If there is one album that evokes my childhood, it is The Raunch Hands 'Against The World'. Released in 1960 or 1961, this collection of folk songs is still one of my favorite albums today. My sisters and I knew the album by heart and even though my parents had bought it, I am sure they grew weary of the hootenanny bellowing from the den.
You might be able to pick up a copy on eBay but most likely you'll have to take my word for it. This is one of the great folk albums of all time. And as far as I'm concerned you can remove the 'folk' and say one of the great albums, period.
First of all it is hilarious. It came out at the height of the Cold War, before social unrest became pigeonholed into long hair and stinky underarms. These guys look like a Skull 'n Bones charter meeting but this is some of the most radical shit ever. They open with 'The Bomb Song' which chronicles a Slavic terrorist group as they keep having to come up with someone new to carry the suicide package.
Imagine 3 kids in Toughskins, faces smeared with Oreos gathered around a record player in 1976. Nerf football in the corner. Fisher Price Little People everywhere. They chant in unison, "Mama's aim is bad and the copskys all know Dad so it's Brother Ivanovich's turn to throw the bomb!" God I love my parents for having that album.
They then turn their laser aim on modern psychology in a song called 'Dr. Freud'. Again, picture 4 kids ages 2 to 11, faces upturned, nailing the harmony in a song whose refrain ends, 'Dr. Freud, oh Dr. Freud! How we wish you had been differently employed! For this set of circumstances now enhances the finances of the followers of Dr. Sigmund Freud!'
Simple arrangements, 4 or 5 voices in harmony, 1 guitar and a whole lotta attitude. After these two subversive songs, they dig back into the respectable canon for a religious rendering of 'Michael, Row The Boat Ashore'. I am not a religious man. But this song, coupled with their version of 'Jordan River' which is on Side B, is about as close as I come to feeling the spirit of the Lord.
Not a group to stay serious for very long, they jump to a folk medley using the song 'I Gave My Love A Cherry'. With spoken word segments explaining the path a folk song takes to the top of the charts, they interpret the song as an a cappella soprano aria, a hillbilly jamboree, a calypso romp, and an Elvis Presley rock and roll shouter.
There is another goofy song called 'A Horse Named Bill' and then comes the piece de resistance...
A song called 'The Old H.U.A.C.' Now, for the uninitiated, the H.U.A.C. stands for the House Un-American Activities which was Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt group. The Red Scare was in full effect and the fallout from McCarthyism was still rampant by 1960.
Here are the lyrics...
The Old H.U.A.C.
I am a college student
And I've come to sing this song
I've always been a liberal
I never thought it wrong
But I have come to tell you
Take warning now from me
Or you may have to tangle with
The old H-U-A-C.
Now, I am only eighteen years
Of age as of this date
It's hard to see how I could be
A danger to the state
But that's what the committee said
And so it has to be
For their sources are of
What a lucky thing it is for you and me
That our freedoms are well guarded
By politically retarded
Men of unimpeachable integrity.
I went and joined a picket line
Because I'd like to see
No more discrimination
If our land is really free
I'd like to see them put an end
To weapons testing too
But they say this is a dangerous
Subversive point of view.
I tried to be progressive
But I never was a red
I thought the first amendment
Meant exactly what it said
But now that that's gone out of style
There's just one thing to do
Be silent or conservative
The choice is up to you.
They're just lookin' out
For guys like you and me
So become reactionary
And of progress be most wary
Keep our country true and brave
And strong and free.
So listen to my warning
And reject each liberal view
And praise the men who govern us
No matter what they do
But even this is not enough
For those who would go far
You'd better make your mother
Join the local D.A.R.
Now please don't tell them who
It was that wrote this song
If anyone should ask you
Tell them I have moved along
I'm sorry that I have to leave
The evening has been great
But I have been subpoenaed
And I really can't be late.
Now, you might think those lyrics are quaint and I suppose they are. But when you consider the context and the source, it gives you a good idea that these guys mean business. They are not 'kumbaya-ing' us to death with platitudes about love and understanding. They are FURIOUS. In many ways this album reminds me more of the punk movement than the folk movement.
Now I could go on and on and on. And none of this really makes enough sense without the SOUND. It is catchy to an almost unbelievable level. And memorable. My mother had CD copies of the album made and gave all of us copies for Christmas (best mother ever) and so I did a little experiment.
My son (best son ever) is 11 years old. He is primarily a Beatles and John Williams fan with a dash of Green Day's 'American Idiot' thrown in for good measure. I popped The Raunch Hands in and within 3 listens he KNEW EVERY WORD.
AND COULD SING ALONG.
TO EVERY SONG.
Now, I could give him a whole bunch of gobbledygook about the folk movement and how important it was and the historical meaning of these obscure Ivy League freaks who cut one record. But is that what caused these songs to imprint themselves so fully and instantly onto his mental hard drive? Did that make it easier for him to memorize 16 songs almost instantaneously?
These punks conclude their battle 'Against The World' with 'Victory in Korea', singing in their beautiful pristine harmony-
Thank you dear God for Victory in Korea
We're thankful that the battle's won
We give you dear God praise for Victory in Korea
We're thankful dear God for what you've done
Now, I don't know what's punker than that. Just type in Iraq to see how raunchy these hands still are.