Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #16

Dickie Goodman – Mr. Jaws

I don’t know if any young people will read this, but I’m here to perform a service for them if they do. The next time someone of your parents’ or grandparents’ generation makes a snotty comment about the music you love – and they will – I want you to play “Mr. Jaws” for them, and leave the room. It’s the ultimate mic drop.

Now, when I was 11 years old, I loved “Mr. Jaws”. But I had a good excuse: I was 11. Who else was listening to this and thinking they wanted more? An army of 11-year-olds couldn’t have pushed a song to number 4 on Billboard and number 1 on Cash Box. (We didn’t do much better in Canada – it reached number 13 on RPM’s chart.) Who were those people who called into radio station request lines and picked this over, say, Neil Sedaka’s magnificent “Bad Blood”, which knocked it from the top of Cash Box’s chart? Or who went to the local record store and put down $1.29 for this rather than one of the great songs that “Mr. Jaws” uses clips from, like “Jive Talkin’” or “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, or pretty much anything else in the store? Why?

If you don’t remember, we were all a bit nuts over sharks in 1975. “Jaws” was the first real movie blockbuster, dominating the culture that summer, and it definitely had a lot of us looking at the ocean differently. I didn’t even see it until it came to our local drive-in in the summer of 1976, but just knowing it existed – knowing that sharks ATE PEOPLE! – made me wary of the ocean, and I can’t say that’s ever really changed (I feel a bit anxious just remembering it now). But “Mr. Jaws”? Shouldn’t there be a limit to fanaticism? Imagine if something similar were done in our era for Harry Potter or The Avengers. Would we even notice, let alone stream it? Once, maybe, out of curiosity, but we might also skip it after the first few seconds. That may say more about our attention spans than the quality of the track, but even if streaming didn’t exist, we sure as hell wouldn’t get in our cars and trek down to Sam the Record Man (R.I.P.) for the latest parody record.

None of this is to disrespect Goodman. His “break-in” style of sampling was ahead of its time, and he made a nice career out of it, charting tracks (it feels wrong to call them songs) for over 20 years. He didn’t really make any money from it, since, as hip hop artists were to later learn, creators don’t much like it when other people repurpose their stuff. According to his children, financial problems were likely a factor when Goodman killed himself at 55.

As campy as it is, “Mr. Jaws” still has a few good bits. My favourite is when Goodman asks the shark why nothing seems to hurt him, and he responds with the whispered “Big boys don’t cry” from 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”, which is pretty brilliant.

And here’s a confession. I was so in thrall of what Goodman was doing that when he took a shot at “Star Wars” two years later, I decided to do the same. The ambition is mind-numbing to consider: my record collection was a bunch of K-tel compilations and maybe two dozen 45s, and my recording device was a small tape recorder. I would record my question, position the microphone next to my stereo speakers, start the song and wait to hit the “record” button right before the lyric I wanted came on. If I was too early or too late, I’d rewind and try again. The man hours that went into that thing – which got close to 10 minutes long as I recall – is astonishing. The lesson from this: never underestimate the power of a nerd on a mission. Which is maybe something you could say about Goodman, too.