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KING 4544; JUNE 1952

 
 

 

One of rock history’s most reviled hit songs… not this original version, but Chuck Berry’s only #1 record, a live rendition from the early 1970’s.

Maybe that backlash is to be expected for one of rock’s biggest legends getting his only chart topper with a silly novelty song fourteen years after his career peak, but the amount of vitriol for the song itself would have you believe it had absolutely no redeeming qualities.

But when you know that it was written by another Fifties legend who cut the original version that might make you either hate it more, wondering why people from that era resorted to juvenile discussions about sex for laughs, or possibly give it another chance to listen to without any preconceptions clouding your opinion.
 

 

When You’re Young And On The Go
The thing to remember about Dave Bartholomew is that he was so skilled at everything he did with music… except for singing it.

Truth be told I actually like his singing, but fully admit it’s something of an acquired taste. He had a strident, odd pinched nasal tone and you could tell he was self-conscious about it because he’d frequently “speak-sing” to avoid having to really carry a tune.

Yet before he became rock’s greatest producer of the Nineteen-Fifties he was trying to make his living as an artist. He had the top band in New Orleans, actually the entire Gulf Coast, but while playing instrumental cuts, or having different people take a vocal song on the bandstand was perfectly acceptable, in order to really be a star on record you tended to have to be singing yourself.

He managed to get a lone national hit with Country Boy but despite a few decent follow-ups he could never match that and so when Imperial Records came along with an offer to produce, write and arrange, he used those abilities to stake his claim. Of course that made him even more appealing to record labels as an artist, who figured if he was so good at coming up with hit material for others and knew how to put together a session for a wide array of singers, he surely could strike gold again himself.

But most people are aware of their own limitations and aren’t keen on exposing them to the public, especially someone as proud as Bartholomew. So while he continued to cut records, he looked for ways around his flaws, such as writing the novelty My Ding-A-Ling, a song about a little kid who is discussing some rather adult topics, but doing so in an innocent way to take the onus off the racy subject.

Of course because Bartholomew was in his mid-thirties – and the audience for this were past puberty themselves – the naïveté is all just part of the entertainment.
 


 
 

The Cutest Thing
There are two ways to look at novelty songs like this and the way in which you choose probably tells us more about you than the song in question.

Those who view rock ‘n’ roll as a serious business… something you use to build your own self-image by what you like and listen to… are going to find this beneath them. They’ll hate it because it is the polar opposite of everything they value in rock ‘n’ roll – the rebellious image, the tough exterior, even the harsher musical attributes, none of which are found here.

But those who see rock ‘n’ roll as an enjoyable pasttime… music made to mirror all human emotions at one time or another, be it excited or angry, broken-hearted or deep in the throes of love, tough or tender, deadly serious or goofy and silly… will be much more accomodating for what My Ding-A-Ling has to offer.

Truthfully it’d be hard for anyone to unintentionally take this too seriously because of how it’s framed, even before you get to the story itself, as Bartholomew has the horns playing the “shave and a haircut” routine which is a cornerstone of comedy from the stage. When Dave comes in vocally he’s using a sing-songy pattern that isn’t trying to sound younger tonally, but definitely is using a childish manner of melodic phrasing to convey the impish humor that will define the song.

The plot is a simple one, and a fairly common one in real life, as little kids who are always clothed discover there are things UNDER those clothes which are rife with entertainment value and are of great interest, especially to those of the opposite sex who have different parts to play with.

In this case they play with one another’s… or at least the little girl, named Sing, plays with Dave’s ding-a-ling but won’t let him play with her yo-yo.

Now the way it’s laid out he may be talking about actual children’s toys and if so, it’s your own sick perverted minds who are projecting entirely different meanings to his words. That’s usually how it is with the moral hypocrites of the world who wind up being the actual pedophiles and groomers of kids while trying to deflect suspicion from their own sins in the process by railing against drag queens reading stories at the library, all while they’re the ones downloading child porn in darkened rooms at three o’clock in the morning.

But Bartholomew isn’t trying to hide anything here, he’s just mature enough to see the humor in sexual discovery and whether he’s actually talking about two kids learning about the birds and bees through their own harmless self-discovery, or if he’s reflecting back on his own coming of age experiences, the song is enjoyable and innocent, fairly humorous and simplistically catchy to boot.
 


 

Lost Its Sting
Whether this is a great rock record however is another story altogether, for as with most novelty songs the lighthearted music and vocal smirk has a tendency to become a little cloying after awhile, but when heard every now and then it remains mildly entertaining as long as you don’t take things too seriously.

Actually the popularity of Berry’s live version probably taints Bartholomew’s original because the song itself became TOO well known for the humor to be surprising. But in 1952 that wasn’t the case and if you happened to be caught holding My Ding-A-Ling… or yours, or somebody else’s… (the record I mean) and enjoyed listening to it, that’s not anything that should cause anybody any embarrassment.

Truthfully this is the kind of song that was a greater benefit to Dave Bartholomew’s own performing career than ill-conceived attempts at crooning, or songs where he felt a lot more self conscious trying to sing something straight.

With all the classics he wrote for others, chances are this was the one song he conceived for himself which paid off most for him in the end. Even before Berry whipped his out for public consumption in the 1970’s, Bartholomew cut a sequel to this himself and reworked it under other names for different artists, which shows that while it wasn’t a hit officially, it was popular enough to be quite the object of affection for a lot of people.

Isn’t that always the way with these things though? They’re the kind of toy that you never get tired of playing with.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Dave Bartholomew for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Dave Bartholomew (November, 1952)