20
Sep 03

THE STARGAZERS – “I See The Moon”

Popular43 comments • 5,588 views

#17, 12th March 1954

They don’t make ’em like this any more, thank Christ. A 1954 British comedy record: either jokes were still rationed or they hadn’t been invented yet, so standing in we have musical pratfalls, on-purpose bad singing and noxious comedy accents. (“Just like The Darkness/The Libertines/Blur!” you might say and that piss-poor gag would be a thousand times funnier than this track.) Even this comic armoury can’t sustain the record for more than a minute so the Stargazers just do the whole thing again, but louder.

This record is genuinely excruciating. As a thought experiment I was trying to work out some kind of defense for it and the closest I can get is invoking/insulting Spike Jones but it won’t wash. The part where the female vocalist keeps starting her verse at the wrong time is particularly unspeakable but “I See The Moon” is irritating and embarrassing from start to finish. I had to wait until Isabel was out of the house before I dared give it a second play, and if it gets a third in this lifetime it will be a dark dark day.

1

Comments

  1. 1
    Mick Norman on 13 Jul 2007 #

    Tom: you may find this ‘irritating and embarrassing’ in 2003 but something must have attracted (say) 250,000 people to shell out their hard-earned back in the winter of 1954. For me it is the product of a gentler, more innocent age and I actually find it quite charming. The production’s not bad either.

    Much more significantly, the great Dennis Potter saw fit to choreograph this as a backdrop to Colonel Bernwood’s struggle with dementia in ‘Lipstick on your Collar’. But I don’t suppose you’ve much time for Connie Francis either?

    Still, we’re all a lot wiser and more sophisticated now, aren’t we?…

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Jul 2007 #

    The point of LOYC of course being that we’re not.

    In 2007 I find it quite endearing.

  3. 4
    Alan on 13 Jul 2007 #

    the sort of comedy committed to record dates really fast. someone reviewing the record 4 or 5 years later may well have felt just as appalled as Tom does 50 years later

  4. 5

    just think how i fell 150 years later!

  5. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Jul 2007 #

    Spike Jones, Stan Freberg and Goons to thread (though I note that the Stargazers were kicked off the Goon Show in 1954!).

  6. 7
    intothefireuk on 10 Nov 2007 #

    If you let the singles chart be your guide then the early 50s seemed a desperate time to be around. Rationing still in force and truly hideous records like this around (another reason to never let the Stargazers cross my path again).

  7. 8
    wichita lineman on 28 May 2008 #

    Knowing the title from Guinness I’d stoopidly always had this filed away as How High The Moon. If only the charts had started in ’51 – coulda been the first 10!

    Quite possibly I’m the only person who’d even think of looking this stuff up, but a copy went on ebay in 2006 for a surprising amount…

    http://popsike.com/php/detaildata.php?itemnr=190031242680

    Records from this era on 45 are very hard to find (Broken Wings was only on 78). And I’m guessing anyone with a 78 of I See The Moon would, after two or three listens, have broken it over their own head while singing the raspberry solo from the Ying Tong Song.

  8. 9
    Jeff M on 14 Jun 2008 #

    When this record was released I was just an infant. I remember my old man playing it a lot. My dad was a de-mobbed sailor that escaped WW2 with enough skill to become a pretty capable electronics repair man in civvy street.
    This stuff pre-dates all of the material we fondly remember as ‘anarchic’ comedy, like Goons and Python.
    I consider myself very lucky to be able to still listen to it. It’s timeless and priceless.
    Jeff

  9. 10
    AndyPandy on 11 Dec 2008 #

    Finally heard this tonight (think I vaguely have somewhere in the past too)and don’t think it’s too bad – to me it’s quite surreal to think that something this nonsensical got to Number 1 in an era when everything that got that high in the charts was usually so “musical” in a low brow way.You know everything could be appreciated by your milkman as he whistled it coming down the street. This sticks out a mile from the rest of the early 50s number 1s.

  10. 11
    AndyPandy on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Another thoughts on this one it sort of got certain things in common with The Beatles ‘You Know My Name Look Up the Number’ I suppose its the Goons type feel. And I suppose it’s got a slight feel of vaguely university type/50s BBC executives’ ideas of humour to it (from a time when probably about 5% of the population went anywhere near higher education) a completely different humour to that of the “masses” (eg all those Wartime radio programmes you hear about/George Formby/Wilfred Pickles etc)although in case as with the Goons it obviously crossed over to bigtime.

    Talking about the pre-rock No 1’s in general (AND DEFINITELY NOT THE STARGAZERS!)if you’re in your late 30s or older and like me left school at 16 to work in a factory/on a building site etc back in the early-mid 80’s you would have worked with a lot of working-class men who were then in their early 50s and upwards (my dad’s generation-roughly those born before the early 1940s,this allowing for the idea that the age of a musical styles audience is invariably younger than the artists who produce it) who still whistled these pre-rock songs/turned then up on Radio 2 and sung along if they were played which in that period they still regularly were.

    This was their music and for the younger people on Popular it might seem quite strange at in the period when some of us were starting to go to the first big Acid parties half of our workforce were still singing along to Jo Stafford and Guy Mitchell.

    An example of a part of English life that disappeared without anyone really noticing it.

    Incidentally I doubt this would have been so apparent if I’d had a professional job back then and as I later did (eventually in my early 30s I went to university)as I should imagine a large proportion of those of a similar age to my Frankie Laine whistling colleagues from more middle class backgrounds would have tended to have been into classical music or maybe a bit of trad jazz or folk and pretty unmoved by the pop charts).

  11. 12

    not sure about the goons as “university” humour, andy — it developed more out of the war years, really, people of all backgrounds thrown together in unexpected ways by mass mobilisation*

    (ditto trad jazz, which trumpeter milligan is on the edges of: MODERN jazz was the sophisticated college-kid taste)

    *you could probably make a case for it as “end of empire” humour — it perhaps appealed to the tastes of those who hadn’t grown up entirely in the cultural confines (urban or suburban or rural) of britain; who had grown up in the multicultural** context of india or wherever

    **this is the wrong word, i want something more prickly and fractured

  12. 13
    wichita lineman on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Re 11: It’s occured to me, via Popular and current work colleagues, that there is a cut-off point for both Pre-Rock knowledge (snap – I know a lot of these songs – but again not the Stargazers – from late 70s/early 80s Radio 2) and tolerance of straight-ahead guitar bands. Ergo, I feel a generation removed from 37-yr olds.

    Son Of My Father intrigued and confused me, sounded important and futuristic when I was 7. If I was seven years younger and electronically-treated pop was the norm (see We Don’t Talk Anymore thread) I’m fairly sure my tolerance for Oasis/Verve/View/Wombats would be way lower than it already is.

    And, if I was seven years younger, I would never have been able to hum She Wears Red Feathers through osmosis (nobody in my family owned any pre-rock, bar Mantovani). Somewhere in the early/mid eighties, this music must have disappeared from national broadcasting. Can any BBC watchers put a finger on something more specific?

    One more thing about I See The Moon – isn’t the humour rather close in its surreal puerility to the laureled Bonzos? I don’t get it with them too often, but I like I See The Moon as much as The Intro And The Outro.

  13. 14
    Billy Smart on 12 Dec 2008 #

    I first got to know this through the Dennis Potter ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ soundtrack. I haven’t seen the series for 15 years – Can anybody remember what scene it accompanied?

  14. 15
    Erithian on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club was a key part of my musical education on this type of material (not that it’s expansive) – you’d always get a 50s chart interspersed with the 60s/early 70s oldies. And it was on Radio 1. I don’t think Dale ever goes back that far – but then when I first heard the 50s songs they were only 20 years old.

  15. 16
    lonepilgrim on 12 Dec 2008 #

    I’m wondering if you can trace this strain of English whimsy back to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Edward Lear, Hillaire Belloc and Edith Sitwell/William Walton’s ‘Facade’ and onwards to Mornington Crescent.
    A lot of it seems to be a way of talking about stuff that you weren’t ‘supposed’ to talk about (in a culture of stiff upper lips) and being all the funnier for it – like the ‘palare’ used in early C20th UK gay culture.

    I don’t know if it’s unique to the UK or not.

  16. 17
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 12 Dec 2008 #

    well the surrealists all adored alice, and some of them said that it was better than anything they ever did — which suggests there wasn’t so much to hand on the continent that filled that niche (tho some of this response is probably grass-is-greener-ism, i think)

    the sitwells were consciously responding to surrealism and dada, and tend to get looked down on by hardcore devotees as timid upperclass copyists

    anyone who likes belloc should check out struwwelpeter, which is a german illustrated book for kids of strikingly alarming content — though i guess it fits into the Gothic territory pretty straightforwardly

  17. 18
    AndyPandy on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Re 13:I think you’re right about sometime in the mid-eighties being the cut off point as I was working in a factory making industrial cleaning-machines (those big floor polishers etc they used to use in sports halls etc)at the time. I know it was around late 1986/early 1987 as was buying stuff like Nitro Deluxe ‘This Brutal House(Lets Get Brutal)’, ‘Harlequin 4’s ‘Set it Off’,Raze ‘Jack the Groove’ etc whilst I was there and used to chat to a black bloke at this place about them (this was in that very brief period, when a reasonable amount of British West Indian males were listening to house music ie when it was on the pirates and played amongst the funk and soul in clubs but before any house-orientated club scene had emerged).

    Anyway to get back to my point some of us had to take stillages of certain finished parts into a room to be inspected by one of those ‘whistling-along-to-‘Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes’-type’ 50-somethingblokes and I remember they were still playing stuff like that on his radio (Radio 2 needless to say)at that time.

  18. 19
    AndyPandy on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Re The Lord at No12 – point taken that it wasn’t well described as particularly university humour but more correctly the product of the juxtaposition of different walks of life – but what I was clumsily trying to say was it was a whole lot different than this “Can you hear me mother?”/ITMA/Arthur Askey etc type of 40’s/50’s humour (that I’ve heard people of my parents generation and older go on about).The kind of stuff that masses of working people in munitions factories/or regular infantry squaddies on active service would have all “got” but which many of the more highly educated would have thought below them. Of course The Goons-type humour was appreciated by a mass audience too but would have bewildered many others (or been enjoyed solely on a far simpler “silly voices” level) whilst a high proportion of those in higher education would surely have been its staunchest fans.

    Yes I also should have included Modern Jazz, having said that though isn’t “sophisticated” in the phrase “sophisticated college kid” the operative word here – ie the cutting edge avant garde tendency at college. And yes they’d also be the ones who were starting to investigate folk music but as Trad Jazz’s later revival in the late50s/early 60s showed there still remained quite a substantial educated following for it too.

  19. 20
    Tom on 12 Dec 2008 #

    I’m tickled that this (excellent!) discussion of the Stargazers has gone up on the same day “Shaddap You Face” is covered – somehow appropriate!

    I’m also a bit surprised at how vitriolic and dismissive I was of it – not that I think it’s any better, just that my style on Popular has obviously got more measured now I’m aware people are actually reading it…

  20. 21
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 12 Dec 2008 #

    yes fair enough andy — i was thinking a bit more about this after i posted and and remembered the entire larkin-amis tendency in re trad jazz, though this was a self-consciously “anti-sophistication” movement; what i actually had in mind was a free cinema documentary about jazzclubs in working class london in the early 50s (if i remember rightly, they were dance clubs — ie the music was played on records — rather than by live bands featuring humphrey lyttelton et al…) (so a kind of precursor of the mod ethic, i guess?)

    my rule-of-thumb is in the UK, for ANY genre, current or revived, the fanbase* has a working class wing, a middleclass wing, and a bohemian faction uneasily or playfully somewhere between and somewhat distanced from the others — and what’s often interesting is how differently the genre plays out, as symbol and in social use, among these various constituencies

    *eg folk was also popular with communist party members, and the CPGB still had a reasonably strong workerbase in the early 50s, and etc

  21. 22
    wichita lineman on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Andy, you’re right. I See The Moon, with its drunken Music Hall stagger, makes me laugh, the first – and only? – instance of the expression “pur-leeease!” appearing on a Popular entry, which is rather proto-New Pop/Smash Hits. But the pre-war working class humour of “You lucky people!”* and “Can you hear me mother?” is either totally unfunny or, literally, incomprehensible to me.

    The best of Music Hall, again, is laugh out loud funny, and modern too (Sam Mayo’s Things Are Worse In Russia springs to mind). But the Billy “Wakey! Wakey!” Cotton era feels like people were laughing at repetition for the sake of it. Was it some kind of community spirit mantra? Am I missing something?

    Anybody mildly in thrall to I See The Moon should check The Stargazers’ Close The Door for another lost chunk of End Of Empire pop.

    *When 10,000 Maniacs released a single called You Happy Puppets (which I never heard), I imagined it might be the cynical last words of Tommy Trinder.

  22. 23
    lonepilgrim on 13 Dec 2008 #

    having taken the trouble to actually listen to the thing (courtesy of youtube) I gotta say I like it – although it does seem weird to think of it at number 1.
    It reminds me of Spike Jones and his City Slickers as well as ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’. There’s a clip of it used in Lipstick on your collar here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eaRM4OIyU4&feature=related
    Potter was losing it a bit by then wasn’t he?

  23. 24
    lonepilgrim on 13 Dec 2008 #

    mind you, ‘Close the door’ comes across as a barely coded response to the Windrush generation’s (and others) arrival.
    ‘he grabbed a cricket bat…and gave them this and that’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNF_hGf627c

    now, I’m not so sure I like ’em

  24. 25
    wichita lineman on 13 Dec 2008 #

    And there was me thinking it was the musical equivalent of The Trouble With Tribbles.

  25. 26
    AndyPandy on 14 Dec 2008 #

    Re:24 Why on earth should it be a thinly disguised response to the Windrush generation? – it was just a cover of an American nonsense hit by Jim Lowe from the year before. As Wichita Lineman said at 25 surely the idea is related to ever-breeding Tribbles type creatures.It always amazes me the lengths people (often white)will go to find racial subtexts in the most unlikely places…

  26. 27
    lonepilgrim on 15 Dec 2008 #

    apologies for any offence – maybe watching the Potter clip increased my levels of intolerance/paranoia as I’m not usually one to see racist subtexts everywhere – I doubt it was a marching song for the Blackshirts – but it could be/could have been interpreted that way – there was/is a casual racism among that generation (and later ones) which was almost unconscious and breathtaking in its assumed innocuousness.
    Sung earlier in America it could still have had/been given a racist subtext – and Star Trek was not immune to sending coded messages – although I can’t speak for Tribbles as I’ve not finished scrutinising it for backwards messages and hidden symbols.

  27. 28
    AndyPandy on 15 Dec 2008 #

    I think race was one area where the still Reithian in outlook inspired BBC Radio (as opposed to (maybe) television)was quite forward thinking. If you look at the many reasons the BBC had for denying airplay back in the early fifties racially offensive connotations had been one of them.I’m not saying they were perfect (Indian doctors’ voices etc) but they’d definitely have drawn the line at “Shut the Door keep the **** out” sentiments and it’d been commercially suicidal for the record companies to try to get force the issue. I think it possibly had something to do with the newly emancipated members of the Commonwealth and the BBC’s role as the broadcasting arm of a government trying to encourage immigration.And with at least one of the Stargazers being of recent (albeit white)immigrant stock themselves and the fact that (and admittedly I don’t know) but I’d guess that going by their connections (the Goons etc) and look of some of them they were part of the more enlightened, jazz and folk-loving side of the music business.
    The song was written by two Jewish Americans so surely peddling a “shut the door” philosophy in a song would have have put them on extremely dubious verging on illogical ground…

    …It’s all a complicated area though very ripe for misunderstanding as the following incident shows. I remember once having a chat about the Jam compilation “Snap” with two acquaintances who unlike me only had the average person’s interest in music and neither who’d ever read a music paper…eg they’d have had no idea about Paul Weller’s political views or anything. To my disbelief they were both convinced (and they didn’t know each other previously so they’d obviously both reached the same conclusion/been told the same thing separately and in a way that indicated “of course that’s what it means everybody knows it!”)that ‘Eton Rifles’ with its line ‘there’s a row going on down near Slough’ was an anti-Asian line in a racist song!
    If that kind of misunderstanding could be made (and one of these people was reasonably intelligent and this would have been as late as the early 90s)it really shows what a minefield the whole area is.

  28. 29
    Matthew on 10 Jan 2009 #

    “I See The Moon” is a bit of fun, innit? A laugh. And you’ve got to laugh. I didn’t find it offensive at all.

    “Close The Door”, which I’d never heard before, is terrifying if you listen to it in a BNP frame of mind. Whether or not it was intentional, all it would take is one person saying “you do know it’s about darkies?” for it to become an unstoppably plausible urban legend.

  29. 30
    wichita lineman on 24 Sep 2009 #

    Imagine this as a Muppets sketch and it all makes beautiful sense.

  30. 31
    lonepilgrim on 24 Sep 2009 #

    re # 30 the clip @#23 is basically a live action Muppet sketch

  31. 32
    Howie on 26 Sep 2009 #

    This is a great site and I am looking forward to many visits – so I hope you won’t me starting by disagreeing about this recording! I find that one mark of a memorable song is that we enjoy singing it after a few drinks. On that basis, I See the Moon is a song that I never tire of. I agree that this setting of it by the Stargazers is a bit gimmicky, but the cheery almost self-parodying humour adds something too – really a song for a party. I just wish that there were a few more verses.

    PS Try the Few Drinks test and see how it goes.

  32. 33
    Victoria on 7 Feb 2010 #

    Hmm. I’m intrigued by this one. As a 20-something all that starting the line at the wrong time stuff etc actually seems more the stuff of “modern” comedy records than the previous “novelty” no.1s we’ve had. You could almost imagine parts of it on an 80s Comic Relief single.

  33. 34
    rosie on 30 Sep 2010 #

    The song – in its basic form anyway, without the comedy – is by Meredith Willson. As the writer of The Music Man he was no slouch.

  34. 35
    wichita lineman on 5 Oct 2010 #

    Norman Wisdom’s Don’t Laugh At Me peaked at no.3, stuck behind I See The Moon and the Obenkirchen Children’s Choir’s equally slapstick The Happy Wanderer. Is that ironic? Presumably it was a no.1 in Albania. RIP, Pitkin.

  35. 36
    Eli on 20 Dec 2010 #

    Wow, I’d never really thought about this record all that much, beyond being another silly 50s novelty. It’s infinitely better than Broken Wings, and yet you’ve rated that higher, Tom…

    AndyPandy, thanks for your observations about this music ‘disappearing’; I’ve commented on earlier Popular entries about the fact it’s been nearly erased by the mainstream media. It seems natural to me that there was a time, not so long ago, when all these #1s were still (relatively) in the public consciousness.

    My mum is ‘Beatles generation’ – and she can’t bear these pre-rock novelties.

  36. 37
    thefatgit on 16 Oct 2011 #

    I spent a happy afternoon yesterday, chatting to my Mum about the music she listened to before the Rock&Roll invasion, and “I See The Moon” cropped up among reminiscences about Alma Cogan and Kitty Kallen singing live on the Light Programme with various big-bands. Surprisingly, she could sing the tune quite happily but the lyrics descended into “dum de dum” after “the moon sees me”. I was baffled, but then she observed that HM Forces overseas would have sung this ditty as if it were an End-Of-Empire “Lily Marlene”, which kind of explains its popularity.

  37. 38
    Jimmy the Swede on 11 Jan 2012 #

    I actually heard this being played on Radio 2 on Christmas Day, whilst driving up with Mrs Swede to have lunch with my brother and his family in Crowborough. Lizzie cracked up, whilst I nodded sagely. “That’s a real drinking song for you!” I told her, being an authority in these things. I was therefore dismayed to read Tom’s inaugural comments on this gem of a record back in 2003 but was pleased to see his revised comment five years later. Now, over three years further on again, I await for confirmation from our Dear Leader that he now regularly bursts this out as he attacks the bottles of homemade plonk he keeps hidden from his old lady in the garden shed.

  38. 39
    Mark G on 11 Jan 2012 #

    I heard “Close the door (They’re coming in the window)” about 30 years ago, a friend played it to me as a suggestion for a cover version we could do.

    (I said “no way” and “urgh?” and “wmf?”)

    Anyways, I do remember it having a vague ska feel, then again maybe that was my subconscious trying to remix it…

  39. 40
    wichita lineman on 11 Jan 2012 #

    Not too hard to imagine Bad Manners doing a ska version of Close The Door.

  40. 41
    David Cone on 19 May 2012 #

    I really like the song i am singing it all the time it funny and i give it a 100 plus i also like nancy sinatra version also sorry people i see the moon in a neww light David

  41. 42
    derek fowler on 27 Sep 2013 #

    I loved the record in 1954 and i love it now, bit of recorded history! it must have bee popular to get to No.1

  42. 43
    CriticSez on 4 Jan 2016 #

    Hello. I’m back. Sorry I’ve been away for some time. I can share my opinion on this novelty from November 1953. (That’s when the 78 was released, according to 45worlds. Here’s the link:
    http://www.45worlds.com/78rpm/record/f10213)

    I especially agree with comment #1: this was a good song in its day. People’s senses of humour and musical tastes were different then, so their money (A LOT) would certainly have been worth it.

    I like to balance perspectives of past and present to make my opinion fair. This song may be hideous now, but if I’d been around in 1954 (I wasn’t), I would’ve thought it was far better.

    Here’s my own opinion, rating each area out of 10:

    Presentation: 7.5
    Instrumentation: 8.5
    Vocals: 6.5
    Originality: 6.5
    Lasting appeal: 5

    Overall: 6.8

    It doesn’t make people laugh any more (like it would’ve done in 1954), but it still puts a smile on my face at times.

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