This week, ten songs for Little Johns everywhere. Special mention to The Tallest Man On Earth, and Long Tall Sally, who had her moment in My Top Ten Sally Songs.
10. Django Django - Giant
Darling of young indie types everywhere, this is one of their more approachable songs for old ears like mine.
9. Liz Phair - Big Tall Man
Liz Phair can indeed be a complicated communicator, but she couldn't possibly be any more scary even if she was a Big Tall Man. I like the talky style of this one.
8. The Four Preps - Big Man
Towering 1958 tune from I've no idea where. Sometimes these songs just end up in my consciousness and I have to play them. Great piano intro.
7. Ben Lee - 10 ft Tall
I was very much into Ben Lee around the time he released this, as part of his third album, Breathing Tornados, back in 1998. Not heard a lot from him since, although he's still at it, by all accounts.
Not to be confused with...
6. XTC - Ten Feet Tall
Right, the chemistry is rightAndy lets Colin do the heavy lifting on this one, released as a single in the USA because it was as close as XTC got to a "West Coast" vibe.
This boy has reached his height
This feeling just goes on and on, and on and on
From strength to strength
I'm ten feet long
5. Billy Joel - Big Man On Mulberry Street
Growing up in Hicksville, New York, and being a bit of a short-arse as a teenager led Billy Joel to take up boxing to defend himself. He became quite successful on the amateur circuit until his nose was broken and he decided to concentrate on his piano playing instead. He became a bigger man that way...
And so in my small wayI was a huge Joel fan as a teenager (imagine how cool that made me!) and I also loved the TV show Moonlighting. So I was like a pig in clover when the two came together...
I'm a big man on Mulberry street
I don't mean all day
Only at night when I'm light on my feet
4. Johnny Cash - A Thing Called Love
Six foot sixThis is a song I remember Radio 2 playing when I was a kid but despite it being a biggish hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it doesn't often feature on Greatest Hit collections, so I had to hunt down the album of the same name - released in 1972, the year of my birth - to get it in my collection. A good move this, because the rest of the album is pretty cool too.
He stood on the ground
He weighed 235 pounds
But I saw that giant of a man brought down by
A thing called love
A Thing Called Love was written by Jerry Reed Hubbard who also gave Elvis Guitar Man and recorded the theme to Smokey & The Bandit... in which he appeared as Cledus Snow.
3. Human League - Empire State Human
This early Human League single (from 1979, folks!) apparently deals with Phil Oakey's boundless ambition to become a pop superstar. Arguably, while the Human League would record far better pop songs (realising Oakey's ambition), they would sacrifice a little of the quirkiness and fun heard on this early track in the process.
With concentration2. Jim Croce - Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
My size increased
And now I'm fourteen stories high
Empire state human
Just a bored kid
I'll go to Egypt to be
Based on one of Jim Croce's old army "buddies", this song deals with a guy who's always on the lookout for trouble.
All the downtown ladies called him 'Treetop Lover'But no matter how big you are, or how bad you are (even if you're "meaner than a junkyard dog"), there's always someone bigger and badder... and by the end of the song, Leroy looks "like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone".
All the men just called him 'Sir'
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was a US Number One - Croce's last before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1973. The song would later be covered by Frank Sinatra, as well as inspiring Freddie Mercury to write Queen's Bring Back That Leroy Brown and Loretta Lynn to pen Mrs. Leroy Brown. There's even a couple of wrestlers who took their name from this song: Bad Leroy Brown & Junkyard Dog.
1. Jimmy Dean - Big Bad John
I've loved this song since I was a kid when Terry Wogan used to play it. This legendary giant, who was "six foot six and weighed two forty five" (ten pounds heavier than Cash's big bloke) was the strong silent type at the mine where he worked, although "everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John". Then one day a timber cracked and all the miners thought "they'd breathed their last... 'cept John". Some say the heroic measures he took to hold up those joists till all his fellow miners escaped were modelled on the Ancient Greek tale of Polydamas of Skotoussa, though something tells me that might be crediting Jimmy Dean with a little too much classical learnin'.
I learnt a couple of surprising things about Big Bad John while researching this post. First, about Jimmy Dean himself, who I always pictured as a big, bad-ass Johnny Cash type. Not so...
Apparently, he's most famous in the U.S. for his sausage: Jimmy Dean Sausages, a successful brand he founded in the late 50s.
But most surprising of all were the sequels. Firstly The Cajun Queen, in which Big John's ex-girlfriend arrives in town, finds his body, and resurrects him with the kiss of life. Like all bad sequels which destroy the integrity of the original movie, we can choose to pretend it never happened...
Except, then comes the third installment, Little Bitty Big John, in which John's son discovers what his father got up to down that mine.
And if that wasn't enough, there's My Big John by Dottie West, told from the perspective of John's Cajun Queen... wisely ignoring both previous sequels.
Which is your treetop lover?