“Don’t mess with Bill.”
Ha, ha, that song did me a lot of good. When the Marvelettes sang that Top 10 hit back in 1966, I was a skinny, little dweeb in high school and ripe for “wet willies,” “tittie twisters,” and Three Stooges-type smackeroos.
At one point, the song goes: “Don’t mess with Bill. Leave my Billy alone.”
Well, that didn’t happen. Every time that song came on somebody’s car radio, I could expect some “messin’ with Bill” from my friends.
No biggie. That above-mentioned sophomoric treatment probably helped me feel like I belonged, even though I often had sore shoulders from buddy punches — the cost of acceptance, I guess.
I bring this up because my wife mentioned the other day that in her 30-plus years of teaching grade school, she never had a Bill. One William but “I don’t want to be called no Bill” was his thought on the matter.
Bills are few and far between among the younger generations. The handful of Williams out there seem to mostly choose Will instead of Bill if they want to go by a nickname.
We Bills might be a vanishing breed if it weren’t for the Buffalo Bills keeping our good name out there. Yet I challenge any of you good readers to come up with another name that is used more in song.
Along with “Don’t Mess With Bill,” here are some examples of Bill’s versatility in vocals:
There is a really old drinking ditty called “Barnacle Bill the Sailor,” an anti-war song by Paper Lace called “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” and a tune with a surprise ending in “My Girl Bill” by Jim Stafford.
The greatest group of all time — the Beatles, of course — joined the Bill-board list with “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” Not one of their better ones.
There was even a No. 1 hit — “Ode to Billy Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry in 1967. (Naa, Joes can’t count this as one of their own.) Fifty-five years later, I’m still trying to figure out what happened in that song.
And how about these for some really moldy oldies — Bing Crosby’s “Brother Bill,” Patsy Cline’s “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” and Peggy Lee’s “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).”
We also have Eminem rapping out “Buffalo Bill,” Iggy Pop bringing the punk rock treatment to “Billy Is a Runaway,” and Dionne Warwick singing my name so morosely in “If You See Bill.”
There are actually two songs with Bill as a cowboy — “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” by the Velvet Underground and “Bill the Cowboy” by The Waco Brothers. Hey, saddle up, all you Billy the Kids.
“Baseball Bill” by Echo and the Bunnymen (love that name) is an under-appreciated song, in my opinion, even though it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with baseball.
One of the greatest of all Bill songs doesn’t have my name in the title. Yet “Wedding Bell Blues” sung by the Fifth Dimension’s Marilyn McCoo (one of my earliest crushes) keeps repeating, “I want to marry you, Bill!” Yikes, that scared me way back then.
About that same time, the Crystals were singing “Da Doo Ron Ron.” That Top 10 number started out with: “I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still. Da doo ron-ron-ron, Da doo ron-ron. Somebody told me that his name was Bill. Da doo ron-ron-ron, Da doo ron-ron.”
I loved that song, but there was a downside to it. I used to train for cross country and track with my buddy Ricke. He was two years older and would carry a small transistor radio when we would do longer, slower runs. But when that song came on, he would hand the radio to me and pick up the pace.
He thought the Crystals were singing, “They do run run. They do run run.” I don’t know, maybe I did, too. At least I liked that my name — and not his — was in the song.
Did I mention that my mom used to sing the old standby, “Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy,” when I was a small tyke? Hmmm, that was irritating even back then.
There might not be Bill-ions of songs with Bill and Billy in them but I seriously doubt any Tom, Dick or Harry can claim to be more melodious.
Well, possibly Jack, but they all can “hit the road” as far as I’m concerned. Just remember, don’t mess with me.