I was looking back over some of the past GMC posts and it occurred to me that even though everything here is about nostalgia, it’s been a long time since I did a nostalgic piece centered around a personal experience. By that I mean posts like:
3D Has Been Around For A Long Time
Tonettes Two Ways
Life Is Like A Box Of Chiclets
So here we go: I think we all have certain foods that we like — or don’t like — because of childhood experiences. For example, I hate liver and onions – ugh – to the extent that it makes me shudder just to type the words. On the other hand, it’s a given that there are plenty of things we like because of fond memories, but I’d be willing to bet that most of us also have a very special type of favorite. Let’s call it the odd couple — an unusual pairing of favorite foods.
As spotty as my memory usually is, I can nevertheless remember that my school had a cafeteria in the basement, and — as strange as it might seem now — I liked it. I always looked forward to tromping down the stairs and getting in line, all the while trying to identify the aromas wafting through the air. It wasn’t that I didn’t eat well at home. My mom did a good job (with the exception of liver and onions – ugh) but somehow everything just seemed better at school.
That said, I’ll confess that I’ve forgotten most of the specifics about the food, but one strong memory has stuck with me to this day. Whenever they served chili con carne it was invariably accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich. That’s right, just peanut butter on white bread. It might have been served for added protein in lieu of a meatier chili, but the funny thing is that I grew to like it and even tried to insist on it at home — with mixed results, but that might have made it even cooler. And some 60+ years later I still crave a peanut butter sandwich whenever I have a bowl of chili, even though I always get funny looks from others.
An odd coupling to be sure, but I bet lots of other folks have strange food quirks from their childhood. What’s yours?
Ron Kalina & Jim Self – “The Odd Couple”
Like many country music stars, Melba Montgomery — who recently turned 78 and is still active — can look back on a career that was remarkably diversified. She’s a talented songwriter who has also found a lot of success as a singer, not only as a part of several different duos but also as a soloist. In fact, she enjoyed a number of hits while singing alongside George Jones, Gene Pitney, and Charlie Louvin, although her only #1 record was her solo on “No Charge” in 1974.
Born in tiny Iron City, Tennessee, but raised in nearby Florence, Alabama, young Melba Montgomery had plenty of musical opportunities while growing up — her father was a talented fiddler and guitarist who also taught singing. By the time she was grown she was ready to make her try at a musical career, and it started in the late 1950s when her and her brother won an amateur contest on Nashville’s WSM, the home of the legendary Grand Ole Opry. One of the judges, country star Roy Acuff, was so impressed by her singing that he hired her for his stage show. (Apparently her brother didn’t make the cut.) Melba proved to be a popular addition to the show, and spent several years with the group before going solo.
In the early 1960s she began the first of her many successful collaborations, teaming up with country star George Jones and quickly striking pay dirt with a song she’d written, “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.” The duo continued to work together for several years, making countless successful records, although both also kept their solo careers going. Later in the decade Melba also recorded an album with pop star Gene Pitney.
By the 1970s Melba was doing duets with Charlie Louvin, and the twosome enjoyed several high-charting records, including their biggest seller, “Something to Brag About.” Within a couple of years she’d renewed her focus on her solo career, and had mixed results before recording her 1974 chart-topper, “No Charge,” a song written by the legendary Harlan Howard. Its motherhood message struck a chord with record buyers and helped keep her performing and making records, but in subsequent years things slowed down. By the late 1980s she was devoting most of her efforts to a very successful career as a songwriter, only occasionally performing for her fans. At one point she even published a cookbook of family recipes, and remains active even now.
Melba Montgomery – “No Charge”
Our recent post about British singer Anne Shelton mentioned that she was the first to record an English version of the German song, “Lili Marlene,” a World War II musical piece that has a fascinating history, including the fact that it became a favorite for fighting men on both sides. That fact alone makes it a worthy subject for Anatomy of a Song.
The song actually began life during World War I as a German love poem with a title that translates as “The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch.” Not much happened for the next couple of decades, but in the late 1930s it was set to music and recorded by a relatively unknown German singer named Lale Andersen, under a title that translates as “The Girl under the Lantern.”
As the war progressed, the song — by now known as either “Lili Marleen” or “Lili Marlene” — began to find favor among German troops after the record was repeatedly played on the radio in occupied Belgade. As its popularity grew, it also caught the attention of the Allied forces on the other side of the battlelines, and even if the language was unfamiliar the message came through. Before too long, the song was being heard and appreciated by both sides all over Europe and even into the North African theater of combat.
Not surprisingly, other singers jumped on board, and English versions of the song from Anne Shelton, Vera Lynn, and others did well, but Marlene Dietrich was destined to be most closely identified with the song — and not just because of her name. The German-born actress and singer had already spent more than a decade as a Hollywood star, and despite lucrative offers from film-makers in her native land, was openly anti-Nazi. She spent a lot of time during the war performing for Allied troops, and often included the song in her shows. She also recorded it in both German and English versions.
(The video below is of a short film made during the late stages of the war, and it has a few things wrong — including incorrectly saying Lale Andersen was Swedish. It also seems to occasionally get heavy-handed and melodramatic, but we have to remember the life and death struggle that was taking place at the time. In any case, it provides a fascinating look at the era.)
Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene” (English)
Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene” (German)