On opening day, praying the Phillies are ‘Number One’

    It’s a new season for the Phillies. What better way to celebrate than with a new song. Jim Harris give us the back story behind his band’s latest paean to the boys and balls and bats of summer.

    “Hey, opening day’s almost here. We need a baseball song.”

    That was the high-priority email I received a couple weeks ago from my songwriting partner, Martha. We’re members of a musical group, Saint Mad, which, for the past four years, has been putting on First Friday concerts at Crossroads Coffee house in Roxborough. Our shows feature political satire and seasonal parodies.

    We usually write our ditties by first coming up with a lyrical angle or hook line, then trying to find an appropriate, well-known melody that fits with it. This time, however, no words were leaping to mind, so we decided to pick a cover tune that was already in our repertoire and try to fit new lyrics to that.

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    We settled on Dylan’s “Forever Young.” The rollicking style was compatible with our evangelistic fervor for the sport, and its opening line, “May God Bless and keep you always,” sounded to us like something one might sing to a new batch of baseballs, so we took our lead from that and wrote “Number One,” our latest paean to the balls of summer, in about three hours. We then went, along with our band mates, Molly and Lynda, to RadioActive Productions in Andorra and recorded it. Total elapsed time: two days.

    Now, I’m not one to equate speed with quality. I doubt if Beethoven ever wrote anything in three hours, and I hate it when I hear burnt-out old rockers recounting how they wrote some million-selling hit in five minutes. But in the fast-paced, high-stakes world of political satire and seasonal parody that Saint Mad inhabits, turn-around time is critical. You have to strike while the topic is trending. We present a new show every month, in the same venue, to fans who are always expecting fresh material.

    For example, our next First Friday show will include songs about the hip new club where Pope Francis dances — The “Pope-acabana” (the hottest spot in the whole Vatican-a); Dennis Rodma, peacemaker; the Actual Value Initiative; and of course, our newest baseball tune, “Number One.”

    After each gig, we take a week off to take note of our families, jobs, and other non-musical obligations, but by week two, we’re back to spanning the globe, looking for stories and events that need to be noted in song. Week three is writing and arranging. Week four is practice, panic, and performance. It’s our cycle of life.

    As avid softball players and Phillies fans as well, we make sure to do at least one baseball parody every April. Past years have included a new version of “Que Sera Sera,” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as a hymn. In April 2011 we did “Four” (to the tune of “More”), a salute to the Phillies’ then-propitious pitching staff. It garnered over 1,400 hits on YouTube, and I was invited to sing it on John DeBella’s radio show on opening day, at the ballpark! I was so nervous, all I remember after we went on the air was John asking me if I sang professionally, to which I replied, “As professionally as I can.” Everything else is a blur.

    Mark Twain, once part-owner of a team himself, considered baseball to be “the very symbol … of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.” That was, of course, before football, stock car racing or kickboxing. These days, baseball actually seems pretty sophisticated by comparison to other popular sports. Like a fine wine, it gets better with age.

    My band mates and I have likewise aged gracefully, but we bring a childlike enthusiasm to our musical pursuit that keeps it forever young. It’s only natural that we would also have an affinity for baseball, which so beautifully reflects an unfaltering belief in hard work, fair play, and the eternal promise of spring.

    Jim Harris is NewsWorks contributor.

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