I’ve got an idea that will make me millions — if I can somehow become musically inclined enough to carry it through. More likely, I’ll probably just pay for the chance to listen if someone else manages the feat. The idea?
Kids music. For adults.
Now, before you scoff, realize that quite a lucrative market has been had for creating the reverse: adult music for kids. Be it done successfully (give “Rockabye Baby!” your ear for lullaby renditions of, among others, Kanye’s “Gold Digger” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”) or less so (all 21 iterations of Kidz Bop), parents have been feeding songs to kids who, in the grand scheme of things, have only heard the songs a few times. So doesn’t it make sense that a lucrative market could be had for an artist who could put a mature spin on songs we’ve heard our entire lives?
The idea came to me when writing a headline for a photo in Wednesday’s Beaufort Gazette, a headline for which I ended up recalling “I’ll Be Workin’ on the Railroad.” (I realize that “Railroad” is at first a folk song passed down for generations, but I’d be willing to bet most recognize it as a song from the children’s canon.) Up until then, I hadn’t given the song much thought, only associating it with sing-alongs while sitting pretzel-style on a mat as I wondered what kind of name “Dinah” was. But as the lyrics of the song reverberated around my head, I picked up on very adult themes that sailed over a mind fueled by fruit snacks and macaroni and cheese.
“I’ve been working on the railroad/All the live-long day./I’ve been working on the railroad/Just to pass the time away. … ‘Dinah blow your horn?’ ” The general malaise of the 9-to-5 worker has set in for the song’s narrator as he comments on the meek outlook of his life. He might be suffering from depression: His tireless job is all that gets him out of bed, yet he seeks desperately for its end each day.
“Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.” They aren’t cooking. The first seeds of potential infidelity are sowed into the listener’s ear, reminiscent of rumor flying through an assembly line or a row of cubicles. Could this be the spice that brings life to our railroad worker’s day?
“Singin’ fee, fie, fiddly-i-o/Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-o/Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o/Strummin’ on the old banjo.” Is this the first recorded instance of somebody trying to slip something past the company’s email filter? The overt euphemism for the consummation of Dinah’s workplace tryst invokes the joy and scandal our narrator feels as he relates the illicit story to his audience.
Are you telling me that a B.B. King, a Buddy Guy or even a Mumford & Sons wouldn’t absolutely slay that song?
I’d love for someone to adapt the youthful exuberance and maternal affection of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” for mature ears. Or the desperate curiosity of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Even the macabre despair of “Ring Around the Rosey.”
Perhaps my desire to go to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., this weekend is putting irrational wonders in my head. Or I’ve listened to the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album — “Americana,” which features a few folk songs commonly sung by kids — too many times. I’m sure there’s a banjo-playing joke in there somewhere.
But when you hum “Workin’ on the Railroad” later this afternoon — and you’re probably going to (apologies for that) — just wonder if it might be better coming from someone with a recording contract.
Andy isn’t kidding anyone; his mind still runs on fruit snacks and macaroni and cheese.