While you were chowing down on mashed potatoes and gravy last Thanksgiving, a music video filmed at the Tuesday Farmers Market on State Street was conquering the World Wide Web. Reaching the coveted front page of YouTube.com by turkey time was “The Gobble Song” by Spencer the Gardener, a brilliantly simple and ferociously catchy seasonal ditty about America’s national holiday.
Since then, the Russ Spencer-produced video-which features the musicians interspersed with familiar faces dancing like poultry – has been viewed by a half million web surfers planet-wide; it’s been on radio and television stations around the country; it’s inspired parents to film their children dancing along; it’s led to teachers asking for copies of the song to play in class; and it’s poised to be America’s first real Thanksgiving song that anyone can think of. (There is, of course, Adam Sandler’s “Thanksgiving Song”, but it’s more of a joke, rather abstract, and mentions masturbation, thereby making it unfit for mass holiday consumption.) And there’s no need to fret if you missed it last year, for Spencer Barnitz, who’s been singing to Santa Barbara for decades, warns us, “Here it comes again.”
The song’s overnight success was certainly a surprise for everyone. That goes for me too – I was the first to post an online story about the video last year in the days before Thanksgiving. As the turkey came out of the oven during my family’s massive feast in San Jose, I went to YouTube to find the video and show it to some of my cousins. When I logged on, “The Gobble Song” was front and center, the top video on a website used by literally millions of people every hour.
When speaking last week with Barnitz, who was my neighbor downtown on Santa Barbara Street for seven years, he explained, “Actually, you were the first one who told me. It was your voice on the answering machine saying, ‘Dude, you’ve got to look at your computer.'” He was surprised too, but Barnitz was pretty sure the song would catch on in some fashion. Just not immediately. “Last year I was thinking about this year,” he explained. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”
For this go ’round, Barnitz is sending singles to stations around the state, getting the song on the ASCAP website, and expecting another big YouTube blow-out. He hopes to ride this wave of quirky success as far as it goes, and he’s pretty sure this is only the start due to three factors: it’s seasonal for a season that has no popular songs; the word “gobble” is fun to say and has lots of connotations, even naughty ones; and the song is catchy, “something mothers can sing to their little kids during the whole week of Thanksgiving.”
So far, the song hasn’t made Spencer the Gardener any real money, but Barnitz is hoping it will sink into the consciousness of America – much like the Halloween hit “Monster Mash” – and begin paying its dividends later. “I’m letting the gobbler fly free around the world right now,” said Barnitz, but he hopes that later on, “it will still be flying free, but it will be making me money too.”
Though, for the record, he did sell the first single last week – a teacher whose students loved to dance to the song posted a comment on YouTube asking where to buy it, so Barnitz sent her a copy of a just-pressed single. Turns out she’s a teacher at the Texas School for the Visually Blind and Impaired in Austin. “These guys weren’t even watching the video!” Barnitz laughed. “I love that the first single I sold was to an institute for the blind.”
Barnitz wrote the song at the end of October 2006 just for fun. “I thought it was kind of funny,” he recalled, “and it stuck in my head.” He shared it with some friends, and they all encouraged him to play it live and record it. When filmmaker and friend Russ Spencer saw him play it at Cold Spring Tavern, he told Barnitz that they needed to make a video, and “The Gobble Song” legacy began.
It topped off a pretty funny week for Barnitz and his band: they’d already played the national anthem at the World Kickball Championships in San Diego and gotten a thumbs-up from Rep. Lois Capps during a Santa Barbara wedding reception after singing, “Hey Lois que paso? / Thought I was your only vato.” Then they finished the video, posted it two days later, which was five days before Thanksgiving, and “it went crazy,” said Barnitz. “It all happened so fast. It’s amazing in the modern world how much faster everything can happen.”
To Barnitz, the song’s simplicity is a natural progression of sorts for any longtime songwriter. “A lot of people who are in rock bands start playing country later on, because the songs are really simple,” he explained. “I think when you’re young, you want to write something that is cool or different. Then all of the sudden, you realize that life is pretty similar everywhere, and people have been singing simple songs for centuries.”
So raise your drumstick and toast “The Gobble Song,” America’s first and only Thanksgiving tune, straight outta Santa Barbara.