Considering “Your Auntie Grizelda”

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Every Saturday at 6 PM, WTBU 89.3 Boston, the “Beat of Boston University,” airs Your Auntie Grizelda with DJ Amber playing a selection of music from the 1950s to the 1980s. Most student listeners might require an explanation about the show’s title to help them understand its significance. More than a few older faculty members, however, surely appreciate the reference to that song first included on the 1967 album, More of the Monkees. The song also appeared in three episodes of The Monkees during that same year as background music to segments in which our four young heroes were running from Dr. Mendoza’s monster (played by Richard “Jaws” Kiel), or the jealous Captain Crocodile’s well-armed children’s fan club (the Crocodile Corps – grrrr!), or a group of painfully stereotypical yellow-faced Chinese spies who confusedly think the band possesses a secret formula.  To this day “Your Auntie Grizelda” comes to mind each time I view any chase scene from any film or television show — not “Flight of the Bumblebees,” mind you, but “Your Auntie Grizelda,” regardless of soundtrack provided.

The tune itself, co-written by Diane Hildebrand and Jack Keller, features Peter Tork on lead vocals, whining in frustration about his beloved’s Auntie Grizelda, who’s “having a fit,” because “she doesn’t like [him] a bit.” Auntie is “so righteous making fudge” and “so proper judging others over her tea.”  Obviously, the speaker’s aunt has played a large role in raising the object of his affections, and now she threatens to end the relationship by poisoning the object’s mind against him.  Later, the song turns when the speaker fears that his love is becoming like her aunt and warns her:

Oh, no, don’t look at me like Auntie Grizelda.
It takes much more to be someone of your own.
You’ve got to make it free from Auntie Grizelda,
Or just like her you’ll have to make it alone.

The tone throughout is zany with Peter Tork at one point spitting out nonsense sounds to banging, rapid, psychedelic-esque musical accompaniment provided by Billy Lewis on drums, Larry Taylor on bass, and Gerry Lee and Glen Campbell on guitars. The author of an article on Monkeeslivealmanac.com celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the song’s recording, quotes an interview Larry Sandoval had conducted with Tork:

Jeff Barry got him to sing on this recording. ‘He had me doin’ these kind of funny vocal things in the middle there. I tried it and it worked out kind of. Lester [Sills of Screen Gems] came to me and said, “We’ve got a kind of protest song for you.” It certainly isn’t what you’d call a protest song. That was what they thought a protest song should be for The Monkees.

Sure, the speaker is protesting, I guess, even if the subject of his protest isn’t war per se, but his personal war against the person, image, and attitude of Auntie Grizelda?  I flinch when I think about how the above-mentioned lines come across as a general warning to all women not to become lonely, bitter, and possessive Auntie Grizeldas and instead seize the day in the Robert Herrick sense of the term.  That theme hasn’t aged well at all.  The zaniness, then, belies the lyrical meaning here.

Instrumental forms of “Your Auntie Grizelda” appear in two episodes during the fifth season of I Dream of Jeannie, and in the very second episode of The Flying Nun. Although never released as a single, “Your Auntie Grizelda” has been among those on Monkees greatest hit collections over the decades, and the song became a favorite at Monkees concerts, wild considering that it was recorded in one take. In fact, Rolling Stone reporter Angie Martoccio shares how the four men weren’t happy with the entire album’s release, much less the fifth track itself:

While on tour in 1967, the Monkees stopped at a store in Cleveland and were shocked to find that a new album was for sale with their name on it. Overseen by music supervisor Don Kirshner, More of the Monkees was rush-released amid the chaos of Monkeemania, a mere three months after the release of their first record.

Decked out in Sixties avocado green, the front cover featured a shot of the group from a JCPenney photoshoot. “The record was timed to come out specifically to go with a fashion thing where you could buy the clothes that were on the cover of the record,” reissue producer Andrew Sandoval later said.

Though the group was angered by the release, many of its 12 songs would become    Monkees classics, such as “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and the Neil Diamond–penned “I’m a Believer.” “I can’t explain why it’s proven to be so popular,” Micky Dolenz told Rolling Stone of the latter. “With anything collaborative, at some point the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.”

Martoccio wrote this article to honor Tork, who died on February 21, 2019, and to honor his most famous vocal performance she embeds a video of Tork singing the song in 2015. You can view it here: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/watch-monkees-peter-tork-your-auntie-grizelda-2015-797447/. Bring tissues.

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I love this song, even if a closer look at the lyrics reveals a possibly wince-worthy twist on the carpe diem theme.  I love how Crossword365.com reports the answer to the crossword clue “Peter who sang on ‘Your Auntie Grizelda’,” as, for those not paying attention at home, “Tork.”  Finally, I love that Amber at WTBU honors Auntie Grizelda every week when her show airs.  God bless the Auntie Grizeldas in our lives, both inner and outer! God bless Auntie Grizelda, everyone!

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