Mercedes Benz

2014
07.12

This is another from Jon’s Forest School Camps and he offers, “We sing this on FSC although I’m not quite sure why, but it always seems to stick in my memory. I don’t really sing anything else like this that I can think of.” I’m expecting a few ripples and lively discussion here, but this version with Jon and Concertina contrasts nicely with Janis Joplin’s A Capella original. It was the very last thing she recorded before her untimely death at the age of 27. The song was an obvious commentary on materialism and was written with poet Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth. Ironically Joplin owned a psychedelically painted Porsche at the time she wrote and recorded this. You can wiki it all here should you so desire. Interestingly, although I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, there’s quite a lot on Mudcat, such as this thread, which even suggests an extra verse.

 

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69 Responses to “Mercedes Benz”

  1. Maureen Musson says:

    Very unexpected – but very nice!

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Having wondered what A Capella song you might not cover, and thinking of Janis Joplin singing this only last night, you have surprised me too! Quite spooky that! Keep bringing this variety on, Jon!

  3. Muzza says:

    We all have a fix in our heads as to what “Folk” song is….so some of us are going to be disappointed now and then. It’s my turn today as this song is “Country&Western” to me. I could understand if this was song number 365 and the English Folk cupboard was bare……..But…..I’m quite happy as I know you’ll come up with some other gems in the forthcoming 346!

  4. Phil says:

    What Muzza said – bah, humbug, this isn’t folk, get back to the English tradition, etc. But I’m not really complaining – I’ve always liked this song & it’s good to hear it like this.

  5. Grandad7 says:

    This from Peter Warlock a composer who lived in Enysford a village quite near where I live in Kent (1926)
    “. . . music is neither old nor modern: it is either good or bad music, and the date at which it was written has no significance whatever. Dates and periods are of interest only to the student of musical history. . . . All old music was modern once, and much more of the music of yesterday already sounds more old-fashioned than works which were written three centuries ago. All good music, whatever its date, is ageless — as alive and significant today as it was when it was written . . .”

  6. Caroline Jefford says:

    folkfunktastic! loud it up!

  7. Janet Carter says:

    Oh Dear! I am a huge Bellowhead fan, and came to this site expecting great things. I have listened to all of the recordings and I have to say I really don’t like the sound of Jon’s voice. It probably sounds absurd given that I’ve heard him sing live with Bellowhead five times and listen to their records a lot, but maybe the addition of instruments helps me, and covers a multitude of sins, hiding the fact he’s actually quite a bad singer. Also, I’m sorry to say, I have to agree with some of the nay-sayers as I think that this project is going to do more harm than good for the insular world of English traditional music.

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, if this project harms insularity, I can’t see that as a bad thing. English traditional music stacks up on its own, but you do rather need a singer! I think some visitors to this project are simply going to find they don’t like the unaccompanied singing of these sorts of songs – no matter how wide the parameter of what’s included in those songs. I mostly prefer some instrumentation/accompaniment myself, but this is a unique opportunity to learn about 365 different songs, provenance, other singers and fabulous stories, if not heritage. Probably no-one’s done it before and probably no-one else is going to do it again. It appears the most well-informed on folk here (and I’m not one) are giving it the thumbs up, so not that insular. And most have no dislike of Jon’s voice. There are bound to be variances in the singing of 365 songs. Some songs suit a voice better than others and lend themselves to different methods of delivery…hence no doubt all the different ways Jon presents music, solo, duo, group, Bellowhead etc.
    And I like this song, Mercedes Benz. If it’s C & W, what’s that but American folk? I agree with the commentator who said the measure of a good song is that it’s timeless.

  9. Rachel Fox says:

    Yeh for variety. You can’t beat it.

  10. Steve Fisher says:

    I think I agree with Janet. Already this project seems to be losing steam and the quality of performance is – to put it politely – lacking. I have always found it hard to come to terms with the fact that the traditional music scene in this country celebrates mediocrity, and hence has no qualms about presenting sub-standard performance. I think that is the reason that it is such an “insular” genre and why it will never reach the masses (regardless of this fluff piece in the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/sound-of-summer-meet-the-new-faces-of-nu-folk-2021011.html – Mumford and Sons, Folk?)

  11. Phil says:

    Firstly, let’s not do “what is folk?” here. Please.

    Secondly, I’d like to hear more of what are generally regarded, rightly or wrongly, as ‘traditional’ songs, for the simple reason that there are plenty of them and there aren’t many places where they get an airing. Really discovering traditional songs was a Narnia-like experience for me – like visiting a park where you’ve been many times before (Fairport, Steeleye, Albions) and suddenly realising it’s not a park at all but an entire country. Jon clearly knows his way around that country, so I hope he’s not going to spend too much time in the debatable lands of Folk-If-You-Say-So and What-Do-We-Mean-By (otherwise known as the Horse Latitudes).

    Thirdly, I like Jon’s box playing & think the accompaniment works really well on some of these songs, BUT (it’s a big ‘but’) I’d also like to hear more unaccompanied singing, for very similar reasons – it’s a good way to sing songs (especially traditional songs) and there aren’t many places where it gets heard.

    And fourthly, please let’s not do “what is folk?” here.

  12. Phil says:

    In what sense is the quality of performance “lacking”? Genuinely puzzled here. Jon’s style of singing isn’t mine, but I can’t see anything wrong with the quality.

    As for “nu-folk”, what year was Liege and Lief? Because I think the newspaper archives will show that that was the year of the first “it’s folk! new folk! not like the old folk! no beards and woolly jumpers here, oh no!” fluff-piece. Eliza Carthy said somewhere that the last time she read one of these she did a mental roll-call of her band (one beard between them, no jumpers) and then looked at the new bands the article was championing, practically all of whom sported beards and chunky knitwear. But they were nu-folk beards and jumpers, so that’s different, and new, and exciting…. zzzz

  13. Owen says:

    Great choice! Amazing that someone can be disappointed by it – if we can accomodate the poetry of Rudyard Kipling without howling about populism then we can surely withstand a 40-year-old spiritual.

    As for Jon’s voice, there is only one Peter Bellamy and Jon has a fine voice of his own if he’ll only sing straighter a capella. Peter’s voice is one of the great gifts of heaven but Jon’s emulation of him sometimes distracts from the song. Perhaps this is just my experience, but I found myself too conscious of his Bellamying to follow the narrative on some outings!

    Even so, this is better than Roger McGuinn’s online folk library. As a young singer who still hasn’t found a folk community I’m very glad it is happening.

  14. Brian Lewis says:

    My, aren’t there some nerds out there. Like the way you have given “mercedes” a hymn-like quality. Keep surprising us Jon.

  15. Phil says:

    if we can accomodate the poetry of Rudyard Kipling without howling about populism

    Who’s “howling”? Who’s even mentioned populism?

    What I said was that I’d rather hear traditional songs in a folk venue (or virtual venue), because I like hearing them and there are precious few other places where you can hear them.

  16. admin says:

    Phil,
    I’m sure from what I’ve seen in advance that most of what’s coming will keep you happy. There will be the odd diversion and Jon will vary his treatments of the material if for no other reason to maintain his own enjoyment. I was expecting more ‘howling’ than we have here, which personally I find encouraging. Anyway as I’ve said I’m sure you’ll continue to enjoy it and I thank you for your contributions so far.

  17. Yer Gran says:

    Louis Armstrong said,”All music is folk music.I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song”
    Jon,thank you,,keep up the brilliant variety and maybe we’ll have some new and positive experiences in song if we open up our ears and minds

  18. Mzz.Beee says:

    I think thus far, JB’s been pretty traditional in his choices and because that’s something that interests me, that’s pleasing to see. But a couple of curve balls is no bad thing either: I did an unaccompanied rendering of The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale a while back, wedged approximately between Solvay and the fabulously gory Childe Owlet. I thought it worked.
    Otherwise I’m unsure as to where some of the detractors are coming from with their critiques of “quality”. a) whether you dig JB’s singing or not is IMO a matter of personal taste, and has nothing to do with quality. And b) at the beginning of the project JB himself said (quote) “afolksongaday.com is an opportunity for me to record my whole repertoire of songs without worrying about making any of them commercial, stylistically original, or fitting them in to a particular album concept.”
    So as well as being something freely offered in the spirit of ‘social singing’, he’s not really trying to showcase his musical prowess as such – more just approaching the songs in the same relaxed fashion that we all might at the local pub among friends. And that relaxed approach, is precisely what I like about this project.

  19. Shelley says:

    It was a very pleasant surprise to wake up to this song this morning, and an unpleasant one to read people being so negative about the project. If you don’t like it, stay away. This project is not only a great idea, but an excellent resource for folk singers (like myself).

    I’m surprised to hear the song referred to as C&W as I’ve never regarded it as that. It’s a great one for singarounds and song workshops, so surely it is appropriate for a project that is aiming to promote social singing?

  20. John Burton says:

    If we all sang to not offend anyone in any way, we would all sound the bloody same.
    Now that would be totally boring and all songs would be beige.
    It is all to do with style, it provides colour and variation in voices and makes us all unique.
    Jon has done his own thing, it is in pitch and has pretty good diction and is recorded well.
    Personally for me he overdoes the vibrato a little in some of the a capella versions we have heard to date, it seems less over the last few days though.
    I can easily handle a few asides (and the vibrato) in a year of song, particularly if they are done in a different way, a straight attempt at a Joplin version would have been as disasterous as the lady who was trying to do it in Tottenham(Ontario Can, not the other one) last Saturday, OK so she wasnt in pitch and sounded terrible.
    I also find songs like this, totally out of the norm, work really well as encores, I remember Steeleye Span doing Rave On and Im Forever Blowing Bubbles to name but two.

  21. Stephen Witkowski says:

    This song made me laugh! As do some of the comments here. Enough people have said the things that I was going to say for me not to repeat them. Except that Jon is giving all this material away for free. It’s a good starting point for anybody who wants to learn some songs for social singing.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one to think that you could add other verses to this song asking God for things you might want. I’d ask for a new bathroom suite but I don’t know how to make that scan…

  22. Phil says:

    I’d ask for a new bathroom suite but I don’t know how to make that scan…

    Well, “a new bathroom suite” has the same number of syllables and the same stress pattern as “a Mercedes Benz”. But beyond that you’re on your own.

  23. Stephen Witkowski says:

    I realised that about an hour ago. Still working on it…

  24. Mzz.Beee says:

    Perhaps those detractors here are unused to traditional folk song?
    I wouldn’t be surprised, as there is little enough of it to be heard about.
    The project is definitely needed.

  25. Mzz.Beee says:

    EDIT: perhaps some of the detractors.. etc.
    Anyway I’m off to listen to less confusing genres, like dance music… (joke)

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    Lord, won’t you buy me a new bathroom suite?
    A tub and a sink, and a safe toilet seat…

    I need one too, Stephen. No, this is just too silly! HAHAHAHA!

  27. OxfordClareB says:

    ‘Perhaps those detractors here are unused to traditional folk song?’

    No, just used to it enough to a) know that this isn’t ‘a *folk* song a day’ by anyone’s definition and b) bewail the fact that a hugely talented and influential figure in the modern folk scene is capable of such a staggering lack of judgement and integrity. (Btw, thanks to Phil for some wonderfully commonsense and eloquent comments!)

    If you’re not going to do ‘a *folk* song a day’, don’t call the project by that name. Granted, Jon has used the phrase ‘social singing’, of which I am all in favour, but please don’t then confuse the issue by implying that your selection criterion is some singer-songwriter free-for-all nightmare if you are also implying – as I think he is – that he is promoting the much-neglected cause of unaccompanied traditional song. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but they *are* different, so it seems that he should make up his mind about which cause he feels needs the most support.

    Finally, it’s not even a good car, let alone a good song.

    Liked everything else so far though.

  28. OxFox says:

    And I wonder what EFDSS think now about the support they’ve offered for this project…?

    If there’s likely to be any more such “curve balls”, please change the name to JonBodenSings.com.

  29. Mzz.Beee says:

    PS yes my last comment in context of this song did sound daft! But I was unclear in indicating that I was following on from my prior comments about complaints of ‘poor quality’ or bad singing rather than those objecting to non-traditional song choices. To phrase it more clearly: I think if one is unused to unaccompanied traditional song in particular, it can sound a bit odd. Plus the ‘production values’ of social singing aren’t very high, usually nothing more than a wooden floor to provide a bit of a boost. JB’s doing here something similar – albeit more high profile – to what lots of amateur enthusiasts do for themselves at singarounds and in virtual communities, he’s made it clear that he’s not putting out a Bellowhead album. But otherwise, I do agree to an extent about song choice, I too hope to hear mainly English traditional folk song as the blog continues. And indeed from what’s already been stated by admin, it seems that that’s what we’re going to get.

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    One curve ball seems to have knocked a few people off their high horses. Lighten up, and keep some courtesy about the comments please, folks. I wonder Jon doesn’t take his bat and ball home, some of the things that have been said, but I reckon he’s a professional and a grown-up. There’s nothing wrong with being purist about this venture, if that’s what you feel, but the music ‘don’t mind’ and surely it’s not a static thing? Everything is open to interpretation. It’s allowed.

    As for Mercedes Benz. Not just a knock at materialism but, if you were really poor and saw someone it that car, it could symbolise something for you above simple materialism. You’d have to be materialistically knowledgeable to know whether it was a good car or not, and that wasn’t really the point.

  31. Jane Ramsden says:

    Or maybe it was the point: Privilege = knowledge. Information = power = privilege.

  32. Phil says:

    if you were really poor and saw someone in that car,

    “My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends”? This is a satirical song about middle-class piety, not Robert Johnson’s long-lost Mercedes Benz Blues (not that I wouldn’t like to hear that).

    Besides, it’s not that duff a car – the Lord can buy me a Mercedes Benz any day of the week. I used to work with marketing and sales people, almost all of whom drove either a Merc or a BMW, and I always thought the Merc drivers were the ones with taste.

  33. Philomena Bloggs says:

    As I recall from my far distant youth the “traditional” singers of Norfolk such as Sam larner, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon and others who never got to be as famous but sang a lot in the local pubs, made little or no distinction between “folk” songs and songs from Music hall, the radio or wherever. Their criteria was “Is it worth singing?”.

    So I reckon Jon has got it spot on, and the variety is good.

    As for the quality, I think people have got so used to hearing the “air brushing” that goes on in recording the music that is played all around us (whether we want it or not) on tv, on radio, in shops/pubs etc that they are unused to hearing a real, individual voice with all it’s own nuances. I’m sure that Jennifer Anniston in the flesh without all the make up etc has the odd skin tone difference that never appeared on “Friends”. (I know that comparison is out of date but that was when I gave up on tv.)

  34. Mzz.Beee says:

    “I think people have got so used to hearing the “air brushing” that goes on in recording the music that is played all around us (whether we want it or not) on tv, on radio, in shops/pubs etc that they are unused to hearing a real, individual voice with all it’s own nuances.”

    Amen! We should probably consider ourselves lucky that JB’s not autotuning these recordings into sterile robotic uniformity, like many singers (apparently including some contemporary folk artists) are doing these days.

  35. saira-jane says:

    I like this version of the song..gives it a very different feel!

  36. Phil says:

    Philomena – singers sing, it’s what they (we) do. I do a mean Smiths cover myself when pushed. (I’m not pushed very often.) But everything I’ve read suggests that source singers were well aware of the difference between contemporary material and “the old songs”. Jim Carroll has stories from his collecting days of singers who knew stacks of C&W songs and refused to sing any of them to him.

  37. Blue Scouse says:

    It’s quite simple. Mercedes Benz is NOT a folk song, and this project has the title, A Folk Song a Day.

    Yes, Sam Larner, Harry Cox and Sam Larner may well have sung music hall songs, but I would suggest they were aware of the distinction. My feeling is that anyone who has demonstrated a love of and respect for the tradition has earned the right to sing what they want, and I would not normally object had I heard Jon sing Mercedes Benz when out ‘Social singing.’ I do actually like this rendition.

    The only problem I have with that is the widespread watering down over recent years of traditional material in folk clubs across the country, and I believe that influential singers who love the tradition and want to preserve it should choose their songs with care. There are enough people who walk into folk clubs and think it’s OK to sing pop songs.

  38. Blue Scouse says:

    Please substitute Walter Pardon for the repeated Sam Larner in the previous post

  39. Rosie says:

    To all those people who have posted negative comments about this song in particular.
    You may have a different idea to what “Folk” Music is, but for the majority of people, it is seen and always has been seen as the people’s music, so anything could be put into that genre really.
    Please don’t make negative comments on such a wonderful project, becuase Jon has taken a lot of his time to do this and put a lot of effort into it I am sure.
    It is really rather unpleasant to read some of your comments, on what is meant to be a happy, and very very useful website!

  40. admin says:

    I wonder whether the same ire would have been stirred by a Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger song for example? On the subject of pop songs in folk clubs – my first visit to one was made all the better for hearing Sean Lakeman and Kathryn Roberts mixing in songs by Lowell George, Tom Waits and Peter Holsapple amongst the Trad. Arr. It added a level of familiarity that made the whole evening easier for me to assimilate and led me to revive a lapsed interest in the more arcane ‘folk’ music. Perversely perhaps, I can fully understand the village-green-preservation type of response, it’s just not mine. For a start it’s not me recording the songs and secondly I don’t consider myself expert enough to set any parameters or limits. I thought this entry would divide opinion. I think Jon’s source of the FSCs should also be taken into account before dismissing this out of hand though. Thanks to all for the lively debate, I sincerely hope no-one takes offence.

  41. Phil says:

    I’d been going to folk clubs for six years – and thoroughly enjoying it – before I realised it was possible to have an entire evening of traditional song, let alone that anyone actually did it. That’s a double-edged memory for me – I had a lot of fun listening to & singing contemporary songs, but looking back I wish I’d found the door marked Trad. a bit sooner.

    I’ve learned over the years that there’s absolutely no point beginning a sentence with “folk is”, let alone “folk isn’t” – Satchmo’s horse is never far away! Usually these days I confine myself to saying that I like good songs well sung, but that I’m particularly fond of hearing traditional songs. Even that seems to sound like a declaration of war to some people, but there you go.

  42. Shelley says:

    I’d just like to add that I don’t think there is anything wrong with the project being called “A Folk Song a Day”. Some folk songs are hundreds of years old, some were written last week. This project is NOT called “A Trad Song a Day” after all is it?

  43. Phil says:

    I’ll take the Fifth Amendment on that one (that’s the one that covers not starting unnecessary arguments on Mudcat and similar fora).

  44. Stephen Harvey says:

    Well. So much to say and yet try not to blather on! Firstly, this site represents an invaluable resource for anyone trying to build a personal repertoire and/or learn songs that they may have to otherwise search for in a variety of places. Jon’s singing style contains that vital element of drama so necessary for bringing a song to life whilst singing a capella in public – another good lesson for aspiring performers. As for the selection of songs: Well, I don’t think of “Mercedes Benz” as a folk song per se, but drop it into the middle of a perfromance or a song session and watch how it engages people and, perhaps, loosens them up for the next more trad song.
    Finally, I recently read a book on popular music which argued, in part, that the recorded repertoire of many well-known old blues artists only showcased those songs which the record buying public couldn’t get elsewhere; that those songs which these singers sang in their day to day lives and performances included many songs not readily identified as ‘blues’.
    Anyway,I’ll stop now – only just add that I am thoroughly enjoying this site (and the discussion). thanks very much.

  45. Julia Taylor says:

    I’m glad you chose to remind us of this song Jon. It acted as a real tonic to my day; as I amused myself by writing some verses of my own afterwards, to unload my beef about a recent course of treatment by the dentist:-

  46. Hilary says:

    Delighted to hear today’s choice, which has been an anthem and an earworm for me since I first heard Janis Joplin’s version. C&W? I think not. It’s a wonderfully bitter, hilarious, sarcastic song in any genre. I’m sure those who think it should not be part of this project will hear the whooshing sound of me missing the point, but I’m just relishing seeing it recruited to the folk song canon. Jon’s account of how he was initiated to it is interesting and relevant somehow, I feel.

    Loved Jon’s calmed down, smoothed out version, and it made me smile and smile …..

  47. Stephen Witkowski says:

    Thanks to Jane Ramsden for trying to finish my verse about a new bathroom suite. The following is not my own but by my friend Karen who can write songs, sing and play guitar!

    [i]Oh Lord, won’t you by me a new bathroom suite?
    My toilet is leaking, there’s a crack in my seat
    I can’t turn the taps on, Can’t get no relief
    So Lo–o-ord, won’t you buy me
    A new bathroom suite?[/i]

  48. Mzz.Beee says:

    More like:

    Oh Lord won’t you buy me, a new bathroom suite?
    Next door’s is ‘black orchid’, with taps all gold gilt.
    Ours is old fashioned, in ‘peppermint’,
    So.. etc.

  49. Jane Ramsden says:

    Take your point, Phil, in relation to my comments; totally agree with Philomena and Hilary about songs worth singing, air-brushing and the inclusion of this song here; Rosie, nicely put plea for people to couch what they say more kindly, as I’ve found some remarks unpleasant too – hope not to be guilty! – and special thanks to Stephen & Karen for the lighter note of Bathroom Blues. We’re in the same leaky vessel!

  50. Jane Ramsden says:

    Oh no! My bathroom’s cream and pale green……

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