#1046: Poor Little Puppet by Cathy Carroll

Peak Month: August 1962
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #8
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #91
YouTube.com: “Poor Little Puppet
Lyrics: “Poor Little Puppet

Wikipedia says Cathy Carroll was born Carolyn Stern in 1939. However, both Billboard Magazine and Radio Television Daily wrote in 1963 that Carroll was 17 years old at the time. Doing the math, that puts Carolyn Stern’s birth around 1946. Cathy Carroll seemed from the start to be aiming for an award for drama queen among girl singers in the early rock ‘n roll era. In the previous decade Johnnie Ray would tear at his hair and fall on the floor sobbing before his fans as he sang his 1951 million selling hits “Cry,”and “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” From his histrionic performances Ray earned the nicknames the “Nabob of Sob” and “Mr. Emotion”. Cathy Carroll would later record “Cry” as well, perhaps as a nod to her musical soulmate.

Country singer Ferlin Husky often gave very emotive performances in the recording studio and his producer, Ken Nelson, would try to make Husky dial it down. But when you listen to “Gone,” it is debatable Husky’s producer was successful. But Ferlin Husky is tame compared to Cathy Carroll and Johnnie Ray. And in the case of Cathy Carroll, it seems no one was in the recording studio asking her to tone it down. So she raised the drama in her lyrics to hit the heights. Her overblown renditions were often twinned with lyrics that were melodramatic in the extreme.

Her debut record was on Triodex Records owned by Bill Buchanan, who had a novelty hit in 1956 called “The Flying Saucer.” That record involved sampling sound-bites of other Top 40 records at the time, long before current copyright laws were in place. The song chosen for Cathy Carroll was the teen tragedy song “Jimmy Love”.

Cathy Carroll’s follow-up single, “Every Leaf That Falls”, continued on her tree-inspired heartache trajectory. She turned from falling trees to falling leaves. She learns from the start that the boy she is beginning to date already has a girlfriend who is away for the summer. However, she feels he is heartless and cruel to leave her at summer’s end for the girl he has a deeper commitment to. Consequently, she is inconsolable. This song had modest success in Massachusetts and in San Francisco. Her third single, “The Young Ones,” was a cover of Cliff Richard’s UK hit. But her version got only some attention in Massachusetts. Then her fourth hit, “Poor Little Puppet”, became her biggest seller reaching #91 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #8 in Vancouver.

Poor Little Puppet by Cathy Carroll

Cathy Carroll wasn’t the only one to record “Poor Little Puppet”. Jan And Dean gave the lyrics a twist with a guy being the puppet and a “girl” pulling the strings.

Once he had a mind of his own,
he used to me a man amongst men.
Everything went swell, ’till he met that Jezebel
and he hasn’t been the same since then,
and I doubt if he ever will again.

In each case the lyrics tell a story of someone who is wrapped around the finger of their steady date. Each time the sweetheart moves their finger the poor little puppet does whatever their told to do. In the Jan & Dean lyrics the guy is a milquetoast, a pushover. In both cases, the puppet is aware that they should break away from the relationship. The puppet is aware they are being pushed around and that in the mix of what is good about the person they are dating there is also evil. That little mention of not being able to tell the evil from the good should be a red flag. Some people who are dating may go through a list of the positives and the negatives about their potential mate. Having “she’s/he’s evil” would stop most people in their tracks if it registered what they are discovering about the person they are getting closer to. Doing things one judges to be evil, synonymous with destructive, nefarious, malevolent, vicious, ugly, hateful and wicked, is an insight meant to hasten an end to a relationship instead of pursuing union.

For the puppet there is a problem with being a pushover. Unless they address this pattern of relating to others, they’ll potentially find themselves dating someone else who is taking advantage of them and bossing them around. Here are some tips for the poor little puppet to consider while they’re looking in the mirror and wishing they could set themselves free.

1) Express Yourself: when something bothers you and you feel like you are being a fool and taken advantage of, speak up. If you feel you are being wronged make an effort to ask for what you need. If the person you are dating can’t go half way maybe they’re not right for you.
2) Stop Trying to Please: being agreeable is a positive quality, however, if you are always trying to avoid a confrontation and feeling diminished in the process, it’s likely time you stood up for yourself.
3) Decide What is Important: if you are finding being more assertive is getting some results, be aware that begin assertive about absolutely everything may cause more relationship problems and drive the other person away. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
4) Be Clear: if you get a lot of pushback from asserting yourself, take time to breath and hold your ground. If this is something that is a deal-breaker for you don’t fall back into the old pattern of trying to please everyone.
5) Retraining Takes Time: as you change your behavior towards your partner (family and friends) recognize that the way people who are close to you will relate to you won’t change overnight. Even if they start to twig that you are not the pushover you once were, it will take time for them to learn not to try to take advantage of you. They might think you are going through a phase (or it’s that time of the month). Be resilient in the face of old attitudes that resurface from those close to you.
6) Change of Scene: if the sweetheart you’ve been dating isn’t really a Mr. or Ms. Right after all, you can stop doing what they want every time they move their finger. In fact, you can show them the door and trust there is someone else out there who won’t expect you to worship the ground they walk on.

“Poor Little Puppet” was co-written by Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller. Both collaborated successfully to pen #1 hits like “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”, “My Heart Has A Mind of It’s Own” and “Breakin’ In a Brand New Heart” for Connie Francis. Other Top Ten hits they co-wrote include “Venus In Blue Jeans”  by Jimmy Clanton. Keller also wrote “Easy Come, Easy Go” for Bobby Sherman and “Your Auntie Grizelda” for an episode on The Monkees. As well, he co-wrote with Gerry Goffin the Bobby Vee hit in 1962 titled “Run To Him”. Howard Greenfield co-wrote numbers of songs with Neil Sedaka including “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”, “Calendar Girl” and “Stairway To Heaven”. Greenfield also c0-wrote with Sedaka the title tune from the film Where The Boys Are for Connie Francis. He would later write “Love Will Keep Us Together” for the Captain and Tennille.

In 1963 Cathy Carroll signed a contract with Philips Records. At the same time she got a contract with Coty, a Paris, France, based cosmetics company. She promoted their lipstick, perfumes and other fragrances as Cotys’ “Miss Teen-Age America” in a 100-city tour.

Cathy Carrolls’ last single release in was in 1966 called “I Wish You Were A Girl”. It was a song that would make most men happy they were not a girl, unless they wanted to be tormented, constantly in pain and feel like dying. According to the song, that’s what being a girl is like, especially when they are dating a guy. Cathy Carroll married Bob Halley. She gave birth to two children. Bob was a producer, arranger, and songwriter. Halley wrote a hit for Nat “King” Cole’s in 1962 called “Dear Lonely Hearts”. He also wrote “I Wish You Were A Girl”.

Her fifth single, “But You Lied“, was a hit in Vancouver, Toronto and Philadelphia.

September 11, 2017
Ray McGinnis

Cathy Carroll, Wikipedia.org.
“Poor Little Puppet,” Jan and Dean, Liberty Records, 1961.
Howard Greenfield, NY Times, New York, NY, March 14, 1986.
Howard Greenfield, Songwriters Hall of Fame.org, 1991.
Spencer Leigh, “Jack Keller, Writer of Sixties Pop Hits,” Independent, UK, May 10, 2005.
C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 18, 1962.

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