The Little Old Lady from Pasadena

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"The Little Old Lady from Pasadena"
Single by Jan and Dean
from the album The Little Old Lady From Pasadena
B-side "Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review And Timing Association"
Released June 8, 1964
Format 7"
Recorded March 21, 1964
Genre Surf rock, Pop
Length 2:45
Label Liberty Records
Writer(s) Jan Berry, Don Altfeld, Roger Christian
Producer(s) Jan Berry for Screen Gems, Inc.

"The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" is a song written by Don Altfeld, Jan Berry and Roger Christian, and recorded by 1960s American pop singers, Jan and Dean. The song reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1964 and number one on Canada's RPM chart.[1]

The song was performed live by the Beach Boys at Sacramento Municipal Auditorium on August 1, 1964 for inclusion on their No.1 album Beach Boys Concert. The Beach Boys, and particularly Brian Wilson, who co-wrote several of Jan & Dean's biggest surf hits, had supported Jan & Dean in the recording studio to initiate them in the surf music genre.

Jan & Dean reworked the lyrics from "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" in 1967, renaming the track "Tijuana" and released it as a single that same year. The lyrics were now drug related. "Tijuana" was finally released on their 2010 album Carnival of Sound. the Session Musicians who played on this record (who were collectively known as the Wrecking Crew) included Leon Russel on piano, Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman and Billy Strange on guitar, Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond on bass, and Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer on drums. Tommy Morgan also provided the song's Harmonica Solo

Premise of the song[edit]

The origins of "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" stem from a hugely popular ad campaign that the Dodge automobile maker debuted in early 1964. Starring actress Kathryn Minner, the commercials showed the white haired elderly lady speeding down the street (and sometimes a drag strip) driving a modified Dodge. She would stop, look out the window and say "Put a Dodge in your garage, Hon-ey!". The song soon followed and she enjoyed great popularity until she passed away a few years later.

"The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" was a folk archetype in Southern California in the mid-20th Century. Early in the century, many white couples from the Midwest had moved to the region, especially to Pasadena. The trend was accelerated by the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II. Since men tended to die earlier, Pasadena became known for its high percentage of elderly widows. As political columnist and language expert William Safire has noted, the phrase "little old ladies in tennis shoes" was used in the 1960s to refer to social and political conservatives in Southern California.

Part of this lore was that many an elderly man who died in Pasadena would leave his widow with a powerful car that she rarely, if ever, drove, such as an old Buick Roadmaster, or a vintage 1950s Cadillac, Ford, Packard, Studebaker, DeSoto, or La Salle. Used car salesmen in California, so the story went, would tell prospective buyers that the previous owner of a vehicle was "a little old lady from Pasadena who only drove it to church on Sundays," thus suggesting the car had little wear.[2] This joke became part of the material of some comedians based in Los Angeles (notably Johnny Carson, who often used it on his frequent trips to tape The Tonight Show in L.A. before settling there permanently), and because of television, the phrase "little old lady from Pasadena" became familiar to a national audience.

A Super Stock Dodge (1964 Polara)

From this premise came the comic song, about a little old lady from Pasadena who had a hot "Super Stock Dodge" in her garage. (These vehicles had low production number "Max Wedge" (Maximum Performance Wedge Engine) lightweight race specials built in 1964 for drag racing and are highly collectible today.) The song's twist was that, unlike the subject of the usual story and joke, this little old lady not only drove the hot car, but also was a peerless street racer.

Notes[edit]

  • The little old lady on the album cover is portrayed by Kathryn Minner, who starred in one of the largest Dodge commercial campaigns of the sixties with her famous tag line: “Put a Dodge in your garage, honey!”
  • The Dead Kennedys pay tribute to this song in the track "Buzzbomb From Pasadena," a re-written version of their song "Buzzbomb," from the album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.
  • The animated TV series Animaniacs features a short set dedicated to this song, in which Slappy Squirrel portrays the "old lady," and the "super stock Dodge" is portrayed as a generic red sports car.
  • Although the song is credited to Jan & Dean as the singers, Jan Berry was the only part of the duo who sang on the record. He replaced Dean Torrence with P.F. Sloan as the lead Falsetto voice on this record.

References[edit]