If you are of a certain age and musical inclination, you know the rest of the chorus, and the story of Charlie on the MTA.
Bob Shane, one of the founders of the original Kingston Trio, passed away late last month. He was 85. I grew up listening to their LPs, of which Mom and Dad Red had many, along with music by Odetta, the New Christie Minstrels, Ian and Sylvia, the Limelighters, and other “folk” groups from the 50s and 60s. I didn’t get all of the asides and jokes, and Mom had to explain a few of them, or just said, “Later, dear.”
I really liked their live recordings, because of the banter and joking, and the wit. They were not really folk musicians like Alan Lomax, Jean Ritchie, and others, because they wrote a number of their songs, but they became the folk music of the time, and they captured the sense of the old ballads and bawdy songs. “Charlie on the M.T.A.”, “Scarlet Ribbons*,”Zombie Jamboree,” “John Birch Society,” and others still play in my head from time to time. Some were social commentary (“Which Hat Shall I Wear,” “John Birch,”) but they were also humorous.
Here’s a slightly bawdy number, with a verse that could never make it on radio today:
And of course, poor Charlie, forever trapped beneath Boston’s streets:
And one of my favorites:
*Just who composed “Scarlet Ribbons” was settled by a lawsuit between Jean Ritchie and David Guard of the Trio.