These three songs are all covers written some time in the past seventy years by American songwriters, two of whom were born in 1920 Tennessee. I guess Oldham chose them because the song titles are all nearly the same. In all three songs a male singer pines after his sweetheart. She’s either cold, not in love with him, and has dumped him for another, or he was blind to her love. It’s kind of like if you typed “boy + blue” into your iTunes search box and these were the first three songs to come up. Being ‘old’ songs they’re all short and sweet. You’d have thought they’d be ‘blues’ based but I don’t really hear a blues progression here.
Little Boy Blue I… is a cover of a George Jones song called “Just Little Boy Blue.” Jones was a famous country singer, born in 1931, married to Tammy Wynette. Oldham’s version doesn’t sound very country. It comprises a fine steel string acoustic guitar, finger-picking style, fret-scrape, and a sharper electric guitar intoning gently from behind, plus a male backing vocal on just one line. Oldham sings in quick rueful tones, a song about a woman who won’t open her heart to him. He uses the tale of the three little pigs as a metaphor for this, telling her that he’s “not huffin’ and a-puffin’ like the others do / I’m not a big bad wolf, just a little boy blue.” This gets repeated several times at the end of the song, which is about two minutes after it started. We learned that her first love broke her heart like straw. Unfortunately he missed this because he was sound asleep, and now that he’s told her about his feelings and her heart remains like stone, unreachable, he’ll retire to the hay, to “be asleep” once more. And that’s it, and between the catchy, simple melody and the straightforward lyrics, the song comes across as a throwaway pop ditty, which in Oldham’s hands is still probably more interesting than that of many others who’ve covered this song. The tune seems vaguely familiar and I’m sure I could place it if I racked my brains, but it doesn’t matter. It’s very mellow and pleasant, a twilight feeling with that gurgling electric guitar part.
Blue Boy… was written by Boudleaux Bryant (1920-1987) an American songwriter from Tennessee. This is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. Opens with a single loud plucked electric note, which continues piercing, Doppler-like, in the background. With that we get a jaunty acoustic guitar strum and backing vocals – a male falsetto chorus adding woo-whoo-whoo in between lines, like birds. In this one Oldham sings of being known as the “blue boy” because he’s so lonely, “since I lost you.” Alas, “you’ve found a new boy, and now we’re through,” and thus, the twinkle long gone from his eye, “now all I do is moan and cry and hunger after you.” I’m sure that’s gonna win her back, not. And that’s it, the whole song, a one minute long earworm. Again, it’s catchy, but the cheerful woo-whoo and the poppy melody betray any serious emotion and the song comes to seem nothing more than a novel museum piece, recreated and put on display.
Little Boy Blue II… written by Bobby Bland, African-American, also born in 1920 and also from Tennessee. This one is slightly more complex and more interesting for that reason, as well as the music which uses a very low, slow, almost nightclub-subterranean techno beat, which gives it a haunting atmosphere, but works with the tune which is far more subtle and uh, ‘mature’ than those songs on Side One. Oldham sings this with far more personal feeling, finding his own rhythm among the instrumentation. This dude says, “I thought I was so high above you,” indicating that he didn’t love the girl, but she was good to him anyway. Oldham has possibly chosen this one for the lyric though – we learn that she used to call him “Bonny” and her “little boy blue.” I suppose there’s not really that much more to it. “I remember, baby, when you cried all night long / I know now darling, I was doing you wrong.” Seems an issue of unrequited love, the guy this time not recognizing how much she loved him, taking her kindness for granted. After that, well, the song just fades on Oldham and his backing singers singing things like “Bonny / You called me Bonny,” and spelling out the name, “B O N N Y.” The crisp guitar stops briefly before a range of male voices join, plus one lone wailing falsetto threading through it all, and with so many voices on the go, plus the increase in volume and ominous thudding, the whole thing almost, but not quite, veers into spooky territory. This is by far the best of the three songs here. It’s the most honest too, and probably the saddest, although the rumbling music and nuanced melody suggest regret. Good stuff.
I don’t think any of these songs are available on vinyl anywhere else, although the two “Little Boy Blue” songs appear on the CD Little Lost Blues. Oldham would use the Bonny “Blue” Billy moniker again on the labels of a 7″ single released in 2015 called “On Raglan Road.”
The next 7″ single would be a split effort with Rainywood covering Kate Wolf songs, released on Palace Records in 2002.