The Enduring Mystery of “Chevy Shut Down”

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A couple days ago, the insightful person who does the “Fool’s Paradise” show on Saturday afternoon played “Chevy Shut Down” by the Jaguars. It went by quickly and I’d never heard it before, but there was something extremely familiar about it.

Now, of course, there’s YouTube, so an obscure single from 1964 can be listened to over and over again, all over the world, maybe forever! It’s also easy to investigate just about anything. Some have investigated “Chevy Shut Down”, but with little success. The YouTube description says “Millions of hours searching the Google has netted NO information”. I searched “the Google” too and think the Jaguars may have started out in Oklahoma, but it isn’t clear where they came from or who they were (there have been lots of groups called the “Jaguars”). One thing I did find out is that two years ago a copy of the 45 sold on eBay for $100.

What’s especially interesting about this song, aside from its general rambunctiousness and semi-incomprehensible lyrics, is that it’s a “mashup” (the modern term). The Jaguars started with the Beach Boys’ 1963 classic “Shut Down”, rewrote the lyrics and apparently borrowed the intro from “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Then they threw in some of the Rip Chords’ “Hey, Little Cobra” (“go little Chevy, cause I know you’re gonna shut ’em down”) and Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” (“go go, go little Chevy”). The result: Cherry Records C-0369, “Chevy Shut Down”.

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The song starts after the brief introduction. (Some of the mystery is lifted after the video.)(Update: the YouTube video I originally posted is now gone. This one is from 2018.)

Six months ago, someone calling himself Steven Williamson left a comment on YouTube:

This is my Dad singing this song. The Jaguars only recorded 2 songs back in the 60’s. Chevy Shut Down and Just Out Of Luck. I know he was proud to see this. There are still some copies of these songs left but very hard to find.

That is pretty cool.

Whoever they were, the Jaguars did a mashup with incomprehensible lyrics in 1964 that still rocks. They were clearly ahead of their time.

For comparison purposes, the original “Shut Down” from 1963:

The Beach Boys loved how Chuck Berry played guitar:

The Rip Chords’ big hit reached #4 in the U.S. at the dawn of the British Invasion (and led to “go little Chevy, cause I know you’re gonna shut ’em down”):

The incomparable Chuck Berry as he appeared in the 1959 movie “Go, Johnny Go!” (hence, “go, go, go little Chevy”):

August 2020 update: There’s been recent discussion in the comments. The enduring mystery isn’t what it used to be. Thus, ladies and gentlemen: The Jaguars! (Most of them anyway. See below.)

From Bryan Sharp:

Original members of the “Jaguar Band” Left to right: Willie “Bruto” Perdue , Gerald Black “Jerry” & Dale Sellers on the trunk. Not in the picture was James “Rabbit” Williamson.  Rabbit said that car belonged to Willie Perdue. It was a 57 Chevrolet and he cut the top out to turn it into a convertible.  Rabbit said he was probably riding his motorcycle around somewhere. Juanita Purdue is on the hood and that’s Judy (Mclaughlin) Black. Dale’s father Mr. Calvin took the picture in their front yard on a Sunday afternoon May 1965.

Rabbit was telling how โ€œThe Jaguarsโ€ played @ The Civic Center in Panama City.  He said Earl Lowery was playing the drums @ that time, when Willie was in Vietnam.Rabbit said The Jaguars won a talent show in Evergreen, AL that sent the band to Panama City. Not too long after playing in  Panama City Dale went to Nashville.  Rabbit said, โ€œwe did what we wanted to do, record that recordโ€ (Rabbit, Jerry, Dale, & Willie).

Little Hondas, the Record Business, Summer Fun and Advertising

The Beach Boys recorded “Little Honda” in April 1964, when the Beatles occupied positions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart (something nobody else has ever done). Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, “Little Honda” was released on the Beach Boys’ All Summer Long album in the summer of ’64.

Gary Usher (who had earlier written “In My Room” and “409” with Brian Wilson) heard the album and decided to include “Little Honda” on an album of car songs, mostly written by him and Roger Christian (who had written “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Little Deuce Coupe” with Brian Wilson).

Usher hired some studio musicians and singers to make the album, although it was supposedly recorded by the Hondells, a group that didn’t exist yet. Usher made up a story for the album cover explaining how the fictional Hondells had gotten together. In order to release “Little Honda” as a single, however, he needed a group to tour and promote the record, so four young men, one of whom had sung backing vocals on the song, became the real-life Hondells.

“Little Honda” was the only hit record the Hondells ever had, rising to #9 on the Billboard chart. Brian Wilson and the other Beach Boys went on to other things.

Here’s the Beach Boys’ version of “Little Honda”. I think that’s the late Dennis Wilson yelling “Go!” at the beginning. (From the advertising pictures in the video, it appears that young women weren’t supposed to drive Hondas in 1964, although they were encouraged to have fun and hang on tight.)

In 1997, the “alternative” rock band Yo La Tengo released their own “Little Honda” on theirย I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One album. It’s unlikely that anyone in Yo La Tengo ever had fun riding a Honda, but it’s a cool, rather disturbing version of the song.

The Thresher Uncovers the Wheatfield! (Or Not)

I’ve heard there was a time when the lyrics to popular songs were easily understandable. In fact, I heard that from my father more than once. He found it highly amusing when a friend and I played one particular song over and over, trying to make sense of the words,ย sometime in the late 60s.

Often, however, we were pretty sure what the lyrics were. Take, for example, a Beach Boys song called “Cabinessence” (or “Cabin Essence”). It’s a strangely beautiful, relatively psychedelic song about the American frontier, written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks for the long unfinishedย Smile album.

“Cabinessence” has a special place in the history of the Beach Boys (and the history of American popular music, for that matter), since conflict concerning its lyrics supposedly contributed to Brian Wilson giving up onย Smile, history’s most famous unfinished rock album. The person who famously objected to the lyrics back in 1967 was Mike Love, frequent lead singer and lyricist for the Beach Boys (especially in their early days). Newly appointed lyricist Van Dyke Parks didn’t give Mike a satisfying answer when asked to explain the following lines: “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield/Over and over the thresher uncovers the wheatfieldโ€.

I’ve never thought these lyrics were all that mysterious, especially compared to some other lyrics from that period (“The preacher looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed/With twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest”?). What was Mike Love’s problem anyway? Aside from being bald, jealous and relatively untalented?

So it was quite a surprise when I learned the other day that I have apparently misheard the lyrics to “Cabinessence” for the past 46 years. According to the most official sources (lyrics sheets in recent releases), the final words to the song are: “Over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield, over and over, the thresher, and hover the wheatfield”.

“And hover?” Not “uncovers”? What the hell does “and hover the wheatfield” mean? It’s not even English. If that’s the line that bothered Mike Love, I suddenly feel (a tiny bit) more sympathetic toward the guy.

Well, it turns out that matters are not quite that simple. A bit of research reveals the following:

1) Sheet music from 1968 says that the song ends with “the crow fliesย [sic] uncover the cornfield”. There’s no mention of the thresher or the wheatfield at all.

2) Wikipedia has one paragraph indicating that the song ends with “Over and over, the thresher and plover, the wheatfield” (“plover” = a short-billed, gregarious wading bird).

3) In 2004, an anonymous expert on a Smile message board (there used to be such things) suggested that the last two lines make more sense if they are rearranged, as follows: “Over and over the crow cries and hovers the wheatfield/Over and over the thresher uncovers the cornfieldโ€. Which does make more sense grammatically — although in the 19th century you’d expect to find scarecrows in cornfields and threshers in wheatfields, not the other way around.

4) When I listen to the song, I still (think I) hear the thresher uncovering the wheatfield, with no hovering going on at all.

5) The song was written and first recorded in the mid-60s, when lots of people, including Wilson and Parks, weren’t terribly sober, so who knows what the words were?

And, you might ask, who cares? Well, I do. Now every time I listen to the song, I’m going to be wondering: Now what are they saying? I might as well be back on our living room floor with Dean from across the street, playing some damn song over and over again, with my father shaking his head in the background.

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What are accepted, apparently by everyone else, as the song’s full lyrics:

http://beachboyssongs.com/lyrics-page-1/lyrics-cabinessence/

Further discussion of “Cabinessence” by someone more obsessed than me:

http://arkhonia.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/%E2%80%98smile%E2%80%99-%E2%80%93-my-first-25-years-cabin-essence-lost-and-found/

An English professor adds some professional commentary:

http://mleddy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/that-infamous-line.html

And to hear for yourself, what is probably not a music video from 1967: