More than eleven years ago, Cliff posted the following.
Bixophile Phil Schaap told me many moons ago about how he never noticed that Joe Venuti sang "shithead" three times in succession on "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" until the violinist himself brought it to his attention off-mic in the middle a radio interview. Now when I mentioned to him that I heard that off-color word also sung at the end of the record, by the low, gravely voice, Phil didn't agree with me, I feel largely because Venuti didn't bring that to his attention as well. Now, no matter how many times I listen to the end of the record, it is "glaringly obvious" to me that the final voice sings "shithead," but I think that since it was literally the final word on the 78, the singer (Venuti? any guesses out there?) was more coy about it, practically dropping the final consonent of the last syllable. (sounding something like "He's Barnacle Bill the shit-heaaaaa(d)."
Now this may seem like an unimportant point, but I do find it interesting that it is possible for people to listen to a recording many times over and still hear only certain things; I've played "Barnacle Bill" to people who've never heard it before and sometimes they don't notice any of the "shitheads" unless I bring it to their attention. At least one other Bixophile I know who never noticed the final "shit-heaaaa(d)" before resisted the notion it was there, again simply because he never noticed it before. But noone for whom I have played the record for the first time with advance warning of the final "shit-heaaaa(d)" has ever disagreed with me that it is there. Preconceptions can indeed play funny tricks with the ear.
Anyway, anybody else out there have problems hearing the final "shit-heaaaa(d)" on "Barnacle Bill" or is this only a controversy amongst a small group of New York malcontents?
The word is in the ear of the beholder?