And They All Think Just the Same

Readers of a certain age may remember a hit song from 1963 entitled “Little Boxes”. The late beloved communist folk singer Pete Seeger is the performer who made it famous, but it was written the year before by another progressive singer named Malvina Reynolds. And the tune was filched from an even older song, “Pittsburgh Pennsylvania”, written in 1952 by Guy Mitchell.

Wikipedia doesn’t think Mitchell’s tune is the same, and the resemblance may not be enough to win a copyright lawsuit. However, the tag line is identical in sound. My old man recognized the tune as soon as Seeger’s hit came out, and sang the original to me:

“There’s a pawnshop on the corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…”

The Wikipedia entry notes that (according to Christopher Hitchens) the satirist Tom Lehrer described “Little Boxes” as “the most sanctimonious song ever written”. I’m not so sure I agree — “Imagine” by John Lennon may well win that prize. But “Little Boxes” is up there.

Now there’s yet another version of the same song, written by a blogger named Assistant Village Idiot, who describes himself as a “Postliberal”. Actually, his composition is from 2007, but the future Baron just tipped me to it:

Little Folkies

Little folkies on the hillside, little folkies made of ticky tacky
Little folkies, little folkies, little folkies, all the same
There’s a white one, and a white one, and a white one, and a white one
And they’re all made out ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

All the people who are folkies all know how to say “diversity”
But they all think in boxes, little boxes, all the same.
And there’s artists, and there’s journalists and there’s teachers of social sciences
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

They believe the TV newscast and the newspaper editorials
But they never believe conservatives so they can’t be taken in.
Now they don’t all wear gray ponytails and they don’t all wear Birkenstocks
But they wear them on the inside in the boxes in their brains

And the houses look like summer camp and they all buy organically
And they don’t have any children, except okay, maybe one.
There’s a Green one and a Pink one, an old Red one and a Rainbow one,
But they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

A Dymphna addition:

Oh my, how intertwined it all was back then. “Back then” being 1952 according to the commenters on the song. Thus, “Pittsburgh Pennsylvania” originally came in via Mitch Miller, the band leader who owned the label Guy Mitchell sang for/with. The singer’s real name was Al Cernik but evidently his boss preferred the name Guy Mitchell, so that’s who Al became. Mitch Miller really did like Al Cernik Guy Mitchell, sometimes even playing in some of his other songs…and there are a whole lot of other Guy Mitchell songs, back when the world wasn’t so politicized. Back when songs were meant for singing along, as is evident in those comments on YouTube:

One fan says the picture of the street car is not Pittsburgh but Baltimore and that people in Balmer would be able to tell because of the buildings in the background.

9 thoughts on “And They All Think Just the Same

  1. And they all live in little boxes was the anthem of Lakewood, California, a suburban enclave that was developed north of Long Beach in which every (literally) house was the same floor plan and exterior elevation. The ‘city’ was developed by Marc Taper who gave us the Forum where the Lakers used to play before Downtown LA (DTLA) became a Staples in their diet.

  2. I used to run folk clubs in the 1970’s but my recollection is that many were more likely to be satirists than out and out lefties. It would be unfair to lump all the folkies in with the mid-60’s protesters, the latter being a long way to the left of anything sensible.

  3. “There’s a pawnshop
    On the corner
    Where I usually keep my overcoat”.

    -Ernest Gibbons, in Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love”; scene set in- wait for it- New Pittsburgh.

    Took me ages to track that down, Dymphna; hope you’re impressed!

    • Well, there are other versions: “there’s a porn shop on the corner”…or am I supposed to say pr0n to avoid the bots?

      The tune is catchy so it’s been much copied…and yeah, your research effort was obviously prodigious. Heinlein was riffing on Guy Mithcell’s song, obviously. Or rather Mitch Miller’s song.

      • Well, not that prodigious (he said modestly); I knew which novel, but hadn’t read it for decades.

  4. And the implication of this sanctimonious work of art is that we do not care whether you are happy to live in your little box and do harm to nobody; in the end of the day we will force you to change (meaning we’ll take it away from you). No, it is not sanctimonious, it is sinister.

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