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 "My Mighty G.T.O."
Released June 8, 1964
Format 7"
Recorded
Genre Car song[1]
Length 2:45
Label Liberty Records
Writer(s) Jan Berry, Don Altfeld, Roger Christian
Producer(s) Jan Berry for Screen Gems, Inc.
Jan and Dean singles chronology
"Dead Man's Curve
(1964)
"The Little Old Lady from Pasadena"
(1964)
"Ride The Wild Surf"
(1964)

"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.[2]

The session musicians who played on this record (who were collectively known as The Wrecking Crew) included Leon Russell 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.[3] Tommy Morgan provided the song's harmonica solo.

Jan & Dean reworked the lyrics from "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" in 1967, renaming the track "Tijuana" and releasing 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 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.

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 died 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.[4] 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.

In popular culture[edit]

The song was one of many California related songs played throughout "Sunshine Plaza" in the original Disney California Adventure.[5]

The Dead Kennedys satirized the concept in their own song "Buzzbomb from Pasadena," where an elderly driver likewise terrorizes the city with her driving.

In Animaniacs, Slappy Squirrel once takes over the old lady's role in the song. That episode ends with her being arrested.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W.; Bailey, William G. (1990). Arts & Entertainment Fads, Volume 1. Binghampton: Haworth Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780866568814. 
  2. ^ "Top Forty-5s". Library and Archives Canada. 11 August 1964. 
  3. ^ "Phonograph Recording Contract" (PDF). American Federation of Musicians. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Macmillan. Nov 15, 1988. p. 175. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  5. ^ http://www.parktunes.com/sections/12