It begins, “Where’s everybody runnin’? Look at everybody go.” Well technically it begins with “Bom, bom, bom,” a bass voice setting up the scenario to follow. What’s all the fuss?, the lead singer wants to know. It’s the story of Babalu, and from the lack of context, it seems as though this is someone we already should know. He is, the Eternals tell us, getting married, and this is a big deal. Everyone’s pretty jazzed about it. But this surreal celebration has more to tell us. It gets stranger and stranger.
The Eternals were a vocal group from the Bronx, New York. They’re known, in a minor way, for their 1959 single “Rockin’ in the Jungle” (I first discovered that one on an oldies compilation, one of the LPs that had bikers on the cover in the tradition of the trailblazing The Paragons Meet the Jesters), and for their follow-up, “Babalu’s Wedding Day.” The saga of Babalu, as told to us in this song, is that he met a woman at baseball game “playing second base for the Milwaukee Braves,” but there some syntactical fuzziness going on here. It’s more probable, of course, that Babalu is the person covering second base for the Braves, so let’s go with that, but maybe the woman is? He asks her for an autograph. When, as a child, I heard this record, I thought the Eternals were saying that the woman’s name was Hoskie Babalena, but most lyric websites say it’s “Husky,” which is an unkind nickname if true.
OK, what else do we learn about this Babalu person, before King Curtis comes in to wail some saxophone? Babalu is broke: he tries to borrow a dime from a friend so he (Babalu) can get to the wedding ceremony. He also has a monkey, or had a monkey, and he and the monkey made some money (Babalu was the organ grinder), but the monkey made off with the loot. So poor Babalu. But let’s pause and marvel at the circumstances that made it possible for him to meet a girl with the surname Babalena. Surely the odds against that were considerable. By the end, the wedding is still scheduled.
“Babalu’s Wedding Day” achieved a kind of secondary immortality when the Eternals modified it as a jingle for deejay Bob Lewis on WABC in New York. It is so damned catchy — “Babalu, Babalu-lu-lu” — and the whole story is so fractured and funny. Like a lot of Bronx vocal group records, it has a carefree exuberance, a delight in verbal nonsense. It’s a thing of joy, ultimately, despite all the obstacles, the money situation, the dastardly monkey (he’s like the one in the Coasters’ “Run, Red, Run,” turning on his owner). The bride, Miss Babalena, is waiting at the altar. It sounds like a perfect day for Babalu’s wedding. Somehow, he’ll make it there.