I can’t remember when I first heard the title of this song. I think it was a running gag in the B.C. comic strip, though I might’ve first heard it in an old Warner Bros. cartoon. I thought it was a joke. I think the first time I actually heard it sung was in a short-lived action TV series called “Tales of the Gold Monkey”.
It’s not a joke, of course, just a whimsical relic of a bygone era when life wasn’t nearly as good–yet you’d never know that from the popular culture. Not that they didn’t have their sad songs, stories and movies, only that they didn’t wallow in it.
There’s an optimism and sweetness to it that is common in the music of the time. Listening to it now, in the way it was listened to then–say, for example, this recording by Bing Crosby–we have a certain distance from it. Horror movies like Jeepers Creepers and The Shining have used this distance to create alienation, the jauntiness seeming weirdly misplaced. Sometimes–say in the Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters Pennies from Heaven–there’s a manic quality.
Very often, though, it’s simply given a melancholy cast. Think of The Green Mile, as Coffey watches and listens to “Cheek to Cheek”, that zephyr-lightness moving him to tears as those around him contemplate his grim fate.
You can listen to that tune and impose your own emotion on it, as you see fit.
It was a lucky April shower
It was the most convenient door
I found a million dollar baby
In a five and ten cent store.
The rain continued for an hour.
I hung around for three or four.
Around a million dollar baby
In a five and ten cent store.
Most of the brilliance of the song is wrapped up in that one contrast. Today, it would probably have to be a trillion dollar baby in a 99 cent store.
She was selling china
And when she made those eyes,
I kept buying china
Until the crowd got wise.
Of course, it’s just a nicely rhyming cliché about “making eyes”, but don’t most human relationships begin with eye contact? Case in point, Freeman Hunt’s intimidating baby. Or, a look across a bar, if you like. Even just a picture, if done right, can make you feel like you have a window into someone.
The inevitable confirmation comes next:
If you should run into a shower,
Just step inside my cottage door,
And meet the million dollar baby
From the five and ten cent store.
Now, they didn’t dwell on these things much–we’re already 1:20 into the song, let’s wrap up what we’re trying to say.
Love comes along like a popular song
Any time or anywhere at all.
Rain or sunshine
Spring or fall.
Say, you’ll never know when it may say hello
In a very unexpected place.
For example, take my case.
Well, we gotta fill out the 78, so we’ll have Bing do some scatting and repeat the opening versus, but this’ll fit nicely on one of those folded single sheets, with a nice picture on the front and the remaining three sides holding the music. We’ll sell it for four bits.
Can you imagine? That’s how they used to make their money: Writing songs and selling the sheet music. My first piano teacher got one of her songs published that way right about the time she retired. (I was maybe four or five.)
This, like the music itself, is what it is. And whether we cast a dismissive or nostalgic eye on it is up to us.
Just remember: You’ll never know when it may say hello.