The Thing (song) – 1950

“The Thing” is a hit novelty song by Charles Randolph Grean which received much airplay in 1950.

The song was recorded by Phil Harris on October 13, 1950, and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-3968. The record first reached the Billboard charts on November 17, 1950. It lasted 14 weeks on the chart, peaking at No. 1. The words were set to the English folk tune “The Lincolnshire Poacher”.

Other versions were recorded by Arthur Godfrey, Danny Kaye, Kidsongs, Ray Charles, Teresa Brewer and Australian orchestra leader Les Welch. The Arthur Godfrey recording was made in November 1950 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39068. The Danny Kaye recording was made on December 1, 1950, and released by Decca Records as catalog number 27350. The Ray Charles recording was made on July 13, 1963, and released by ABC-Paramount Records on the album Have a Smile with Me, as catalog number ABC 495 (mono) / ABCS 495 (stereo). The Teresa Brewer recording was made in October 1950, and released by London Records as catalog number 873. The Les Welch recording was made in January 1951 and released by Pacific Records, an Australian company, as catalog number 10-0051.

The lyrics take the form of a first-person narration, describing the discovery on a beach of a large, wooden box. Whatever is in the box is never revealed, nor is it called “The Thing” in the lyrics. When the lyrics call for The Thing to be named, the vocals simply pause for three percussive knocks. For example, the first verse ends, “I discovered a …., right before my eyes!” (The knocks … are unequally spaced, occurring on counts 1,3 and 4 of the song’s 6/8 meter. The listener could substitute any three-syllable phrase his imagination might suggest, such as “dog-gone thing”.)

The narrator is overjoyed by a discovery that repels seemingly everyone else in this world (and the next). He takes the box into a pawnshop in his neighborhood, hoping to sell it, but is thrown out by the proprietor with a threat to call the police. “Running for his life,” the narrator takes the box home to his wife, who also kicks him out–and orders him never to return. Next, the narrator offers the box to a hobo, receiving first his assurance that he’ll take “most any old thing,” as he is desperate; but when the homeless man sees what’s in the box, he runs away. The hapless narrator proceeds through the rest of his life unable to rid himself of the Thing, until he dies and arrives at the gates of Heaven, still with the box, only to be ordered by Saint Peter to “take it down below” (that is, to Hell). The song closes with the narrator’s warning not to open a tempting box found on the beach as he did, or “you’ll never get rid of the …. no matter what ya do!”