Tomorrow, Feb. 2, is Groundhog Day, when, allegedly, a large rodent determines how long we will be shoveling snow and performing other winter-seasonal functions. What flavors of The Music should we listen to on such an occasion?
First, a history lesson is in order. Groundhog Day is not the invention of the scriptwriters for a Bill Murray motion picture project, but has roots in ancient Christian and earlier pagan traditions. It coincides with, and probably grew out of, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, which celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and is the 40th day of the Christmas-Epiphany season.
Candlemas is also the midpoint of winter season, and the six weeks hinging on Mr. Groundhog’s encounter with sunshine are the second half of the season. Hence, the (I think it was) Old English traditional saying, “Candlemas Day, half your wood and half your hay.”
Translated, that means that if you had burned more than half your wood, and the livestock had eaten more than half the hay, by Feb. 2, you had a problem. Groundhog Day, though, grew out of German cultural traditions, specifically in Pennsylvania. In the southeastern part of the Keystone State, Groundhog Lodges still celebrate the holiday with social events.
But, you say, the damn blog is supposed to be about music. Okay, what better to listen to on Groundhog Day than, of course, the Groundhogs.
A British band established under another name in 1962 and playing pop music, they backed blues legend John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour, opened for the Rolling Stones in 1971 and recorded 13 studio albums of their own under several configurations (with a nine-year hiatus) up through in 1999.
Their music, based on my YouTube sailing and what I’ve heard on sat radio, is pretty much straight-up electric blues, albeit with some extended jams. The influence of Hooker and similar blues guitarists is pretty clear. The group was originally called the Dollar Bills, but took their new name one of Hooker’s songs after they switched to playing the blues.
So John Lee’s “Groundhog Blues” also would be a good listening choice today, Hooker gained fame performing his interpretation of Mississippi Delta blues on electric guitar (and writing blues/rock chestnuts like “Crawling King Snake,” “Boom Boom” and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”). But the version on YouTube is just John Lee on acoustic guitar. It’s tasty.
A woodchuck is the same critter, Marmota monax, as the groundhog. So you could also listen to (if you could find a recording) Ragtime Roberts’ 1904 version of “The Woodchuck Song” — be advised, though, that it does not answer the important question, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck.”
Since the holiday’s tradition depends to some extent on the absence of light created by Mr./Ms. Monax, you could also listen to music with a shadow theme. Considering the implications of said tradition, my preference would be “Got No Shadow” by Little Feat, from the album “Sailin’ Shoes.”
But if you’re a glutton for punishment and crave six more weeks of winter, listen to the Shadows of Night; their version of “Gloria” isn’t as good as Them’s, but it had a nice beat and was easy to dance to back in the day. Or the English instrumental rock band the Shadows, who with Cliff Richard dominated the U.K. pop music scene pre-Beatles.
What if Punxsutawney Phil or Chesapeake Chuck — or whichever is your preferred groundhog — sees his shadow today? (Or maybe hers, although almost all these celebratory marmotas seem to have guy names.) You could spend the next six weeks listening to Johnny or Edgar Winter, or the Paul Winter Consort (Earle Bailey on Deep Tracks just played a wonderful cut by that group).
You could also throw in Bill Pursell’s 1963 No. 63, “Our Winter Love.” And the Stones “Winter,” from “Goat’s Head Soup,” and “Wintertime Love” by the Doors.
If Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, you shouldn’t have to wait too long to start playing songs like Donna Summer’s “Spring Affair” and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. Or maybe music by Springsteen, or any of the Springfields, Dusty, Rick and Buffalo.
But if you associate Groundhog Day only with the Bill Murray movie, you could go with songs that get played over and over. Listening to your average Classic Rock FM station could get you there.
Or you could cue up the most-played rock songs. One such Classic Rock top 15 includes songs that I’d just as soon not hear, including the top two, both by Aerosmith, plus Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and numbers by Kiss and Rush.
Or how about songs with really repetitive lyrics? There’s actually some pretty good ones — the Police sing the lady of the night’s name 27 times in “Roxanne,” the Beach Boys asked Rhonda for help repeatedly, the Beatles intone “please don’t be long” a lot in “Blue Jay Way and Springsteen told us his direction plenty in “I’m Goin’ Down.”
But then there’s stuff that’s like fingernails on a blackboard:Tommy James and the Shondells did better than “Hanky Panky”; ditto for David Bowie in “Fame.” Ohio Express’s “Yummy Yummy” made me sick to my tummy — and don’t even get me started on Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
But if you buy into the Groundhog Day superstition — and the various official marmotas are surprisingly accurate in their predictions I hope you’ll join me in hoping the rodent doesn’t see his shadow. We need to change our tune, season-wise, sooner rather than later.