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Soft Power

When I was a blue-eyed boy in the early 1950s in Cape Town near the southern tip of Africa, much of the popular music on the radio was American. Though we were part of the British Commonwealth, it was American music I recall.

My Polish-Jewish immigrant mother, if she sang in English, sang British songs. Sometimes WWII ones, like Vera Lynn’s  Wish me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye and We’ll Meet Again. Sad to listen to those lost-world songs now.

But my teen-age sister played me Teresa Brewer, who sang Music Music Music and Choo’n Gum. All those lyrics full of slick nickels and dimes and dollars, when we had only noble pounds and shillings, or disrespectful ‘quid’ and  ‘bob’.

Choo’n Gum
My mom gave me a nickel
To buy a pickle
But I didn’t buy a pickle
I bought some choo’n gum
Chew chew chew choo’n gum
How I love choo’n gum
Well I’m crazy over choo’n gum
I chew chew chew
My aunt gave me a quarter
For soda water
But I didn’t buy no water
I bought some choo’n gum
Chew chew chew choo’n gum
How I love choo’n gum
Well I’m crazy over choo’n gum
What can I do

and

Music Music Music
Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music
I’d do anything for you
Anything you’d want me to
All I want is kissing you
And music, music, music
Closer*
My dear, come closer
The nicest part of any melody
Is when you’re danciong close to me

My nanny, older than my sister, sang American love songs: Nat King Cole’s Too Young in 1951. I could get a fair amount of adult attention at age six or seven by precociously performing my own romantic version.

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England had soft power too, but for us it was comedy (The Goon Show) rather than pop, though Tommy Steele and Cliff Richards had their moments.

 

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And China? In the late Sixties and early Seventies there was a time when you could buy Mao posters and little red books on the streets of NYC, when people wore Nehru and Mao jackets, when Godard made La Chinoise (check out the Mao Mao song).  Since then increasing amount of hard power, but as yet no Teresa Brewer or songs about renminbi.

 

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* A few years ago I went to Carnegie Hall and heard someone play an encore of Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 by Franz Liszt and was charmed to discover that the notes of the  “Closer …” chorus of Music Music Music above was actually pirated from that classical piece.

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