Saturday Single No. 205

Back in grade school – probably in fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary – we had a discussion one day on how newspapers work and how reporters do their jobs. It was pretty basic, focusing on the W’s: who, what, when, where and why. As basic as that is, it’s pretty accurate; focus on those five things, with an occasional excursion to look at “how,” and you’ll find your news story on just about anything you run into.

Being a news junkie already at the age of ten – if it was fifth grade, which I think it was – I found the discussion fascinating. I certainly didn’t realize at the time that the five W’s were going to be the foundation of a great deal of my life. But I had a glimmering idea that out of those five questions, the one that would interest me most was “why?”

Frankly, it’s not a question that’s easily answered by basic and immediate reporting. Knowing why something happens usually takes a bit longer to sort out. Sometimes it’s a question never answered. I think of the major news story of that year in fifth grade, maybe the major news story of my childhood. The lead paragraphs of the stories in every newspaper around the U.S. were pretty much the same, something like: “President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed today as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.” You’ve got your who, what, when and where right there. There was another “who” to come, as in who did it?  The answer to that, we’ve been told, is Lee Harvey Oswald. (I have my doubts.) But we’re almost forty-seven years gone from that day, and we still don’t know why. Think about that: Nearly a half-century after John Kennedy was killed, we still have no answer for one of the five most basic questions about the event.

Maybe it was that juxtaposition – the assassination of JFK with the classroom discussion of the basic functions of reporting – that shaped me. I don’t know. I’d never put the two together until this morning. But it could very well be that it was those two events that put me on the track of those five basic questions, especially “why?” Once I got into weekly newspapering, it was pleasing to realize that weekly publications can look more closely at the why and how of things than can dailies, which are swept along by immediate happenings.

That’s not to say that dailies don’t do analysis nor that weeklies don’t every once in a while cover a story that requires speed and limits reflection, but the general trend is there. And that suited me, for if one can have a favorite question in life, then I guess my favorite question is “Why?”

That extends to things beyond newspapering and beyond the regular chatter of day-to-day life. I occasionally had colleagues at the various newspapers where I worked who liked the same sort of thought. Late one Thursday afternoon during my years in Monticello, my colleague Bruce and I were sitting at the coffee table, and somehow the conversation wandered to the purpose of life, probably an outgrowth of something less than pleasant that had happened that week. I said something like, “So what’s the use? What is our purpose?”

“I don’t know,” Bruce said. Then he turned to a high school gal who did cleaning and other odd jobs at the paper. “What do you think, Steph? Why are we here?”

“Well,” she said as she dusted off a nearby counter, “I don’t know about you guys, but I work on Thursdays. That’s why I’m here.”

That might be the best answer I’ll ever get. So here’s a six-song trail of “Why,” with the final song in the trail being this morning’s destination:

First comes “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love” by Veronica, a 1963 tune produced by Phil Spector. Also recorded by Sonny & Cher and a garage-rockabilly called the A-Bones that was active in the 1990s, the song gets the full Wall of Sound production for Veronica, who was better known as Ronnie Bennett of the Ronettes and later as Ronnie Spector. I have, appropriately, questions for which I cannot quickly find answers this morning: Is this the same recording that has in later years been identified as a Ronettes’ performance? Or were there two recordings of the song? I don’t know. Either way, the record does not seem to have charted.

Moving on, we run into “Why Can’t You Love Me,” a 1965 Atlantic release from Barbara Lynn. Three years earlier, her “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” went to No. 8 and was No. 1 on the R&B charts for three weeks. Though I can’t be sure, “Why Can’t You Love Me,” a nice slice of mellow R&B on Atlantic, doesn’t seem to have dented the pop chart.

Third in line is “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” by Bullmoose Jackson & His Buffalo Bearcats, a piece of jump blues/early R&B that was recorded in New York City and released on the King label in 1949. The record, says Wikipedia, was a cover of a tune “that had been successful for Wayne Raney as well as several country and western performers.” It’s a fun track, clearly a relic of a musical era that was vital before I was born.

And we stay in that era but switch genres, with Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me,” an MGM release recorded during January 1950 at the Tulane Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. The somewhat silly but still plaintive song – “Why don’t you love me like you used to do” – likely made the country chart of the time, but the notes for the CD where I found it are horribly insufficient. All-Music Guide says that the record went to No. 61 on the country chart in 1976, long after Williams’ death; I’m guessing the song was released as a single in connection with the release of a greatest hits album.

We move on to Mickey Newbury and his 1973 performance of “Why You Been Gone So Long” from the album Heaven Help the Child. I’ve written about Newbury at least once, noting his status as a country writer and performer who could easily have crossed over and who also could have been far more famous with a little more luck. On the other hand, I’ve gotten the sense that Newbury preferred a little anonymity, so who knows? From what I can tell, neither “Why You Been Gone So Long” nor Heaven Help the Child made the charts.

And our sixth stop this morning on the chain of whys is the Who’s “Why Did I Fall For That,” a track from the group’s 1982 album It’s Hard. The album made it to No. 8 on the Billboard chart, and five different singles from the record made it to one chart or another. “Why Did I Fall For That” was not among them. Nevertheless, it’s today’s Saturday Single:

The Who – “Why Did I Fall For That” from It’s Hard [1982]

Reader and pal Yah Shure passed on some chart information after I posted this. He noted that, as I suspected, Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me” did make the country chart upon its original release in 1950, and that’s an understatement: The MGM release was No. 1 on the country chart for ten weeks. As to Mickey Newbury’s Heaven Help the Child LP, it made it to No. 173 on the Billboard 200. There was, however, no single release of “Why You Been Gone So Long,” as I suspected.


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