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Origins: Straighten Up and Fly Right

GUEST,Max 24 Sep 04 - 11:28 PM
Joe Offer 25 Sep 04 - 06:08 PM
MAG 25 Sep 04 - 09:02 PM
Joe Offer 25 Sep 04 - 11:52 PM
rich-joy 26 Sep 04 - 04:30 AM
MAG 26 Sep 04 - 10:36 AM
MAG 26 Sep 04 - 10:58 AM
ddw 26 Sep 04 - 05:48 PM
Joe Offer 26 Sep 04 - 08:32 PM
ddw 26 Sep 04 - 11:25 PM
GUEST,Max 27 Sep 04 - 12:35 AM
Mrrzy 27 Sep 04 - 10:36 AM
GUEST,MAG at work 27 Sep 04 - 01:58 PM
ddw 27 Sep 04 - 02:42 PM
MAG 27 Sep 04 - 04:22 PM
PoppaGator 27 Sep 04 - 10:10 PM
GUEST,Belle Babie 01 Oct 04 - 03:48 PM
GUEST,Trina Robbins 20 May 14 - 12:49 AM
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Subject: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: GUEST,Max
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 11:28 PM

What's the meaning, if any, behind the lyrics to "Straighten Up and Fly Right"? Drug addiction perhaps?


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Subject: ADDPOP: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Sep 04 - 06:08 PM

I've always wondered about that song, not that I ever suspected it was about drugs. This was a good opportunity to do some research. Here's the scoop:
    Straighten Up and Fly Right, words by Irving Mills, music by Nat King Cole ('944). Popularized by the King Cole Trio, whose Capitol release in November, 1943, was that group's first hit recording. This song was based on a sermon Nat King Cole had heard in his father's church. At the time he wrote the number, Nat King Cole was so desperately in need of money that he sold all his rights to it for $50. Thus he did not profit directly from the song's success, but his career as a recording artist was given a strong boost from it for the first time, just as this recording helped to establish the then newly organized company of Capitol Records on a sound financial basis.
    The song was introduced by the King Cole Trio in the motion picture Here Comes Elmer, starring Al Pearce and Dale Evans (Republic, 1943).


Straighten Up and Fly Right
[Nat (King) Cole and Irving Mills, 1944]

A buzzard took a monkey for a ride in the air.
The monkey thought that everything was on the square.
The buzzard tried to throw the monkey off his back.
The monkey grabbed his neck and said, "Now listen, Jack:

"Straighten up and fly right.
Straighten up and fly right.
Straighten up and fly right.
Cool down, papa; don't you blow your top.
Aint' no use in divin'.
What's the use in jivin'?
Straighten up and fly right.
Cool down, papa; don't you blow your top."

The buzzard told the monkey, "You are chokin' me.
Release your hold and I will set you free."
The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye
And said, "Your story's so touching, but it sounds just like a lie.

"Straighten up and fly right.
Straighten up and stay right.
Straighten up and fly right.
Cool down, papa; don't you blow your top."

–I. Mills/N. Cole (recorded November 30, 1943)
Copyright © Mills Music Inc. (ASCAP)

Source of lyrics: http://projects.gsd.harvard.edu/appendx/dev/issue2/fields/index1.htm, which is worth a look. I think I'd agree with the Harvard guy that there is at least a philosophical link between "Straighten Up" and Signifyin' Monkey.



-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: MAG
Date: 25 Sep 04 - 09:02 PM

Storytellers are quite familiar with this tale. Somewhere I have a photocopy of the one recorded paragraph about it, where a guy is quoted saying Nat King Cole did get it from a sermon.

The rest of the story as we tellers know it involves the buzzard cheating on getting his meals by taking animals up for a cool ride in the sky, then flipping them off for easy pickings when they go down splat! I'm afraid the kids love this part. The monkey decides to teach him a lesson, and thanks to his prehensile tail doesn't get flipped off and teaches the buzzard a very good lesson.

M.A., storyteller


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Sep 04 - 11:52 PM

Hi, MAG - I looked around and couldn't find a story text for "The Monkey and the Buzzard." Any chance you'd have one you could post for us? There's a text here (click), mixed in with the "Straighten Up" lyrics.
I like stories.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: rich-joy
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 04:30 AM

I guess the drug reference that Guest Max referred to, could be to do with the phrase about "the monkey on his back " , which I believe came to mean an addiction that you couldn't shake.
I think I first heard it from Mr Sinatra, playing Frankie Machine in the film of Nelson Algren's 1959 novel "The Man With the Golden Arm" ...

Cheers! R-J


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: MAG
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 10:36 AM

Diane Wolkstein had a picture book version which is now old and hard to find: it was titles *Cool Ride in the Sky.* Julius Lester has a newer one called something like *How Mr. Monkey Saw the World.* Those are off the top of my head; probably Jackie Torrance, storyteller, did it, but I don't know if she has it on tape. It may be in one of the NAPPS (now NSN) story anthologies. I tell it on hot days, as do many many librarian and free-lance storytellers.


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: MAG
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 10:58 AM

er, that latter author may have been Walter Dean Myers. I'm doing this early in the mmorning before going to do music at service.


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: ddw
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 05:48 PM

These signifyin' monkey songs are almost a whole sub-genre in blues and early rock'n'roll. Chuck Berry did one of them, Jo Jo Gunne, which is basically the same story as this one and The Coasters did one called Run Red Run. It's a story of a monkey who grabs his human master's gun and it's often taken as a comment on how the black men would treat their "masters" when they got guns.

There are lots of signifyin' monkey songs in blues, but I think one of the best is The Monkey and the Baboon — which is about an ongoing feud by a couple of gamblers who try to psyche each other out with their signifyin'. I heard it from Paul Geremia who, if memory serves, said he learned it from Dr. John.

Personally, I see only a vague kinship between most of the signifyin' monkey songs I've hard and Straighten Up And Fly Right.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: Joe Offer
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 08:32 PM

Hey, DDW, all I'm claiming is a philosophical kinship between "Fly Right" and "Signifyin Monkey."
I'd still like to hear from a storyteller who has a traditional version of "Monkey and the Buzzard." All the stories I've found are based on the Nat King Cole song.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: ddw
Date: 26 Sep 04 - 11:25 PM

That's OK, Joe. I understood that you weren't making any claim of significant parallels or anything. I just think the two songs are poles apart in what they're saying. Most of the signifyin' monkey songs are about stirring up shit just to pass the time of day — just to be a wise-ass or whatever. More often than not, the SM pulls off some kind of low trick on his adversary that may or may not benefit him.

SUAFR seems more like a morality tale, or at least an object lesson in which the culprit (buzzard) is taught a lesson.

Both monkey tales, but that's about the end of the connection in my mind.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: GUEST,Max
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 12:35 AM

Thnkyou people


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: Mrrzy
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 10:36 AM

And there is the monkey and the engineer ('cause the monkey's got the locomotive under control) - But is this Straighten up and Fly Right the same song the black flyers sing in Tuskeegee Airmen?


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: GUEST,MAG at work
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 01:58 PM

Since this is a reference question, I will post more from work.

The Walter Dean Myers version (for it was he) quotes no source.

The Wolkstein version has only the note:

"Nat King Cole first heard the story of the buzzard and themonkey from his father, a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama. He then recorded 'Straighten up and fly right,' based on the story, in 1943. [Her is a part of that song.]"

I have the impression us honkies only know the story from the NKC song. I did an extensive search some 15 years ago and only came up with that one paragraph I mentioned earlier. I will post it when I find it in my copious but disorganized files.


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Subject: Lyr Req: JO JO GUNNE (Chuck Berry)
From: ddw
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 02:42 PM

Mag,

Look up Chuck Berry's "Jo Jo Gunne" — it's almost the same story, just without a lot of the language.

JO JO GUNNE
(Chuck Berry)
CHUCK BERRY (CHESS 1709, 1958)

It was in ancient history, four thousand B.C.
Way back in the jungle in a coconut trees
Hanging on a branch up under the sun
Was a meddlesome monkey named Jo Jo Gunne

Oh, Leo the lion came down from the mountain
To get a drink of water from the jungle fountain
Jo Jo the monkey started tellin' the jackal
About the elephant who was gonna skin the lion

Leo tried to reach and grab Jo Jo's tail
Got mad and went runnin' through the jungle trail
He ran upon an elephant beneath a tree
And said, put up your dukes you gotta tussle with me

An ol' eagle from Asia made a non stop flight
Tryin' to make a new time, just to see that fight
A crocodile phoned and reversed the charge
Coming all the way from India upon a local barge

Ol' gorilla heard 'em talking in the lion's den
But Jo Jo bettin' a she-fox, the elephant wins
Jo Jo yelled at Leo, go on, knock him down
He don't outweigh you but a thousand pounds

Leo left wailin' with a left upper cut
The elephant took a snoop, grabbed a coconut
Leo fired a beautiful short back cross
That's when the coconut landed up against his jaw

Leo grew tired, but he wouldn't give in
The elephant all loose, beat his jawbone in
The buzzard said, they fought furious all day
He couldn't understand how Leo got away

Jo Jo runnin' everywhere, spreadin' the news
To the zebras and the leopards and the kangaroos
A hoot owl reported everything he saw
Had his eyes wide open, they called it a draw

Leo limping back with his jawbone bruised
Jo Jo in the trees started singin' the blues
Laughin', meddling, jumpin' up and down
Till his foot missed a limb and he fell to the ground

Just like a bolt of thunder and a streak of heat
Leo covered Jo Jo with all four feet
Jo Jo was screamin' with tears in his eyes
Said, please mister Leo, I apologize

Said, if you let my feet upon solid ground
I'll fight you close range, fifteen rounds
Leo got back to the square of the fight
Jo Jo took a leap and jumped... out of sight

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: MAG
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 04:22 PM

The two stories each have a monkey and a buzzard, ddw; they are two different motifs. No cheating buzzard; no ride in the sky.

Both involve a trickster monkey.

What an interesting subtext; monkey being bothered that buzzard was stealing his trickster thunder.

I'm back home now, so I can't look in Macdonald's *Storytellers' Sourcebook.* It is the first place we look to find a printed source of a traditional story. There may be a newer edition or supplement to the one I bought for my library.

A cursory look through my files has not yielded the folklore journal photocopy. I lack the diligence or stamina demonstrated on the *Carrickfergus* thread.


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: PoppaGator
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 10:10 PM

Another song of the "signifyin' monkey" family is Dave Batholomew's "The Monkey Speaks His Mind." One monkey explains to another why he can't believe in evolution -- humans could *never* be descended from our noble race! Dave is a great long-time New Orleans bandleader and arranger who has been Fats Domino's musical director for eons.

Dr. John recently recorded a new version of this one -- must be on his latest CD, since I've just recently begun hearing it regularly on New Orleans' own WWOZ-FM 90.7 (also available worldwide at www.wwoz.org; I always have to get that plug in!)


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Subject: RE: origins to: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: GUEST,Belle Babie
Date: 01 Oct 04 - 03:48 PM

Hey does anyone know if the song Straighten up and fly right comes from a musical i was just wondering cause i wanted to sing it for one of my musical thereatre things and it has to be a musical so if anyone knows something can you e-mail me at sweetkisses_xox@hotmail.com please a.s.a.p thanks!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Straighten Up and Fly Right
From: GUEST,Trina Robbins
Date: 20 May 14 - 12:49 AM

My tap class has been learning a tap routine to Straighten up and Fly Right, and I got curious about the lyrics. It sounds like something from Aesop's Fables, and I also wondered if there was a connection to the children's clapping song:
Three six nine
The goose drank wine
The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line
The line broke
The monkey got choked
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat.
The song also makes me think of the Chinese trickster monkey, about whom there are many stories.


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