10.000 Songs: The Mystics - Hushabye

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Rob
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10.000 Songs: The Mystics - Hushabye

Postby Rob » Sun Jan 28, 2018 7:31 pm

This topic is part of the weekly 10.000 songs, 10.000 opinions. In this, every week another song from the Acclaimed Music song top 10.000 is selected for discussion. The song is chosen completely at random, through random.org, making the selections hopefully very varied. The only other rule in this is that after an artist has had a turn, he can’t appear for another ten weeks. The idea for this topic came to me because I wanted to think of a way to engage more actively with the very large top 10.000 songs that Henrik has compiled for us, while still keeping it accessible and free of any game elements. Yes, that’s right, no game elements. You are free to rate the song each week, but I’ll do nothing with this rating. I want it to be about people’s personal reviews and hopefully discussions. So in reverse to other topics on this site I say: “Please comment on this song, rating is optional”.
Earlier entries of this series can be found here: http://www.acclaimedmusic.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3065&p=45337&hilit=archive#p45337

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“Sandman will be coming soon/ Singing you a slumber tune”

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108. The Mystics – Hushabye

The facts:
Year: 1959.
Genre: Doo-wop.
Country: United States of America.
Released as a single.
Acclaimed Music ranking: #8153.
Song ranking on Acclaimed Music in the artist’s discography: 1st, the only one.
Ranks higher than Merry Go Round by The Replacements, but lower than White Sky by Vampire Weekend.
Place in the Acclaimed Music Song Poll 2015: Unranked.

The people:
Written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman.
Vocals by Al Contrera, Albee Cracolici, Phil Crocolici, Bob Ferrante & George Galfo.
Guitars by Al Caiola & Bucky Pizzarelli.
Drums by Panama Francis.

The opinion:
After last week’s “difficult” entry: Björk’s Stonemilker, this week we get the opposite: an honest to goodness lullaby, by doo-wop group The Mystics. It might very well be that you have never heard of this group. They only had one big hit, debut single Hushabye, and a couple of minor hits, all in 1959. None of their songs did anything outside of the US. From 1960 onwards the group suffered from all-too-frequent personnel changes. A nice bit of trivia is that Jerry Landis was a member for a short period. Who? That’s an early pseudonym of Paul Simon. He only recorded three songs with the group. The Mystics fell apart in 1961, but regrouped in the original formation in 1969 as a nostalgia act. They have been more-or-less functional in this form since, but only in 1982 did they record anything new.

That’s about all that really can be said about The Mystics. Even in their very short heyday they didn’t record all that much. It is interesting to visit their website, where they present themselves as one of the key groups in doo-wop, but they have to revolve their whole biography around Hushabye, basically the only thing they did that is vaguely remembered. I guess it is the biggest classic among lullabies in popular music? The thing is that as far as lullabies go, even the most modern of mothers seem to stick to the oldies. And this is one time “oldies” doesn’t refer to 1950’s doo-wop, but to a time that precedes recorded music.

For that matter, Hushabye was based on a traditional, American lullaby, namely All the Pretty Horses. That one literally begins with the word “hushabye”. The lyrics of the Mystics song are variations on the earlier track. The writing was done by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who wrote a lot of big hits of the time. Save the Last Dance for Me and Viva Las Vegas for example. Laurie, the studio that had The Mystics under contract, ordered the duo to write a debut song specifically for this group. I can only guess why they thought a nursery rhyme was the way to go, but that’s what happened and it seemed there was an audience for it. This surprises me somewhat, as the song is really childish, but then again, 2016 had a huge hit for Clean Bandit, named Rockabye, a modern pop lullaby. Perhaps that one will sound in 59 years how Hushabye sounds now.

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that I find Hushaby even remotely interesting. Usually I would try to describe the music and the singing, or even the lyrics, but there is nothing to be gained here. If you have ever heard a couple of doo-wop songs you know how this sounds. If you ever heard a lullaby you may find these lyrics immediately familiar. This was clearly not meant as a major artistic statement or even a prime release from the Laurie studio. At best it was a dime-a-dozen release that happened to get some extra attention because as a lullaby it was a novelty (although it is damn hard to find anything about the reception at the time).

There is only one way to approach this and that is as a lullaby. Does it work as such? That is hard for me to decide, as I’m not even remotely in the range of its target audience. I am not a kid, don’t have kids and in my personal taste most nursery rhymes are boring. So how to test this? Well, my sister has a baby girl, so I asked her to play Hushabye a couple of nights to see whether her daughter reacted to it. Does she take to it? Does it calm her? Would she request the song herself after a couple of days?

I got the results today. Apparently my niece, Lizzie, reacted strongly to the song on the first day. She became excited with it and treated it as a major event. Too much so, perhaps, as she could only go to sleep after both parents sung their usual lullaby. The next days brought lesser results. Lizzie didn’t care about the song anymore and couldn’t focus her attention to it for the whole length. Hushabye was never finished after that first time.

Can we blame the song for that? I don’t know. I can’t even say if The Mystics or the writers wanted this to be played for kids. If they did, they might have failed before they started. There has been a lot of research done on lullabies, not only by music historians, but also by neuro-psychologists with interest in the development of emotions and language in babies (curiously, the most famous study of lullabies was done by notable Spanish poet Federico García Lorca). It turns out that the lullaby is the most universal musical language in the world. Over the whole word these songs have developed separately, but all came to the same results. All songs are sung in a rather high pitch (though not too high), without dissonance, in a slow tempo because babies need longer to process both words as repeated rhythms.

So far so good for The Mystics, as their attempt fulfils all these requirements. There is a key element missing though. Many studies have figured that babies really prefer the voice of their mother and no instrumental accompaniment. Yeah, there is nothing you can do there as an all-male group. If it is some consolation, these studies were not done in 1959, so The Mystics and their writers were perhaps naïve. Then again, the most famous lullaby is apparently Wiegenlied by Johannes Brahms. Yes, a classical piece made by a man. A great artist defies convention and Brahms even challenged the bonding between mother and child. I’m not sure The Mystics ever got that far.

This was an odd week for this series. By far most of my research went into the history and workings of the lullaby. As a result I have added a lot of lullabies from tradition, pop music, Disney and especially other cultures to the list. It is far from complete, just a quick overview. If you find this interesting, I recommend the website Lullabies of the World about the cultural traditions of the lullaby across the globe and the more scientific BBC Radio episode named The Language of Lullabies (see links below).

Did you know that lullabies were frequently very dark throughout history? The oldest known song in the genre was found on an ancient stone from Babylon. It’s about her mother threatening her kid to be silent because it’s crying disturbs the house god! Lorca theorized that these songs were meant as much to calm the mother as the baby, so that is why many old lullaby reveal a lot about the fears of the time in which they were created. Not so for Hushabye.
4/10

Other versions:
Hushabye is the title of a lot of songs, frequently aimed at children, but rarely is it a cover of the Mystics track. No, the Korn song of the same title isn’t, why do you even ask? I could only find three versions of note. One of them is actually by an ex-member of The Mystics, although he joined the group after the recording of Hushabye. I’m talking about Jay Traynor of Jay & The Americans. Then there are versions by two more famous acts: The Beach Boys and The Kingsmen. I don’t personally care for any of these. The Beach Boys, is the best I guess. The thing is that all these sound even slower than the original and they are really a drag. I recommend the lullabies through cultures and ages that make up the rest of the playlist instead of these covers.

Recommended reading/ listening:
About key lullabies over the world: http://lullabiesoftheworld.org/
BBC radio broadcast about the language of lullabies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010z9yc

The playlist:

Yes, Silent Night is meant as a lullaby, aimed at Jesus.

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