The Thing (song)

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"The Thing" is a hit novelty song by Charles Randolph Grean which received much airplay in 1950.

The song was recorded by Phil Harris on October 13, 1950, and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-3968. The record first reached the Billboard charts on November 17, 1950. It lasted 14 weeks on the chart, peaking at No. 1. The words were set to the English folk tune "The Lincolnshire Poacher".[1]

Other versions were recorded by Arthur Godfrey, Danny Kaye, Kidsongs, Ray Charles, Teresa Brewer and Australian orchestra leader Les Welch. The Arthur Godfrey recording was made in November 1950 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39068. The Danny Kaye recording was made on December 1, 1950, and released by Decca Records as catalog number 27350. The Ray Charles recording was made on July 13, 1963, and released by ABC-Paramount Records on the album Have a Smile with Me, as catalog number ABC 495 (mono) / ABCS 495 (stereo). The Teresa Brewer recording was made in October 1950, and released by London Records as catalog number 873. The Les Welch recording was made in January 1951 and released by Pacific Records, an Australian company, as catalog number 10-0051.

Story[edit]

The lyrics take the form of a first-person narration, describing the discovery on a beach of a large, wooden box. Whatever is in the box is never revealed, nor is it called "The Thing" in the lyrics. When the lyrics call for The Thing to be named, the vocals simply pause for three percussive knocks. For example, the first verse ends, "I discovered a [* **], right before my eyes!" (The knocks [* **] are unequally spaced, occurring on counts 1,3 and 4 of the song's 6/8 meter. The listener could substitute any three-syllable phrase his imagination might suggest, such as "dog-gone thing".)

The narrator is overjoyed by a discovery that repels seemingly everyone else in this world (and the next). He takes the box into a pawnshop he knows, hoping to sell it, but is thrown out by the proprietor with a threat to call the police. "Running for [his] life," the narrator takes the box home to his wife, who also kicks him out--and orders him never to return. Next, the narrator offers the box to a hobo, receiving first his assurance that he'll take "most any old thing," as he is desperate; but when the hobo sees what's in the box, he runs away. The hapless narrator proceeds through the rest of his life unable to rid himself of the Thing, until he dies and arrives at the gates of Heaven, still with the box, only to be ordered by Saint Peter to "take it down below" (that is, to Hell). The song closes with the narrator's warning not to open a tempting box found on the beach as he did, or "you'll never get rid of the [* **], no matter what ya do!"

Film[edit]

The song aired on radio concurrently with a series of teaser ads which ran weekly in Collier's promoting Howard Hawks' science fiction movie, The Thing from Another World. The Hawks film was released April 6, 1951. While the song had no connection with the movie, some suspect it was a clever marketing tool to increase interest in seeing the film.

Also, in the 1982 George Romero film Creepshow, one of the 5 short stories comprising the movie offers a more horrific interpretation of the song lyrics. In this story, entitled "The Crate", a worker discovers an old crate that is chained shut and hidden in a university research lab. Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau take it from there.

A portion of the Phil Harris version [2] was played during the indoor swimming pool scene in the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film The Last Picture Show.

In science fiction[edit]

Edward G. Robles, Jr. wrote a short science fiction story partially based around the song. It involved several hobos who find an object like the one described in the song. In the story, the object is discovered to be an alien disguised as something nobody wants. It was originally copyrighted by Galaxy Publishing Corp. in 1954.[3]

Pinball[edit]

Chicago Coin made a pinball game in 1951 called THING with backglass and playfield art that got its inspiration from the song "The Thing". Roy Parker was the artist.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Record Research. 
  2. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067328/soundtrack?ref_=tt_trv_snd
  3. ^ Robles, Edward (1971). "Isaac Asimov", "Groff Conklin", ed. 50 Short Science Fiction Tales. Collier Books. pp. 210–214. 
  4. ^ "The Internet Pinball Database presents Thing". 
Preceded by
"Harbor Lights" by Sammy Kaye
U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
December 2–23, 1950
Succeeded by
"The Tennessee Waltz" by Patti Page
Preceded by
"Harbor Lights" by Sammy Kaye
Cash Box Best Sellers number-one song
December 16, 1950
Succeeded by
"Harbor Lights" by Sammy Kaye