Saturday, October 04, 2014

Country Club 56: "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" or Merle Travis and Commodity Fetishism

Just as Bob Wills taught political economy, I wonder if Merle Travis understood the theory of commodity fetishism or maybe he exemplifies it.  Let's examine this extremely clever, often covered, song by Merle Travis. 

Wikipedia writes

"So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" is a 1947 song by Merle Travis, written by Travis, Eddie Kirk, and Cliffie Stone. The song would be his second number one on the Folk Juke Box charts where it stayed at number one for 14 weeks and a total of 21 weeks on the chart. In the same year it was a #3 hit for Johnny Bond and a #5 hit for Ernest Tubb.

Instrumentally this track is very interesting and different from our template of what a country song should sound like. It leads off with trumpet from Alex Brashear (who played with jazzers Jack and Charlie Teagarden as well as Bob Wills and, later, Merle Haggard) and includes nice little riffs from violin, steel guitar, and accordion! as well as little classic Travis picking.

(Both the  Tubb version on YouTube and Johnny Bond's emulated Travis' sonic mix, with the later adding a clarinet solo to Travis' sonic mix. I think these songs tell us something important about country and popular music in the mid-twentieth century.)

Again according to wikipedia

The song describes a woman using advertising slogans. The slogan "So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw" was used in Lucky Strike cigarette advertising of the time, since at least 1945. "I'd walk a mile" is a slogan for Camel cigarettes. "Just ask the man who owns one" refers to Packard automobiles. "She's got the pause that's so refreshing" is a reference to the Coca-Cola slogan "The Pause that Refreshes".

I think there are some additional advertising slogans referred to in the song which aren't mentioned in the wikipedia article and should be annotating. A few I've found are "Avoid 5 O'Clock Shadow" (Gem Razors/Blades),  "(Pepsi-Cola) Hits the Spot", and "Toasted by the Sun" (another Camel ad.) A few cultural allusions as well should be tracked down.  Bobbysoxers were young female fans of musicians, most notably Frank Sinatra.

And is the song a subversive critique of male supremacy or an expression of patriarchy.

Early lyrics, playing on a Packard automobile advertising slogan, demark a woman as property

If you don’t think she’s a lot of fun
Just ask the man that owns one
and end with a double reference to woman as property, as cattle  and
Won’t be long ’til she wears my brand.

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