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Song of the Day: “Eighteen with a Bullet”

A break from maudlin self-pity and a return to the pure pleasure that pop at its phinest can provide…

Pete Wingfield, “Eighteen with a Bullet” – from Art Laboe’s Memories Of El Monte: The Roots Of L.A.’s Rock And Roll

How cool is that? What a great song. Also kind of weird and all over the map.

There’s that doo wop intro, straight outta the 50s, and then it shifts register and there are hints of War from the 70s…

Lyrically, it’s pretty weird too:

I’m 18 with a bullet
Got my finger on the trigger
I’m gonna pull it.
[…]
I may be an oldie
But I’m a goodie too

We understand “18 with a bullet.” Or at least, anyone who grew up listening to Casey Kasem and following the charts understands. 18 with a bullet is a song that is rising fast – a big hit. But then he pushes the metaphor and we are less sure about where we are.

And we’re used to different voices and personalities in doo wop, so when we change from the falsetto of “eighteen with a bullet” to a deeper voice that’s okay – but when that deeper voice sings of being “an oldie but a goodie,” we’re lost again.

Not really. A song about music – when you’ve done girls, and heartbreak and cars and dancin’ and surfin’, it’s the obvious choice of topic. An oldie (that doo wop sound) but a goodie that is also a hit (18 with a bullet). A song at the transition between different styles of rock, shifting from the 50s and anticipating the 70s. “A smash double-header.” And, thankfully, not entirely forgotten:

Forgotten 45: “Eighteen With a Bullet”: A more common condition is when the public gave up on records that DJs can’t get enough of. Take Pete Wingfield’s 1975 hit, “Eighteen With a Bullet.” Perhaps the reason DJs loved this more than listeners is that it’s really aimed at us–Wingfield constructs a clever metaphor of love affair-as-record chart that zooms over the head of non-insiders. (via The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

Although at the time I got this song – on a weird compilation album I picked up at a used record story in Hollywood (!) – it was pretty hard to find, it has since become much more accessible, and was included recently on Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels: Music From The Motion Picture – as track 18, which may have been intentional or might just be another example of the unintended humor that was that movie’s forté.

Filed under: Song of the Day,

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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