In case the embedding doesn’t work, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrmIEl9S8VQ
There now. Isn’t it cute? My mom, whose musical knowledge runs deep, recognized the tune as soon as I mentioned it, and she gets bonus points for knowing that it predated Barbara off the top of her head. But it’s the Streisand version we found on YouTube, and Sam loves it.
It has the same power over him that “Sweet Caroline” has over Caroline and “Jessie’s Girl” still has over me. There’s just something magical about hearing your own name in a song. As soon as I put it on, even before he knew the title, Sam said, “This is a beautiful song.” And when Streisand sang, “But Sam”, my Sam gave a little gasp. Thereafter, he climbed up in my lap and listened, rapt. It only took three hearings for him to make up a story to explain why the song was specifically about him. He said, “I was over at their house one time and I made them pants and they were too long.” It is not clear who “they” are in this statement, but Barbara Streisand is surely one of “them”.
If it had been written today, it would surely have been composed by The Wiggles, or Sandra Boynton, or, God help me, Yo Gabba Gabba. But since it was, according to the extremely authoritative information on Wikipedia, written in 1940 by Milton Berle as a parody, it got recorded by Streisand some twenty-six years later and put on the market for adults.
It makes me nostalgic for funny songs for grown ups. I absolutely love Weird Al. But he is one of only a very few mainstream musicians writing humor these days. Pop stars don’t seem willing to step out and write something silly, then put it on an album with more serious works. It’s as if goofy songs might contaminate the recording studio. Some of them will perform on Sandra Boynton pieces, but Boynton is genuinely writing kids songs. Or they’ll do guest appearances on kids’ shows. But few of them come out and write their own funny music. I miss songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “I am the Walrus” that celebrate absurdity. I doubt Streisand would record a song like “Sam” in the 21st century, and I consider it a wonder that she was willing to do it as late as the 1960’s.
Half the stuff I sing is absurd. I got Caroline through her first two years of life by having a song for everything, and it’s impossible to sing about parking lots, baths, and toilets without being funny about it. Many of the rock songs we love best have funny twists, like The Kinks’ “Lola” , Styx’s “Plexiglass Toilet”, and the two aforementioned Beatles tunes. There are a few modern singers who will pull off humor now and then. Outkast has “Roses” (which has the bonus of naming a “Caroline”, though it’s pretty insulting), Barenaked Ladies has some goofy stuff, too, but there isn’t nearly enough funny going around these days.
Basically, humor music has become a genre, like rock and country, except that instead of being identified by musical qualities, humor is defined by content. Often, humorous songs are parodies , but there are some that just stand alone. Quite frankly, the humor artist I like best is always going to be Weird Al. (Who else could write a track about snot and make it catchy?) But I’m glad Ms. Streisand recorded “Sam”, because it’s the perfect blend of innocent humor and repetition of my son’s name to keep us all singing along just like we do for “Sweet Caroline”.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.