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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sounds Familiar: "Sheep Marketing Ploy (The Ballad of Fenton)"

And we're back.

For those of you who don't know the True Story behind this song: After MagiCon (the 1992 World SF Convention, in Orlando, FL), I went to the Disney-MGM Studios with Leslie, Bill Roper, and Gretchen Van Dorn (now Roper). The absolute high point was an otherwise innocuous attraction known as The Monster Sound Show. (It was later revamped a few times, each progressively worse; I think it hasn't been anything for at least five years.) This theater featured a five-minute comedy-horror film starring Chevy Chase as a hapless door-to-door insurance salesman and Martin Short as the twisted little wretch trying -- and failing -- to off him. The sound effects were on a separate track, so they could be removed, so that new effects could be put in by selected audience participants. A rather chilling exercise in public humiliation, really, but this is comedy.

To our delight, Bill was chosen to work the Foley Pit (no relation to Mick), a wooden tray on the floor with different surfaces (wood, concrete, dirt, and gravel) to create the sounds of footsteps.

One of the others chosen was a very, very large man with a buzz-cut (physically reminiscent of the dolt husband Bob in the long-gone comic strip Suburban Cowgirls). His name was Fenton, and he was assigned to push a few buttons that would trigger electronic effects. Since this didn't seem too taxing, he was also called upon to provide Martin Short's evil laugh.

The best he could do was a basso castrato "BAAAAAAH! BAAAAAAH!"

In the front row, Les, Gretchen, and I lost it. "He sounds like a sheep from hell!" Even the Cast Member running the show agreed -- "Yeah, he does kinda sound like a sheep."

So, here we are. Turns out Fenton is inept at button-pushing. Everybody else is waving tin sheets for thunder, cranking rattleboxes for shutters, Bill figures the best way to do the footsteps is to try and keep up with Chevy Chase's movements and he's watching the screen intently and dancing around all over the place and gravel is flying just everywhere -- and all the electronic effects are coming in way, way late, and every now and then, Fenton remembers to bellow out, "BAAAAAAH! BAAAAAAH!"

By the time we left, Fenton The Death Sheep From Hell was born.

One quick annotation about the lyrics: After the beautiful and talented Shari Lewis died, several people told me I should rewrite the song to reflect her passing. Uh, no, guys. This isn't simultaneous past and present tense. If you presume that the events of the first verse took place before Ms. Lewis's passing, not only is the song quite grammatically correct, but you've just told yourself that Hell exists, and it's run by a sheep.

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Sheep Marketing Ploy (The Ballad of Fenton)
Words and Music: © 1993 by Tom Smith
with a quick melodic quote at the beginning
from "The William Tell Overture (2nd Movement)" by Giaochino Rossini

Released under a Creative Commons Noncommercial ShareAlike License

Once, in a land far away, on a beautiful day,
On a wide grassy knoll,
There was a cute little sheep, who was drifting to sleep,
When the earth opened up...
... and swallowed him whole!

Way down in the fiery lake, Lucifer had a lot at steak,
But he wanted some lamb chops instead, and Shari Lewis wasn't dead,
So he kidnapped some virgin wool, grabbed its soul and began to pull,
But he never thought that the lamb he'd caught
Would rebel and then conquer and rule.

Now he's Fenton, Lord of the Inferno,
Fenton, Demon King of the Dell,
Fenton, eyes of flame, breath of Sterno,
Fenton, Death Sheep from Hell.

It's right out of a storybook, but the signs are there if you know to look,
A nasty mustache on his face, sheep are tenors, but this one's a bass,
It's a nearly complete disguise, except for the fangs and the glowing eyes,
If the lion lies down with this lamb, he'll be found
In three pieces of varying size.

Thanks to Fenton, Overlord of the Ovis,
He's got a Fen-Tongue, does his breath ever smell.
Fenton, chew some parsley or clove-is,
Fenton, Death Sheep from Hell.

He's a strategist and a conspirer, with a few dozen enemies' lists,
And the Weekly World News and Enquirer are afraid to admit he exists.
He's a devious mind without equals, and if you're convinced that I'm wrong,
Take a look at the various sequels that I'm going to write to this song!

Death Sheep from Hell is the first, you see,
Who he is, how he came to be,
Then that's done, but what can you do
To stop the shear terror of Fenton 2?
The story would not be complete
Without Fenton 3: The Last Heart Bleat.
Apparently killed, but comes back for more
In the savage sequel, Death Sheep 4:

Lamb of doom, baa-ba-baa-baa, baa-ba-baa-ba-baa,
Lamb of doom, baa-ba-baa-baa, baa-ba-baa-ba-baa.

After that one, we get to meet Olga, the one girl sheep to whom he is true,
And their lovemaking gets pretty vulgah in Death Sheep 5: Ewe Devil, Ewe!
But the forces of goodness are scheming to slay him and bring the world peace,
And you'll spend nearly two hours screaming at Fenton 6: Rest in Fleece.

And after it's over, he'll be in the cool earth,
At rest in the clover... hmm. What is his wool worth?
But don't think that Heaven is finally winning --
Watch for Death Sheep 7: A New Baa-Ginning!

Starring Fenton, he's a cuddly disaster,
Fenton, and I'm hoping he'll sell,
Fenton, Dark Prince of the pasture,
I'll send Spielberg an offer letter --
If he won't bite, a demonic sweater --
What would be better than Fenton, the Death Sheep from Hell!


At 7:44 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Fenton was the first song of yours I ever heard, and it remains my favourite. I'm not sure if I like the mp3 I have more, or this version, but both are excellent. :)

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Always an oldie but a goodie. This new rendition of the song has some cons and some pros to it.

On the con side, I think your vocalizations on the original version (that is, your original recording of the song) were much better. Certain lines in this new version end with a lower note when in the original you went up instead, to better comic effect, and the lower notes tend to get lost in the music you've chosen. Also, the joy of some of the gags in the original rendition was that they came fast and furious. Here you slow down, like the 'Ewe Devil Ewe' part - I thought it worked better the original way.

On the pro side, the new music is great, especially as you build to the end. It felt like a Jim Steinman song being sung by Meatloaf for a rock opera. And of course it's nice to hear a song you've only done accoustically with a fuller musical backing. So I agree with Jamie's comment - not sure I like this new version more, but it's still very good!

If you ever record it again, might I suggest a few sound effects thrown in (in addition to the reverb on Fenton's BAAA). Like some faint screams, wicked laughter, and maybe the sound of an electric shearer?

At 11:44 PM, Blogger MLO said...

You need a cadre of fiber artists (knitters and spinners) doing the chorus! I wonder if Lime and Violet will be at any conventions in the near future...

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Tom! Have you seen Black Sheep? It's a clever little flick from the Kiwis about, yes, bad sheep!


At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the new version a lot, though I agree that for me the old version wins - not in quality, but in fun.

I think it's mostly because the music takes a centerstage here, and I prefer hearing your voice with centerstage.

But if I wanted to show the song to someone who isn't used to filk, I think I'd use the new version. It sounds more polished.

*putting the old mp3 alongside the new one into the playlist*

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminiscent of Weird Al's "Nature Trail to Hell" from the 1980's, but a whole heap of fun. I already want to see the animated spin-off series! :)

At 4:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I somehow got used to the new version, and now I need to revert my original post:

This is great!


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