Happy Blues for John Glenn

Here’s a song you’ll hear tomorrow if you listen to The Lost Child: Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Happy Blues for John Glenn,” recorded on February 20, 1962 — the day John Glenn came back to the earth.

John Glenn, as we all know by now, died this week at the age of 95.


Amid all the obits I heard someone call him “my top astronaut crush.” I like that.

Lightnin’ Hopkins was already scheduled to record on February 20, and the timing proved fortuitous: his recording is likely the rawest musical tribute you can hear today to John Glenn’s achievement. That morning before the session Hopkins watched, on his landlady’s TV, the news of Glenn’s return. At the studio he jotted down notes on an envelope while his band set up. Between takes he read the papers.

Then he recorded this song:

          People, I was sittin’ this mornin’

          with this on my mind

          Said there ain’t no livin’ man

          can go ‘round the world three times

          But John Glenn done it

          Yes he did

          He did it, I’m talkin’ about him

          Only did it for fun

There were other musical tributes to Glenn, but Hopkins’s, which runs five improvised minutes in total, is the best I’ve heard. Two weeks later Little Willie John cut something of a dud, a hokey teenage space-age fantasy called “Mister Glenn,” which came with lyrics like these:

          Tell me, Mr. Glenn, what did you see when you went up there?

          When they shot you in a rocket and zoomed you through the atmosphere?

          Is it true what they say of the stars above?

          Did you see a pretty maiden from the planet of love?

          Please, Mr. Glenn, Mr. Glenn.


Another thing, by the way, we’ll hear on The Lost Child tomorrow: Mexican corridos on the theme of this year’s U.S. election.

Tune in.

And rest in peace, Mr. Glenn.

Here’s Lightnin’: