Songs of the folks

Billy Jones and Ernie Hare were the Happiness Boys, so named not so much for their dispositions, but for their radio sponsor: the Happiness Candy Company. In 1924, they cut a novelty track titled “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” It became a national smash.

In 1958, British skiffle master Lonnie Donegan updated the song just a little. The BBC wouldn’t play it because “Spearmint” was a trademark in the United Kingdom, so Donegan’s release in early 1959 substituted the more generic “chewing gum.” (See, for instance, the “cherry cola” version of the Kinks’ “Lola,” under the same strictures.) Donegan had himself a hit, though for some reason it got no serious push Stateside until 1961.

And that would be Donegan’s last hit in the US, though he continued to record in the UK for the rest of his days. In 1962 he cowrote a song sad enough to be a country weeper, with the unhappy title “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” (Yes, this is the song that became such a huge hit for Tom Jones seven years later; Jones had actually cut it in 1967, but it went nowhere until 1969.)

“I Wanna Go Home,” waxed by Donegan in 1960, dates back to a Bahamian folk song from about fifty years earlier. In 1966, his recording was reissued, probably prompted by an American cover by the Beach Boys.

Donegan, a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire as of 2000, died of a heart attack in 2002 at seventy-one. I still find interesting stuff in his catalogue.

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