Whatever floats your boat...
Why do those pernicious earworm songs pop into your head unbidden? Usually just catching a melodic drift from a café or someone else’s radio will lodge the worm in me for the rest of the day, but sometimes, like today, one will pop into my consciousness for no apparent reason at all.
This morning on the shuttle to work, it was a looping repeat of Henry the 8th I Am, the pop song from the 60s by Herman’s Hermits. It’s an infectious, happy bar song, three verses, all the same. I can never hear it without pairing it in my mind with the image of Peter Noone, that sweet happy puppy of rock n’ roll, bobbing his head while singing it on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Why, for the first time in the almost 50 years since I first heard it, did I really think about the words of this song? It isn’t about the king. It’s about a cockney bloke named Henry who has married a woman who only marries men named Henry.
“Second verse, same as the first.” And then I had one of those ah-hah moments when I realized that this song is about a serial killer.
“I got married to the widow next door.
She’s been married seven times before,
And ev’ry one was an ‘Enery.
She wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam.
I’m her eighth old man named ‘Enery.
‘Enery the 8th I am.”
This song is a joke on two levels. The first joke is the obvious one that our Henry the 8th here isn’t the king of England, just the eighth in a string of guys named Henry. The less obvious joke is on the poor bloke himself. He’s married a woman that the profilers on Criminal Minds would call a “collector.” She marries only men named Henry. And it’s too coincidental that all of those Henrys left her a widow unless they were hurried along by means other than natural causes.
Worst of all for the character of the song, he lived next door to this woman and, presumably, has watched her parade of previous husbands named Henry come and go from this earth. How clueless. Happy. But clueless.
So my shuttle arrived at my office, Peter Noone’s happy voice still playing in my head. I could hardly wait to get to my desk so that I could share my wickedly astute analysis of this pop song with a co-worker. You know, show off a little that Naturejunkie *taps temple with index finger* is smart. Trouble was, who do I work with who’s old enough to remember it? I chose one who, though not old enough, is broadly educated about pop culture and smart as hell. I told her my theory, expecting to win additional new respect in her eyes.
“Well, duuuh,” she said.
So it turns out that the joke of this song is really on me. It took me fifty years to “get” it. Sometimes I’m slow that way.
Guess that’s why some songs need to be endlessly repeated.