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Is it cool? is it cool?

Yesterday I asked if you remember the first 45 you bought with your own money. Carol replied with The Brothers Johnson's Strawberry Letter #23.

Here's the thing about that song: The lyrics are complete nonsense. They make no sense unless you've been dipping into an old LSD stash.

But that's the beauty of it. On paper, the words are just mumble jumble. But when you're singing those words, they transform into something magical. They flow from your lips. They feel like poetry. They melt on your tongue like snowflakes. And you can't stop singing. Maybe Carol, like me, practically wore a hole in her 45 from spinning that song so often. One time you do the background vocals. You oooh and dooo and pretend you're some hip black chick with an ultra cool afro wearing a gold mini skirt and thigh-high boots. Then you pick up the needle, drop it back at the beginning and now you're the guy. You're not just singing, you're crooning and your voice is all mellow and smooth and tastes like honey. Oh, it was 1977* and you're supposed to be cool and hip and discovering punk rock but you'll never give this song up, no way, no how.

You know the lyrics are just a pile of crap when hear them. You know it's just someone else's bad acid trip, but you don't care. You're caught in the headlights of velvet roses diggin' freedom flight. And the highlight of the song, the part where you tilt your head back and raise your hands up and shake it like a polaroid picture (what the hell does that mean, anyhow?) and you forget that there are other people in the house so you raise your voice a couple of octaves when you sing Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue, Playgrounds will laugh But that's ok, because a voice from the next bedroom says if you try to ask Is it cool?, is it cool?

Yea, your friends will think you've lost your edge and your spouse will think you've gone back in time but I dare you to download this and play it loud. Sing it. Man, that Quincy Jones knows how to work a song.

Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter #23 - mp3

Full lyrics below

*[originally recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971]

Hello, my love
I heard a kiss from you
Red magic satin playing near, too

All through the morning rain
I gaze - the sun doesn't shine -
Rainbows and waterfalls run through my mind

In the garden - I see west
Purple shower, bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins dressed in green

Pretty music I hear - so happy
And loud - blue flower echo
From a cherry cloud

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Playgrounds will laugh
if you try to ask
Is it cool?, is it cool?

If you arrive and don't see me
I'm going to be with my baby
I am free - flying in her arms, over the sea

Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kite - with velvet roses diggin' freedom flight

A present from you - Strawberry letter 22
The music plays, I sit in for a few

Ooh...ooh...ooh...ooh...ooh...

A present from you - Strawberry letter 22
The music plays, I sit in for a few

Ooh...ooh...ooh...ooh...ooh...

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Michele explores the mystery, sings the praises, of "Strawberry Letter 23." Sublime nonsense. And that's the best kind.... [Read More]

Comments

"shake it like a polaroid picture (what the hell does that mean, anyhow?)"

I've seen my parents shake a freshly taken Polaroid to try to get it to develop quicker many a time- I assume that's what Outkast is talking about.

This is one of my faves to listen to in my Jeep, driving at night, in summer with the top down. It makes me swoon. Carefree and sensless. Perfect. Not everything has to be intellectually provocative.

HA! Thats it! Singing it like a hip black chick! And playing it now, that feeling comes RIGHT back too

Thanks, Michele. I have not heard that song, or thought about the Brothers Johnson, since that song was on the radio. I probably heard it on AM.

Wow.

Thanks for sharing Michele! I heard this song a while back for the first time in a long time and remembered how much I loved it.

OK,OK, let me ask... What year did Brothers Johnson record that? And thanks a lot, I almost woke up David looking for a pair of headphones in the house. I finally had to resort to my walkman earplugs in my work bag. But thanx Chele, I played it three times, remembering those days long ago! Remind me to give you a BIG one (No, not THE BIG one) when I see you. God, two minutes of the worst lyrics that were so cool, and three minutes of great instrumentals!!

OH... And why is it titled "Strawberry Letter 23" when they sing "strawberry letter 22"? Call me I'm curious. I know you know!

Ah yes--I was cheering on J.V. in the fall and that was the great song. And I did blast it loud tonite but the family is watching Fear Factor Couples and didn't give a rat's ass.
My first 45 was (gulp) Rod Stewart "Reason to Believe".
Love that Strawberry Letter 23!

Yes, it's Strawberry Letter 23 because he is responding to his baby's Strawberry Letter 22.
Doncha just love that riff in the middle---it's Yes Roundabout all the way. Oh,but I date myself!

Ooooh, 1977.

Listen to virtually any song by Yes. The lyrics make zero sense, but somehow they fit with the music. Jon Anderson was asked about this once, as I recall, and he explained that the lyrics were merely a vehicle for the music, and not vice-versa, as with most other songs. It seemed to work.

BTW, my first 45? I think it was "Boogie Nights" by a band called Heatwave...circa 1977:

Dance with the boogie get down
'Cause boogie nights are always
The best in town

Elvis' "Love Me Tender"...1956...we staggered out of the theater after sobbing our pre-teen eyes out over the death scene. Elvis was so big that they sold 45s and merchandise in the lobby.

This is what my first phonograph looked like

For my birthday in fourth grade, I received THREE copies of the "Thank You For Being a Friend" 45. I knew my life was over at that point...

Funny, the thing I most remember about Strawberry Letter 23 was that the picture sleeve version smelled like strawberries. I think that was actually my first (cynical) introduction to marketing thinking "oh, they figured the song was such a crapper, they found (made) a gimmick so it was playable"
I bet only half of us would have ever heard that thing if it hadn't smelt.

My first .45 was a Colt 1911A1 Government Model.

Hey, JR, my first .45 was a Springfield Compact. I later added a Kimber Custom Classic, a Glock 30, and a S&W 625. .45s are so much fun.

Riyadh delenda est!

Beatles, Love Me Do and the flip, PS I Love You. I took it into kindergarten show and tell, I remember kids putting their fingers in their ears. Cretins!

A great song! Good musicians were the Brothers Johnson as well.

Am I the only one that understands the song?

You youngun's just don't understand a thing with yer fancy, smancy mp3's and CD's.

I am feeling old now.

Oh my god....

I feel so...so...Polyester.

Thanks for bringing back the horrors of the mid 1970's

I discovered this post several months late by way of a Google search for a legal mp3 download of this track to offer friends not fortunate enough to own it. The Brothers Johnson may have had a hit with this, but I must urge you to listen to the original Shuggie Otis recording. I've not been able to find the album mix from Shuggie's 1971 album Freedom Flight available for download anywhere, but the Luaka Bop label does have an extended remix of it available for download here. Most of the original track comes through. Give it a spin. Shuggie recorded genius albums in the early 70s and it's a shame his record label short changed him.

The song's title refers to his girlfriend's strawberry scented perfume that would arrive with her letters.

Here's hoping you have comment notification turned on. Cheers.

First time reading this blog, just wanted to say hi.