David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 305: Cheech & Chong (Basketball Jones)

November 30, 2023

When you’re a music fanatic, you often reflect upon recording sessions where you would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, an unobtrusive observer able to watch the magic of the recording studio, if nothing else maybe to confirm (or dispute) some famous rock and roll legends. Wouldn't it have been awesome to watch a stunned Roger Taylor or John Deacon hearing Freddie Mercury say, “o.k., here is where the operatic section comes in”; or, to watch Sinead O’Connor nail the breathy vocals of “Nothing Compares 2 U” in one take; or, to witness the complete improvisation of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Even The Losers,” complete with Mike Campbell’s wife saying, “it’s just the normal noises in here"?

However, for me, the recording of Cheech & Chong’s “Basketball Jones" might be the number one (with a bullet) on my studio bucket list.

Yep, you read that right. If I could watch one song being made, it would be a pretty silly anthem to loving basketball by the same geniuses that gave us “Earache My Eye” and “Sister Mary Elephant.” Legend has it that armed only with a demo of Cheech singing the goofy lyrics alongside Chong’s piano accompaniment, record producer Lou Adler went running into an adjoining studio to pull in George Harrison and Klaus Voorman to play guitar and bass guitar, respectively. That led to many more well-known musicians, like Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins, and Carole King being pulled in to record the song. Again, you read that right. That fantastic guitar throughout the song, some beatle-nik named George Harrison, and that electric piano, just the Queen Carole King.

Oh, and also, the cheerleaders that Cheech implores to help him out include Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector.

What was everyone thinking in this room?  I assume Cheech & Chong weren’t so stoned that they didn’t have that moment of, “oh, shit, that’s George Harrison. Holy cow, that’s Carole King,” while conversely, at what point did Carole King look around the room, and go “what the hell brought me to this place?” (Wikipedia notes that by playing on “Basketball Jones,” King would appear on “the highest-peaking single” for all her 1973 appearances).

How did everyone keep from laughing when Cheech threw out some of the best lines of the song: “that basketball was like a basketball to me.” Or, “someone to hit the open man on the give-and-go and not end up in the popcorn machine.” Or, “Bill Russell, sing along with us/Chick Hearn, sing along with us/Chris Schenkel, don’t sing nothin.’” (For you youngsters, Chris Schenkel was a sportscaster for ABC in the 1970s. Picture Tony Romo, but less obviously annoying. Who knows why Cheech called him out?)

In the end, the silliness of the lyrics aside, “Basketball Jones” is a heck of a catchy song. With its running “I got a basketball jones, oh baby, oooo” refrain for the majority of the song, did Harrison temporarily believe himself back in the recording of “Hey Jude”? When Tom Scott picked up the saxophone for the “Basketball Jones" refrain, did he all of a sudden think he was with Chicago recording “Beginnings”?

Ultimately, if I could be that fly, I would be nothing but awestruck by Harrison, already my favorite Beatle, enshrined in Rock and Roll Heaven for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” alone, who despite the mysticism and the bleeding heart, may have been comedy’s best friend in the 1970s, adding his flair to Cheech & Chong here, and later befriending and supporting Monty Python, especially in terms of financing and producing The Life Of Brian. After all, when one's got a Music Jones, one can't help but look at the bright side of life.

Cheech & Chong. "Basketball Jones." Los Cochinos. Ode, 1973. Link here.

Day 304: 10,000 Maniacs "Don't Talk"

Day 306: Pete Townshend "Face The Face"

See complete list here.