Song of the Day #874: ‘Uncle Walter’ – Ben Folds Five

‘Uncle Walter’ is the second half of the one-two punch I mentioned yesterday and it’s a fitting partner to ‘Sports and Wine,’ especially musically.

If Robert Sledge’s bass line on ‘Sports and Wine’ is sick, his work on ‘Uncle Walter’ is downright bubonic. You could strip every other instrument out of this record and still have an incredible song based solely on Sledge’s work. Just listen to that solo at the end!

I love how Folds finds such interesting topics for his songs. In this case, it’s a situation where you’re left in the room with a boorish relative of a friend who is late coming home. Exactly the sort of thing that should have a song written about it.

Uncle Walter is quite a creation, and one of Folds’ earliest character sketches. He has since made a career out of drawing rich portraits of men and women of all sorts. It was fitting that he teamed up with Nick Hornby earlier this year because he’s always been a bit of a short story writer himself.

I love Walter’s hypocritical lectures, his tales of world travel, his mail-order scheme. This guy could have been the lead in a TV show called “Shit My Uncle Says.”

Your Uncle Walter’s going on and on
‘Bout everything he’s seen and done
The voice of fifty years experience
He’s drunk watching the television

You know he’s been around the world
Last night he flew to Baghdad
In his magical armchair
With cigarettes and a six pack
Yeah, he just got back
The spit’s flying everywhere

Your Uncle Walter’s going on and on
(oh you’re back so late)
Where did you go that you were gone so long?
And how could you leave me here
So long with Uncle Walter?

Your Uncle Walter saw
Who fired the shots
He drove his chair in the cavalcade
He’s flown from South Africa to
Countries where they beat themselves
On the backs with chains

There was a fleet of battleships
And one reclining chair
Headed north on the Arabian Sea
Now he’s back to tell us what
He and his oldest boy Blair
They’re getting rich with
A mail order scheme oh oh

Your Uncle Walter’s going on and on
(we’re so glad you’re home)
Where did you go that you were gone so long?
And how could you leave me here
So long with Uncle Walter?

Your Uncle Walter told me
Everything he’d do if he was president
Now what a perfect world
This world would be
If he was president
But he’s not!

And he sees the children smoking pot
He knows that in a moment they’ll be
Shooting up heroin
Teardrops in his armchair
A fifty minute lecture
Tobacco juice rolling down his chin


4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #874: ‘Uncle Walter’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    Another great song. And the bass is, of course, even more impressive when you consider it is also filling in the lead guitar part. This is a great example of Folds writing humorous lyrics without tipping over the edge to frat boy silliness.

    Now, I’m just hoping that Uncle Walter is watching his Google Alerts…come on, Walter, defend thyself!:)

  2. Amy says:

    Wow. First time I’ve ever looked at these lyrics. What a depressing song.

    Yes, the chorus is funny, as is the idea that this guy has been saddled with Uncle Walter stories, but how sad is it that Uncle Walter is being viewed that way? 😦 It’s difficult to know what Walter’s true history is, since the speaker is such a sarcastic son of a gun. Anyway, I imagine that Walter has experience, that he does have some wisdom and experience to share, but that this punk certainly isn’t going to recognize that wisdom.

    In short, I find this song a condemnation of the speaker, not the subject.

  3. Dana says:

    I think Amy needs to be condemned to spending hours with Uncle Walter.

  4. Clay says:

    Leave it to Amy to side with the drunk guy chain-smoking in his armchair.

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