It’s August! Let’s Water Ski!

Red cover page, title surrounded by decorative circular wave pattern.

William P. Barlow, Songs for Water Skiers, 1967. Music Division, M1977 .S272 B4.

The following is a guest post from Music Division Archivist Anita M. Weber.

While working with the Music Division’s copyright deposit sheet music collection earlier this year I came upon a 1967 publication that piqued my interest: Songs for Water Skiers.

What?? Why would there be a need for water skiing songs?

Water skiing has built-in glamor. Think of the sun and sparkle of Florida as epitomized by Esther Williams and myriad other sun-drenched water sprites. Who wouldn’t want to fly over the water on skis?

Color photograph of Esther Williams waterskiing beside 10 people in matching uniforms and sailor hats.

Phillip Harrington, photographer. Esther Williams — Winter Haven, 1953. From LOOK – Job 53-2105, LOOK Magazine Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

For me as a Midwesterner, nothing said summer like water skiing. Water ski shows, with tanned and smiling boys and girls waving while being towed behind boats, made water skiing the quintessence of fun. As an adult I even tried and failed to ski on Whitewater Lake, Wisconsin, where my parents had a small cottage.

Then one magical summer weekend my sister brought her friend, Bernie, into our lives. And somehow he taught this none-too-athletic woman how to water ski. What joy and pleasure that opened up!! Hours of holding onto the tow rope for dear life followed by long naps. Sheer bliss.

Color image of figure on waterskis, Sea-Horse boat motor in foreground

Anita M. Weber on Whitewater Lake, Wisconsin, behind a Glastron 16-foot tri hull with a 70 HP Johnson outboard 2-cycle motor, late 1980s. Courtesy of Anita M. Weber.

So I scoffed when I first saw Songs for Water Skiers assuming it was the work of an out-of-touch association trying to boost the popularity of its sport with some lame songs. And I thought to myself, there had to be a better way to gain adherents. But closer examination of the two songs and their associated text revealed a clever parodist with a life-long passion for the sport of water skiing.

Playing the role of disheartened water skier is William P. Barlow (1934–), himself a former competitive water skier as well as a certified public accountant and book collector. Barlow competed for six years in the American Water Ski Association’s Nationals, finishing third in mixed doubles in 1957 and eighth in men’s tricks in 1960.  By the mid-1960s he had hung up his competition skis to work diligently for tournament water skiing on the national and international levels as an official and authority on rules and protocol (many of which he promulgated himself).

According to the put-upon water ski enthusiast, his sport had to compete with surfing for attention and fans. So in his tongue-in-cheek pair of songs, he set out to challenge surfing and beach music for supremacy on the water. According to Barlow’s introduction, “The reason water skiing has not created a more popular splash is perfectly plain, and the situation is easily correctible. There are no songs about water skiing!”

First page of printed score.

William P. Barlow. “Sweet Anna Lee,” Songs for Water Skiers, 1967. Music Division, M1977 .S272 B4.

Barlow is a talented lampooner who spoofs both early twentieth-century love songs featuring the latest contraptions or fads and the surf music of the 1950s and 1960s. As he says in his introduction to “Sweet Anna Lee,” “If water skiing had been invented around the turn of the century, there is little doubt that there would have been songs written about it.”  Alas, we’ll never know, as the sport wasn’t invented until 1922.[1]

Barlow has young Johnny Jones setting out to woo his Anna Lee in a stately parlor song:

Sweet Anna Lee,
Come water ski,
Slide, glide o’er the ocean.

Crossing the brine
You will be mine
Side by side in devotion.

Black and white photograph of figure in bathing costume and folded umbrella

Harris & Ewing, photographer. [Woman in bathing suit, 1922]. Harris & Ewing Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.

I don’t know if this song would have won anyone to the sport; I can’t see sweet Anna Lee on skis in her blousy woolen bathing suit.

Printed introduction to "Go, Go Trickin' With Me"

William P. Barlow. “Go, Go Trickin’ With Me” Songs for Water Skiers, 1967. Music Division, M1977 .S272 B4.

To reach the 1960s audience in “Go, Go Trickin’ With Me” Barlow attempts to mirror the jangly surf sound of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.

Every sport needs a lingo, and Barlow’s introduction to “Go, Go Trickin’ With Me” includes a glossary of the cool cat language of the water skier: trick sticks, glassy, trick chick, zervy, clip clop, flip flop.

I can’t discern whether these terms were actually used in the 1960s, but regardless, Barlow crams them all into his little tale of the water skier with his trick chick and zervy out for a day of fun on the water.

My trick chick did a clip clop and a thousand twenty toe turns;
I performed a flip flop which was on my list of slow learns;
Now we’re feelin’ tip-top and we’re glowin’ like two glow worms.

Sadly for us, there is no evidence that a recording exists of either tune. In the end, Barlow’s songs had just the limited effect on the popularity of water skiing that might have been expected. In addition to his many other talents, Barlow also ran Nova Press, a small operation in Oakland, California. Songs for Water Skiers had a print run of just 275 copies that constituted the press’s 1967 Christmas production.

But as the sport’s centennial nears, waterskiing as a recreational and competitive sport is alive and well wherever there is flat water, a boat, and a tow rope.

[1] Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson is credited with the invention. Bellis, Mary. “The History of Water Skiing.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/history-of-water-skiing-1992668

One Comment

  1. Cecelia
    August 14, 2021 at 9:28 am

    Love your blogs. You make music and the people come to life in your blogs. Always so interesting and fun.

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