Today in history (November 24)

On November 24, 1942, Billy Connolly was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Like many people in the U.S., I first came to know him as an actor, first as Howard Hesseman’s replacement on Head of the Class, and then through his acclaimed performance in the film Mrs. Brown. He’s appeared in everything from The X-Files: I Want To Believe to (the underrated, I swear!) Beverly Hills Ninja. The beloved performer has released legions of comedy albums, but few people Stateside know about his musical career in the late 1960s. With Tam Harvey (who was eventually replaced by Gerry Rafferty), he formed folk-pop duo The Humblebums. I’m not sure that folk was the best genre match for the  appealingly warped lyrical bent, but you be the judge. Here is “Why Don’t They Come Back To Dunoon?” (I smile at the Mediterranean instrumentation in this supposed paean to Scottish life, and the spoken intro reminds me a bit of the classic “Atlantis” by Connolly’s Glaswegian contemporary Donovan.)

I discovered the Humblebums through several covers. Simon Turner had a  UK hit with his bubblegum-glam version of “Shoeshine Boy” in 1972 (a year after the Humblebums broke up), which I found on the Bubble Pop compilation a few years ago:

My favorite, though, is the version of “Everybody Knows That” by lo-fi Dundee band Spare Snare. The sardonic lyrics are a perfect match for the band (my chosen couplet: “Zsa Zsa Gabor is the world’s greatest actress/but everybody knows that”), and is that a kazoo solo in the middle? The original 2001 7-inch single features nifty cover art and a surreal cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” but thanks to a digital re-release last month, you can listen to the streaming audio here.

Connolly was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (that’s an honorary knighthood to you, Yank) in 2003. Happy birthday, Sir Billy Connolly! You certainly deserve it.

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