Spring Things

Here in Wisconsin, we had our first spring day worthy of the name yesterday. A high temperature in the 60s and lots of sun took down the bulk of the snow left over from last Friday’s storm.

In college, the first warm spring days provided an excuse for a party. Not that we ever needed an excuse for a party, but the first time the temperature broke 60, somebody would inevitably suggest firing up the grill, and that meant a stop at the grocery store and the liquor store to lay in the appropriate supplies. You’d invite whoever you ran into on the way home—and if you weren’t planning a party yourself, somebody you ran into might invite you to theirs.

Fifteen years ago this spring, I was student teaching at a high school in Davenport, Iowa. It was a magnificent old pile, built strong enough in 1907 to take a direct hit. Many classrooms, including the one I was in, had enormous floor-to-ceiling windows that leaked heat and cold like crazy. The district had yet to replace them with more energy-efficient windows, but they were equipped with heavy shades designed to insulate them a little bit. They also kept the room as dark as a tomb, even when it was sunny outside. But my students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, would always provide a reliable indication of the weather outside by their relative squirrely-ness on any given day.

(The teacher to whom I was assigned, who had forgotten more about education than I ever hoped to know, once said to me that the advantage to teaching freshmen is that most of them haven’t yet been corrupted by the world’s many temptations. “If they’re squirrely,” she said, “they probably aren’t on anything—it’s just spring.” And so it was.)

The word “spring” appears precious few times in song titles that have appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 or Bubbling Under charts between 1954 and 2004. The earliest is Pat Boone’s “Spring Rain” in 1960. The best-known of them are probably the disco records “Winter Melody/Spring Affair” by Donna Summer and “Spring Rain” by Silvetti—although you might know John Tipton’s country weeper “Spring,” which bubbled under for him and was a big hit for Tanya Tucker in 1975. The number of songs with “spring” in the title is dwarfed by the number of songs on the Spring label, which charted several hits apiece for Joe Simon and Millie Jackson in the 1970s. The group McKendree Spring shows up a couple of times, too.

(“It Might As Well Be Spring” and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” two spring songs that immediately came to my mind, never made the Hot 100 in this period; four other songs with “spring” in the title charted between 1937 and 1944.)

One of the “spring” songs we’ve encountered here before: the insanely great R&B number “Spring” by Birdlegs and Pauline, which appeared in our Down in the Bottom series about one-hit wonders who peaked between #90 and #100. Sidney Banks, known as Birdlegs, and his wife, Pauline Shivers, were from Rockford, Illinois, and performed in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin starting in the late 50s. “Spring” was originally recorded on the Cuca label, based in little Sauk City, Wisconsin, but was licensed to the Chicago label Vee-Jay. It became a substantial R&B hit in the summer of 1963 in addition to scraping into the Hot 100.

After “Spring” did well, an album followed, also distributed by Vee-Jay. But the label’s financial troubles in 1963 and 1964 short-circuited Birdlegs and Pauline’s career—and cost them a lot of songwriting royalties, after they went to Chicago to pick up some checks and found the label’s HQ padlocked.

One response

  1. Of “Spring” titles, I also think about “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart, It’s Spring),” but I don’t think that was a Hot 100 hit either. I know it was a remake, but the version that sticks in my head is from Love Unlimited (the female vocal group, not the instrumental orchestra).

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