioan, I took a bit of umbrage—not TOO much since it was in the end just a clickbait article—but since a couple of those cities have experienced significant rebounds in recent years, the listicle seemed like it was based on outdated info, if it wasn’t all just an outright ass-pull. (A couple of the Ohio cities named really DO belong on such a list, I must say if I’m to be fair.)
On that thread, someone posted this WONDERFUL video of “The Akron-Canton Hometown Song,” a booster song recorded and vanity-pressed in 1962 at Cincinnati’s Rite Record Productions for Akron radio station WHLO 640AM. Credited to Terry Lee with backing vocals by the WHLO Hometowners, the one-sided record has no Discogs page, so it is now my mission to find a copy in the wild:
Is that not a delight? Between the word “Hometown” in the title and its goofy, totally guileless boosterism (“Akron, Canton, they’re sure okay!”) it made me wonder if it wasn’t an inspiration for “My Home Town”—not the droning Springsteen hit, but the song by DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh on the 1987 Ralph Records compilation Potatoes Volume 1. (There was never a Volume 2, though the 1989 CD reissue boasted an expanded track list.) It’s a parody of exactly the kind of optimistic civic pride expressed in the radio song, but with a cynical Rust Belt downer edge. The LP credits cite a 1976 composition date, going on to state that the song was re-recorded in 1986. I’ve been unable to find any evidence of an extant 1976 recording, but here’s the one that’s been around:
I love that song. I’ve had that album for almost as long as it’s been out, and I have belted that song out in the shower, changing the word “Akron” to “Cleveland,” which is my home town. The two cities are about 30 minutes away from one another, and their fortunes and declines have been pretty much parallel, so no other lyrical alterations are really necessary. Since Mothersbaugh is rather famously an Akronite, and he’d have been around 12 when that WHLO record came out, it didn’t seem unreasonable to wonder if he may have heard it on the radio? I mentioned my curiosity about that possible connection in the Facebook discussion and was rather swiftly corrected. THIS, I was advised, was a much more likely inspiration. Much, much, much, much, much more likely:
I was sort of mortified. I’ve been an obsessive DEVO fan since childhood and here I had no Earthly idea that this Mothersbaugh song that I’d loved for so long was a lift from The Andy Griffith Show. Requisite digging yielded the information that the episode was from the show’s 6th season, in 1966. The plot involved a famous pop singer with the wonderful name Keevy Hazelton (played by Jesse Pearson of Bye Bye Birdie fame) visiting Mayberry and agreeing to perform a booster song composed by Aunt Bee and Clara, who were put off to be subjected to a—gasp—rock ’n roll rendition of the song.
So here’s what a swell guy Mark Mothersbaugh is: though he’s lately been toiling away on I shit you not four film scores and preparing for the New York iteration of his retrospective exhibit Myopia (at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery through July 15), he still took the time to look over my questions about “My Home Town” and The Andy Griffith Show. They were pretty awesome questions, too, I totally outdid myself, and had they been answered the world would be a much better place now, but to my amazement and amusement, the answer I got back from Mothersbaugh was that, regrettably, he couldn’t answer my questions about why he parodied a song from The Andy Griffith Show because he had no memory of parodying the song from The Andy Griffith Show. He’d watched the show as a kid, but didn’t recall the song, and definitely didn’t remember drawing from it as the inspiration for his own song. The reasonable presumption is that it was an unconscious lift—that the song hung around in the back of his mind and re-emerged in a form of his own devising.
I must confess, I felt a good bit less abashed about not knowing where the song had come from for all these years upon learning that the man himself didn’t know, either.
Here’s a great Mothersbaugh interview from 2014, when the first Myopia retrospective opened in Denver.
Much obliged to Mr. Nick Sakes and his extremely cool friends for this
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Jack Nicholson on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ twice
Myopia: New art book by Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO
DEVO becomes public art, streets of Akron, Ohio are overrun with Booji Boys