Some of you caught on right away. Some have been away all summer and might have missed it. Others might not have noticed anything at all.
This June, The Heavy Petting Zoo turned 13 years old. That’s right, the awkward teen years are upon us! So perhaps it’s no coincidence (but mostly it is…) that now’s the time we flip the switch on a number of changes I’d been pondering for some time.
One change is simple: The show’s subtitle.
“Make-Out Music and More from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s” was adopted when the show expanded to two hours, and my music library needed to expand along with it. But the truth is we sometimes dip into the 1920s on HPZ and, in the summer especially, into the kitschy sounds of the 1960s. Even though it’s a small thing, it’s always bothered me that the subtitle is simply not accurate! So we changed it.
Now HPZ proudly features “Make-Out Music and More from the Big Bands and Beyond.” It’s just as much of a mouthful (#marketinggenius) but leaves room for flexibility.
Rest assured the show remains the same great celebration of vintage classics you’ve come to love!
No More “Pettin’ In the Park”
Now, on to the next thing: The theme song.
For years, the “doot-doo-doot-doooo” of a muted trumpet was the bugle call that alerted listeners it’s time for HPZ. Dick Powell, star of radio and film, wasn’t far behind with a curious song about the merits of outdoor canoodling.
The ditty comes from the Busby Berkley film Gold Diggers of 1933, and the lyrics alone made it the perfect, somewhat humorous kickoff for a show hocking “make-out music.”
A couple years ago, in the waning days of my cable TV subscription, I caught Gold Diggers of 1933 on TCM. I landed on the film just as they began singing “Pettin’ In the Park” and sat attentively, excited to finally see the song in its original context. Then, I was horrified. The audio-only version of the song entails Dick Powell declaring:
Every night a body should relax /
After all the wear and tear.
Get the oxygen your body lacks /
Get it in the open air.
In film, he’s singing these lyrics aloud as he reads a book called Advice For People In Love. The object of his affection is seated next to him on a park bench. And that’s when a trademark Busby Berkeley dance sequence unfolds, a scene which begins in a box of animal crackers-turned-zoo and introduces us to a baby (a BIG baby, who can somehow roller skate) who shoots spitballs at cops.
Those curiosities aside, it was the portrayal of women — and the treatment of women by men — that mortified me the most.
Some of this is to be expected when one watches films of this era, a time when some might say women “knew their place” and traditional gender roles were depicted prominently on screen and radio. But in Gold Diggers of 1933, specifically during “Pettin’ In the Park,” we see men so adamantly pursuing women that not only does our “Big Baby” (henceforth known as Perv Baby) lift a curtain on the women so the men can watch them change out of their rain-drenched clothes, we also have to sit back and watch as these women put on dresses made of tin to try to keep the men at bay. After all, the men won’t take “no” for an answer.
But tin bodices are not enough. The camera zooms in on Powell, who throws his chin in his hands in a fit of frustration and leans away.
That’s where Perv Baby step in. And guess what, he can talk.
“I can help you,” he whispers to Powell as he hands over a pair of metal-cutting shears. With a bit of force, Powell turns his unwitting partner around so her back is to him, and he begins cutting away at the back of her dress.
Her body is his, not hers.
I presume most HPZ listeners have not seen this film, and many never will. Now that I have, I am unsettled.
I’m ashamed to have continued to use this theme song for as long as I did since seeing it in context (one of the perks of being on the radio is that you, dear listener, couldn’t see me cringe every time I played it).
I should have found a temporary theme song in the meantime until I found the perfect replacement.
“Make Yourself Comfortable”
At least we can say something good came out of my acquisition of 43 albums (that I have no room for) at a recent SWAP Shop record sale. A diamond in the rough was the track “Make Yourself Comfortable” by Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence from Gormé’s album Eydie Gormé Delights.
In contrast with “Pettin’ In the Park,” we hear the voices of both a man and a woman (in fact, mostly the woman) dancing around their own mutual interest in one another. After hurrying through their dinner, hurrying through a dance, and leaving before a “picture show” was through, they settle in as Gormé declares, “I’ve got some records here to put you in the mood.”
Incidentally, that’s also HPZ’s specialty.
As the show fully embraces its awkward teen years, I hope you’ll keep tuning in to WSUM each Saturday night at 7 PM (Central) for “make-out music and more from the Big Bands and Beyond.”
Make yourself comfortable.