Sunday, June 29, 2014

Zager and Evans -- "Mr. Turnkey" (1970)


Mr. Turnkey, 
You ain't never seen nothing like this before
Mr. Turnkey, 
I nailed my wrist to your wall

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured "In the Year 2525," which was a huge hit for Zager and Evans in 1969.  Click here if you missed it.

After that song spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100," pop music fans everywhere were shivering with antici- . . . -pation as they eagerly awaited the Nebraska duo's next single.



That next single was "Mr. Turnkey," the lyrics to which leave even a compulsive blabber like me speechless.

Let's go through "Mr. Turnkey" line by line, word by word -- anything less wouldn't do justice to this appalling little ditty.

Mr. Turnkey, 
It's ten p.m. in Wichita Falls 
August 16, 1969, and I'm in some bar
Mr. Turnkey, I need a woman 
And I'm ain't getting far
I never was the kind of man a woman looked for

Why Wichita Falls?  Beats me.  Zager and Evans met when they were students at Nebraska Wesleyan  University in Lincoln, NE.  It's possible one of them hailed from Wichita Falls -- which is in Texas -- but I doubt it.

Zager and Evans
And why August 16, 1969?  That date was the beginning of the last week "In the Year 2525" was #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100," but that's a pretty weak connection.  

August 16, 1969 (which was a Saturday) was also the second day of Woodstock, which doesn't seem like a particularly likely reason for Zager and Evan to mention the date in this song. 


(Here's the lineup of performers that day: Quill, Country Joe and the Fish, Santana, John Sebastian, the Keef Hartley Band, the Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, the Who, and the Jefferson Airplane.)  

I should probably mention that "turnkey" is an old slang term for a jailer.  I have a feeling some of younger folks out there have never heard that term.

But Mr Turnkey, she looked at me with flirting eyes
Mr. Turnkey, she was lovelier than oil rights
Mr. Turnkey, she led me on, she led me on,
She knew she wasn't going to let me love her

Most of this verse is pretty straightforward -- except for that "lovelier than oil rights" line. 

Evans and Zager
Oil is kind of a big deal in Texas, and it's not uncommon for farmers and ranchers to sell the rights to extract the oil or other minerals from their property while keeping the land itself.  Oil rights are pretty sweet, but it's very odd to compare a woman's beauty to the ownership of oil rights.

Mr. Turnkey, there's been a rape in Wichita Falls
Mr. Turnkey, I'm sitting here crying in my coveralls
Mr. Turnkey, I don't want to be the man I am

The plot thickens.  The singer goes straight from his rape of the lovely young thing who allegedly led him on to his incarceration -- he skips the arrest, trial, and conviction.

Mr. Turnkey, I'm calling from block number four
Mr. Turnkey, you ain't never seen nothing 
Like this before
Mr. Turnkey, I nailed my wrist to your wall 
I'm going home

Whoa, Nelly . . . you did what?  Nailed your wrist to the wall of your prison cell?


That grisly image may have so discombobulated you that you didn't think to ask this obvious question: "Where the hell did the prisoner get a hammer and nails?"  But 2 or 3 lines did.

Mr. Turnkey, I'm calling from block number four
Mr. Turnkey, I ain't got the strength 
To call once more
Mr. Turnkey, I'm crying, hanging here dying
Tell her I'm sorry

Are we supposed to take from this that the singer is bleeding to death from the hole in his wrist he's made by nailing it to the wall?  Would that be enough to kill you?



Or are we to believe that the singer has done a full-scale self-crucifixion?  I hate to be a doubting Thomas, but how the hell can you do that?  Once you nail one wrist to the wall, wouldn't it be well-nigh impossible to nail the other one to the wall without help?

(I still want to know where the hell he got the hammer and nails.)

"In the Year 2525" might be the worst #1 hit single ever.  But "Mr. Turnkey" might be the worst song ever recorded PERIOD.  Not surprisingly, it did not chart in the United States.

If you don't believe me, here's "Mr. Turnkey" -- listen and decide for yourself:


So am I right, or am I right about that being the worst song ever?  (I'd love to see you top it.)




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