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Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'

DigiTrad:
HELP ME MAKE IT THRU THE NIGHT
JAN, CAROL AND WARREN
ME AND BOBBY MCGEE


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Kris Kristofferson-waitress give hobo change (2)


Murray MacLeod 18 Apr 00 - 07:29 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 18 Apr 00 - 07:32 PM
DADGBE 18 Apr 00 - 07:52 PM
Murray MacLeod 18 Apr 00 - 08:07 PM
Murray MacLeod 18 Apr 00 - 08:13 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 18 Apr 00 - 08:22 PM
DADGBE 18 Apr 00 - 09:08 PM
Jon Freeman 18 Apr 00 - 09:52 PM
Mike Billo 18 Apr 00 - 09:56 PM
Mark Clark 19 Apr 00 - 02:09 AM
Grab 19 Apr 00 - 08:30 AM
GUEST,Bill in Alabama 19 Apr 00 - 05:38 PM
Biskit 19 Apr 00 - 06:37 PM
GUEST,tcn 26 Apr 10 - 11:52 PM
GUEST,Woodsie 27 Apr 10 - 12:13 AM
mousethief 27 Apr 10 - 12:42 AM
GUEST,Woodsie 27 Apr 10 - 01:30 AM
BobKnight 27 Apr 10 - 04:31 AM
Brian May 27 Apr 10 - 02:38 PM
meself 27 Apr 10 - 02:43 PM
PoppaGator 27 Apr 10 - 02:50 PM
John MacKenzie 27 Apr 10 - 03:16 PM
Murray MacLeod 27 Apr 10 - 07:14 PM
Nick E 27 Apr 10 - 09:37 PM
GUEST,highlandman at work 28 Apr 10 - 09:12 AM
topical tom 28 Apr 10 - 10:41 AM
PoppaGator 28 Apr 10 - 12:05 PM
Barbara 28 Apr 10 - 01:04 PM
Murray MacLeod 28 Apr 10 - 06:17 PM
Don Firth 28 Apr 10 - 07:13 PM
GUEST 16 Jul 13 - 04:35 AM
GUEST,henryp 16 Jul 13 - 05:45 AM
GUEST,Grishka 16 Jul 13 - 06:18 AM
breezy 16 Jul 13 - 08:03 PM
GUEST 17 Jul 13 - 12:57 AM
Ron Davies 17 Jul 13 - 07:22 AM
Ron Davies 17 Jul 13 - 07:23 AM
Lighter 17 Jul 13 - 09:27 AM
PHJim 17 Jul 13 - 06:00 PM
GUEST,Grishka 17 Jul 13 - 06:43 PM
Rapparee 17 Jul 13 - 07:01 PM
Ron Davies 18 Jul 13 - 01:11 AM
GUEST,Grishka 18 Jul 13 - 05:49 AM
Ron Davies 18 Jul 13 - 06:26 PM
PHJim 18 Jul 13 - 07:18 PM
Ron Davies 18 Jul 13 - 08:14 PM
PHJim 18 Jul 13 - 09:57 PM
PHJim 18 Jul 13 - 10:01 PM
PHJim 18 Jul 13 - 10:03 PM
Little Hawk 18 Jul 13 - 10:52 PM
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Subject: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 07:29 PM

Can anybody enlighten me as to whether a mouth-harp is refered to as a "harpoon" anywhere else in recorded song, or in print for that matter ? Or did Kris Kristofferson invent the term? (I am assuming thay a "harpoon" is in fact a mouth-harp)

Murray


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 07:32 PM

I think you'll find that the harp is the harmonica. It's a term used for that instrument.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: DADGBE
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 07:52 PM

Hi Murray,

I've always thought that the line, "I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna..." refered to the stick that held a hobo's red bandanna wrapped bindle on his shoulder.

'Course I could be wrong.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 08:07 PM

George, I was aware that a harp is a colloquial term among American musicians for a harmonica. Larry Adler played harmonica, Charlie McCoy harp, also known as mouth-harp (not to be confused with Jew's -harp). But my question is, is a "harpoon " a harp ?

Murray


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 08:13 PM

Hi there Drop-D, that is an interesting thought. I have always had this mental picture of the singer pulling his harp out of his headband, but you could be right. But why would he blow his stick? (Unless he carried his bundle on a flute ??)

Murray


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 08:22 PM

I had always thought of it as the harmonica. That's the impression it always gave to me.

Sorry I misunderstood your original request.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: DADGBE
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 09:08 PM

I think the whole line is: "I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna and was blowing soft while Bobby sang the blues."

It always gave me the mind picture of two hitch hikers climbing into the truck cab, settling their gear and starting to play music.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 09:52 PM

I have searched and can't find the answer to the origins of this use of the word harpoon although I to feel it is the harmonica being referred to. I found this on my search though; it appears that the Finnish for Jews Harp is Munniharppuuna which apparently is literally, a mouth harpoon.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Mike Billo
Date: 18 Apr 00 - 09:56 PM

When I first started playing harmonica,(early 60's)harpoon was a common term for the harmonica. Country harp hot shot Charlie McCoy had a hit in the mid-60's called "Harpoon Man" which included vocals by McCoy about "the harpoon man at the Club Oriole" punctuated by McCoy playing super hot solos to recreate the sound of the Harpoon man.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Mark Clark
Date: 19 Apr 00 - 02:09 AM

A harpoon/harmonica was also commonly known as a French harp. Odd since they were mostly made in Germany.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Grab
Date: 19 Apr 00 - 08:30 AM

Must be a harmonica. You don't blow on a Jew's harp, you twang.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Bill in Alabama
Date: 19 Apr 00 - 05:38 PM

In the area where I grew up, a harmonica was commonly called a harpoon, a french harp, or just a harp. I can't remember for certain, but I believe I remember hearing the term harpoon used by the M.C. in introducing Deford Baily on an old recording of a '40's broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. Whatever the etymology, the fact is that, in this neck of the woods, a harpoon is a folk name for harmonica.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Biskit
Date: 19 Apr 00 - 06:37 PM

Well.....I always thought the harpoon mentioned was a harp, (harmonica) but then I pulled my harp out of my dirty red bandanna,really wouldn't 'ave flowed. -Biskit- (on the road)


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,tcn
Date: 26 Apr 10 - 11:52 PM

I've read that while the term was intentioanlly ambiguous - and could refer to a hamonica for mainstream artists like Miller - Kristofferson saw the characters as addicts and the harpoon is a heroin syringe.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Woodsie
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 12:13 AM

Guest, Ed

Bollox - Where did you read this shit?


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: mousethief
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 12:42 AM

I don't see where Guest, Ed has posted on this thread?


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Woodsie
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 01:30 AM

Ooops sorry that was Guest, tcn

Carrying a syringe around in a dirty bandana and then getting it out in the cab when you' ve just been given a ride - Crap!

It's already been explained earlier in the thread that it is a harmonica. This is backed up by further source references to the same teminoligy.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: BobKnight
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 04:31 AM

Kenny Rogers recorded it too and sang, 'I pulled my mouth-harp out of my old dirty red bandana.'


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Brian May
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 02:38 PM

Perhaps he was blowing hard because it's really hard to stick a harpoon in someone - especially if he's driving.

Bobby was singing the blues because if the driver has been stabbed, they're all going to die anyway, so they might as well sing something appropriate.

You see, it's about interpretation . . .

No wonder Bobby got out and left him, he was really unpredictable.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: meself
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 02:43 PM

No question that the 'harpoon' is a harmonica - nothing else makes any sense - and two or three posters have stated that they were familiar with the term as meaning harmonica before the song appeared, which is what the OP was inquiring about. Otherwise, what is the speaker "blowing soft"? (Please, no theories!)

The bandana is not being worn; it is a kerchief that is being used to wrap around the harmonica, to keep it free of lint, dust, seeds & stems, grains of heroin, tabs of acid, and whatever else happens to be in the speaker's pocket.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 02:50 PM

Not only have I never understood use of the word "harpoon" for "(mouth) harp," I never did, and still don't, understand what the damn thing was doing inside a dirty red bandana. The entire line is so wacky that I never even thought to wonder whether the banadana was around the guy's head, or tied around his neck, or in his pocket. The pocket probably makes the most sense.

Great song, nevertheless! I haven't sung it in years, but it was a mainstay of my repertoire throughout the 70s. Juat one more example to prove that lyrics need not be 100% rational or understandable for a song to be successful.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 03:16 PM

Well I wouldn't want to blow Kendall's harpoon!


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 07:14 PM

strange to see this thread resurface after ten years ...

for purposes of terminological exactitude, the original line which Kristofferson wrote and sang is:

" I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna"

I have a couple of friends who are going to the Chicago Blues Festival in June, I have given them instructions to ask around and ascertain whether "harpoon" is in fact common usage for "harp".


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Nick E
Date: 27 Apr 10 - 09:37 PM

I always thought it was a contraction for " i pulled my harp (harmonica) on outa ( out of )..."
So I think she/he sings I pulled my harp on outa my dirty red bandanna and many hear it wrong , like Jimme Hendrix lyric, Excuse me while I kiss this guy...


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 09:12 AM

A mondegreen is when you hear something unfamiliar as something similar-sounding which is more familiar.

(bad moon on the rise => bathroom on the right)

I don't think it works in reverse.

Or should we call it a neergednom?
-Glenn


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: topical tom
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 10:41 AM

I too have always assumed that a "harpoon" in the context of the song is a harmonica.BTW, among other terms, has anyone heard of the harmonica being called "the sweet potato"?Some musician/singer I once heard called it such but unfortunately I have forgotten his or her name.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 12:05 PM

The "sweet potato" is another name for the ocarina, a small instrument played by mouth. According to Wiki:

The ocarina ( /ɒkəˈri˘°nə/) is an ancient flute-like wind instrument.[1] While variations exist, a typical ocarina is an oval-shaped enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. It is often ceramic, but other materials, such as plastic, wood, glass, and metal may also be used.

In the 1941 movie "Meet John Doe," Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan play duets on harmonica and ocarina. Cooper was a fairly serious harmonica player and took every opportunity to play it in his films.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Barbara
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 01:04 PM

And I always assumed the harmonica was in his pocket wrapped in a dirty red bandanna, because 1. dirty -- if they were hitchhiking, they'd not washed anything for a while, and 2. if you keep a harmonica just kicking around in your pocket or pack or whatever, it picks up crud that jams in the reeds and it won't play. You can keep them in the cardboard box for a while, but it doesn't last.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 06:17 PM

just for the record, there is NO WAY that Kristofferson sings "I pulled my harp on out of my dirty red bandanna" as suggested by Nick E in his post above.

He sings "I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna"

Listen to the original here. The line in question is at 0.42.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Apr 10 - 07:13 PM

The image that line always conjured up in my mind was the "bindlestiff," or hobo. Someone bumming around the country. The "bindle" (bundle?) was a cloth, often a bandanna, tied at all four corners and hung on the end of a stick, the stick usually being carried over the shoulder.

Kinda "traditional," really.

CLICKY

Used to see that with some frequency when I was a wee squirt back in the late 1930s living in Pasadena, CA, about a half a block from the railroad tracks. They'd sometimes come to the back door and ask my folks for a hand-out or if they had any work they could do for a meal or a dollar or two. Need any repairs? Mow the lawn?

With this image to go on—a couple young people hoboing their way around the country, carrying bindles containing their miscellaneous possessions—such as a harmonica/mouth harp/"harpoon"—doesn't seem to be much of a stretch.

Especially if that line immediately conjures up that image.

Your mileage may vary.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Jul 13 - 04:35 AM

"I pulled my harp on out of my dirty red bandana" should end this silly thread....


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 16 Jul 13 - 05:45 AM

Yes, it's drawing to a close. A few more years and we should reach a conclusion.

On the other hand...


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 16 Jul 13 - 06:18 AM

... why has nobody yet mentioned the evident idea that "bandana" is a slang word for "pants", and the narrator was practicing self-fellatio. Bobbie was SM, the "driver" spanked her with the "windshield wipers", until she "sang the blues". Bottom line: "Nothing left to lues".


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: breezy
Date: 16 Jul 13 - 08:03 PM

Well for oer 4 decades I been singing 'harp' cos I got it off Grdn Lightfoot on his Sit Down Yg Strgr album, so there, ya boo sucks, move on, who gives a sshight


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 12:57 AM

I will never listen to this song in the same way again!


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Ron Davies
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 07:22 AM

Well, this erudite discussion sure makes the song a lot more humorous.    And that's always progress.

Now we can discuss why Janis rambled on with na-na-na for half the record. Was she just imitating folkies who forget the words?    Or was she trying to piggyback on "Hey Jude" where the Beatles honor us with similar filler for half the record?


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Ron Davies
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 07:23 AM

Of course there were no more words to the song. But that didn't stop either Janis or the Beatles.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Lighter
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 09:27 AM

Hey, everybody! Let's quote Alexander Pope from back in the rockin' 18th Century!

"Men of right understanding generally see all that an author can reasonably mean, but others are apt to fancy two meanings for want of knowing one."


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PHJim
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 06:00 PM

The reason Janis sang the "Nananana" words is because she learned it from Kris and that's the way he did it. She may have gone on longer than he did, but she was enthusiastic.
Kris says on his preamble on the original recording, that he wrote it as a country song. That's not how Janis sang it.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 06:43 PM

According to Wikipedia, it was Roger Miller who sang the song first, in 1969. YouTube has his interpretation, in a straightforward country style as you would expect. The "nana"s were there alright, and so was the melancholical tone. Nevertheless, it was only Janis Joplin who unleashed the power of the song in 1970: not being "country" in the traditional sense, but a desparate lament for a (perceivedly) lost concept of freedom, genuinely associated with the late 1960s. The fact that she died only a week later sealed the message, for many of us who did not care for country music.

It is remarkable that even at that time, most songs and tales about the new freedom already implied that the era was over, the freedom oppressed, the ideals betrayed, the revolution cancelled, and everybody striving for Mercedes-Benzes. It seems that if the Golden Age ever existed, it could not reach the record studios and radio stations alive.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Rapparee
Date: 17 Jul 13 - 07:01 PM

"Balloon" was another name, especially in the inland Pacific Northwest, for a 'bo's bindle. See Utah Phillips stuff.

I always assumed they were picked up by a ship and were whaling, so it would make sense to "pull my harpoon" through a dirty bandana to clean it off before use. Bobby was singing "the blues" -- that is to say, Blue Whales.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Ron Davies
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 01:11 AM

"Na-na-na....."    Yup, she sure was enthusiastic.

Kris did na-na-na too.    Interesting.    I don't remember that at all, and I have the record.

I thought maybe it was that maybe both Janis and the Beatles realized a high percentage of their listeners would be, uh, high,--and wouldn't notice a thing. Or perhaps it was unreasonable to expect their mental concentration to be equal to anything more complex than "na-na-na..."


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 05:49 AM

Ron, I think you are quite mistaken about the significance of non-semantic singing or speaking. It can transport complex messages clearly, while escaping word-oriented censorship. The apostle Paul was quite wary of it, for good reasons.

"Hey Jude" was about feeling good in spite of minor obstacles, whereas Janis Joplin sang about the the powers of society crushing a wild desire for freedom. Note the difference to KK's attitude, whose conflict seems to arise from the woman's private wish for the security of a home. There was certainly a gender problem involved, presumably also in the private relationship between JJ and KK.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Ron Davies
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 06:26 PM

Hey, lighten up there, boy.

"transport (sic)--(somehow I think you meant transmit)--complex messages" That's a good one.

"The apostle Paul..."---ah, I think you've got it. He was well known for singing songs, then putting in filler for the last half of the record when he ran out of words.

No wonder he got chased out of so many towns.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PHJim
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 07:18 PM

Ron, was this the record that you have? Kris singing Bobby McGee


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Ron Davies
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 08:14 PM

No, this is definitely not it.   This one is live, right? The one I remember was a studio cut. And moved along.

But it was several eons ago.    Maybe the na-na-nas on mine went by faster so the impact wasn't so great.

I'm not a huge fan of nonsense syllables (with some exceptions--the one wonderful one I can think of right off is "Let's Talk Dirty In Hawaiian".    Those are just perfect.)

Course I don't really go for scat singing either.    Somebody called it "The Wreck of the Ella Fitzgerald"

Different strokes.

But I would have chased Paul out of town too when he did the na-na-na's.


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PHJim
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 09:57 PM

Ron, I love this one, but I know you'd hate it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyDinoBd2yQ


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PHJim
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 10:01 PM

or this one: Mike Cross - The Scotsman


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: PHJim
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 10:03 PM

Sorry, my blue clicky didn't work on the first one.

Pat Sky - Rattlesnake Mountain


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Subject: RE: Bobbie McGee's 'harpoon'
From: Little Hawk
Date: 18 Jul 13 - 10:52 PM

The best versions I ever heard of that song are by Gordon Lightfoot and Kris Kristofferson, respectively. They sing it the way it ought best to be sung. I think Janis Joplin pretty well screwed it up, although hers got the most airplay, so that's how (almost) everyone knows it now.

It obviously means a harmonica...and the reason he said "harpoon" is simple....the word has the right rythm to fit the rest of the lyric line and flow properly, which "harp" does not. "Harpoon" really works perfectly in that line.


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