Notes

The behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary essay series about preparing songs for performance.

The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)

-- (1964; Words & Music by Don Altfeld, Jan Berry, and Roger Christian)

From the script for “A Little Travelin' Music”:

Act II intro:
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.  We are proud and excited to present our next performers, visiting us all the way from Indiana University.  Please welcome the Hoosier State’s only all-male collegiate a cappella group: Another Round!

Song Intro:

Pasadena, California, is a city in Los Angelos County, located 10 miles northeast of downtown LA.  Through the Great Depression and World War II, the city’s population was bolstered by couples moving in from the Midwest to escape the Dust Bowl.  Since men tended to die earlier than women, Pasadena became known for its high percentage of elderly widows.

Many of these so-called “little old ladies” were supposedly left with powerful muscle cars that they rarely drove, and this stereotype diffused throughout the country on national TV filmed in the area.  From this premise came a comic song of the 1960’s developing Surf Rock genre, which put a twist on the usual joke.

Recap: The Sounds of Indiana barbershop chorus presented what we call ‘The Travel Show’ in 2018, following the same “standard documentary format” that had been so enthusiastically received for the previous year’s ‘The Indiana Show.’  As before, this concert format presents a mix of chorus and quartet songs set around a particular theme, interspersed with slides of short video clips each paired with a Ken Burns-style voice-over narration to introduce and sometimes close out each song.  The song order for The Travel Show was determined roughly by the geography of each song.  After spending Act I in the eastern half of the country, we’ve now made our way over to the west coast and specifically southern California.

 

According to their website, “Another Round is Indiana University’s premier all-male (mostly single) a cappella group.”  This young men’s vocal ensemble was founded at IU in 1996 under the name Straight No Chaser, but when some of the older members accepted a record deal about a decade later, they took the name with them.  Their traditions of vocal harmony and camaraderie, however, are carried on by the group now known as Another Round.

 

Within the context of The Travel Show, our excuse for bringing in a guest chorus whose set doesn’t focus on travel songs is that we (SoI, accompanied by the audience) have traveled to California specifically to see them perform.  Hence the first intro above, given by a character with a different voice than the rest of the narrations.  Without the context of The Travel Show, our excuse for bringing in a guest chorus whose set doesn’t focus on travel songs is that we (SoI’s leadership) both needed to expand the second act and hoped that AR would bring in some additional audience.  Either way, the group performed brilliantly (even listening to them from backstage!), and we thank them profusely for sharing their music and showmanship with us.

 

Following our guest performers, a barbershop quintet took the stage.  In an unusual arrangement procured by tenor Jim Topp, this song featured two lead parts!  In the verses, one of these took the melody while the other stayed with the “backup singers.”  For the chorus/refrain, the two mostly doubled each other.

 

There may be some deviations in the actual arrangement, but here are the song’s lyrics as I found online:

It’s the little old lady from Pasadena!

 

The little old lady from Pasadena

(Go granny, go granny, go granny go)

Has a pretty little flower bed of white gardenias

(Go granny, go granny, go granny go).

But parked in her rickety old garage

Is a brand new shiny red Super Stock Dodge.

 

And everybody’s saying that there’s nobody meaner

Than the little old lady from Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard.

She's the terror of Colorado Boulevard.

 

It's the little old lady from Pasadena

 

If you see her on the street don't try to choose her.

(Go granny, go granny, go granny go)

You might drive a goer but you'll never lose her.

(Go granny, go granny, go granny go)

Well, she's gonna get a ticket now sooner or later

Cause she can't keep her foot off the accelerator.

 

And everybody's saying that there's nobody meaner

Than the little old lady from Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard.

She's a terror of Colorado Boulevard.

 

Go granny, go granny, go granny go

Go granny, go granny, go granny go

Go granny, go granny, go granny go

Go granny, go granny, go granny go

Go!

 

You may remember some of my comments on skipping over quartet(/quintet) numbers that I didn’t perform because I couldn’t adequately reflect on their preparation.  I chose to write about this one, though, partly because I wanted to share the Act II opening narrations to open the New Year, but mostly due to the interesting backstory of the song.  Providing this context led to the longest narration for a single song included in the final concert production!

 

Drawing more background from Wikipedia, “‘The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)’ was a folk archetype in Southern California in the mid-20th Century. […] Used car salesmen in California, so the story went, would tell prospective buyers that the previous owner of a vehicle was ‘a little old lady from Pasadena who only drove it to church on Sundays,’ thus suggesting the car had little wear.”  Johnny Carson frequently referred to this joke when taping The Tonight Show in LA, thus spreading the stereotype to a national audience.  “The song’s twist was that, unlike the subject of the usual story and joke, this little old lady not only drove the hot car, but also was a peerless street racer.”

 

This historical context is necessary for understanding the premise of the song as it would have been by audiences in the ’60s.  Nowadays, most people might just think it’s just a silly novelty song, similar to others of the decade by Stan Freburg, Ray Stevens, or The Chipmunks.  But I think that knowing that the story is actually a subversion of a cultural trope of the time makes the piece much more interesting!

 

And with that, we’ve moved on into Act II and 2019 together.  Because Another Round’s performance made up the bulk of the second half of The Travel Show, there are few songs left on this particular list for me to comment on.  (We’ll probably be done by the end of this month!)  But this week, SoI returns from Winter Hiatus to begin preparing for our next performances.  So don’t fret: as long as the music keeps coming, there’ll always be something new for me to say about it.

In harmony,

Andy

 

January 6, 2019