The Doormat Singers

In the years 1964-1966, listeners to MIT campus radio station WTBS were sometimes privileged to hear the songs of the Doormat Singers. The Doormat Singers were Matt Fichtenbaum, MIT '66 and Dan Murphy, MIT '65. Both were closely associated with WTBS both as engineers and announcers. Dan Murphy notes "We both did vocals, and we both played guitars.  As Matt was a much better guitar player, sometimes it was only him playing, as on "Talking McCormick". Matt adds, "And since Dan was a far better singer, sometimes audiences were privileged to hear him solo, or double-tracked on 'Earth Sciences Building Song.'"

For more on Dan Murphy's post-Doormat-Singers folksinging, see "The Outpost and Other Odd Places"

The Songs:

Note: These are in .mp3 format. Each is about 2 megabytes in size.

  • "Earth Sciences Building Song" (tune and lyrics by Dan Murphy, performed by Dan Murphy singing with himself, double-tracked). [The Earth Sciences Building (later called the Green Building) was designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei. The configuration of the building in its surroundings caused huge blasts of wind to roar through its so-called "breezeway" (why an architect would believe that a building subject to Boston-area winter conditions needed a "breezeway" remains a mystery). The huge glass entry doors were very tall (to maximize their surface area) and had vertical handles strategically placed at the center of the door rather than the edge (to minimize the length of the lever arm). Consequently, on windy days, often even strong people could not open them. Pictures of the building here and here fail to show the plywood barriers erected every winter to block the wind. It was said at the time—I don't know whether it's true—that the architect's office objected strongly to the radomes and antennas, which may have had some incidental utility to the building's supposed purpose but which spoiled the sleek architectural lines. The multiple windowledges of the building created an interesting acoustic effect: when heard from the right locations at ground level, sharp sounds echoing off the building would be transformed into a rude noise.--DPBS]

  • "Talking McCormick Hall." Dan Murphy comments: "no tune; the guitar line was typical of  talking blues as done by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and others." Words by Matt Fichtenbaum. [As the song relates, McCormick Hall was the first womens' dorm built at MIT. Prior to McCormick, co-eds were a rarily; I think the class of 1966 had about four. Shortly after McCormick opened, a sign reading "Co-Techs" made a brief appearance, demonstrating the male chauvinism, insensitivity, and lack of originality of MIT undergraduates of the day. I thought it was funny, and I think "Talking McCormick" is funny.--DPBS]

  • "The Institute Screw" (tune: Captain Woodstock's Courtship as recorded by Ian and Sylvia; lyrics: Dan Murphy and Matt Fichtenbaum) Dan Murphy comments: "Our words were reprinted in "Boston Broadside", the folk magazine of that era.  The editor asserted that we were actually'folk'.  Imagine that." See below for explanations of references, if needed.

  • "Old East Campus" (tune: Lizzie Borden as recorded by the Chad Mitchell Trio.) [Most of the song is self-explanatory. The dorms had no cooking facilities for residents. Refrigerators were allowed, subject to inspection, but hotplates were strictly forbidden. At the time we didn't believe the explanation that the wiring wasn't adequate. In retrospect I find it very easy to believe, and it is a little frightening to think of the extent to which the regulation was flouted. Some students were very ingenious at disguising hotplates. One student had found a hotplate that had a cover; when closed, it became a fairly nondescript box with dials on it. He simply replaced the factory dials with radio knobs labelled "Bass" and "Treble." The reference to "signing the little card" refers to the regulation whereby all visitors had to be signed in at the front desk. "In loco parentis," and all that.--DPBS]
  • There were three later Doormat songs, the "Student Center Song," "Boston Breakdown", and "Desolation Sigma" but I have no recordings of them.

    The Institute Screw: Probably 99% of the people who bother to download this song were at MIT in the mid-sixties and need no explanation of the things it is referring to, but just in case...

    Julie Stratton: Julius Adams Stratton (1901-1994), President of MIT from 1959 to 1966, referred to by students as "Big Julie" (after the gangster of that name in Guys and Dolls).

    Dean Wadleigh: Kenneth R. Wadleigh, Dean of Student Affairs from 1961-1969.

    Nitrate Ring:Brown ring formed in a test tube, when testing for nitrate in qualitative analysis.

    Integrate log x dx: See page background.

    CRC Book: CRC Standard Mathematical Tables, published by the Chemical Rubber Company. Originally part of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, an expanded version became available as a separate volume. Amazingly (to me), this book is still in print. However, I doubt that the tables of logarithms and trigonometric functions are used much any more.

    Slide Rule: A standard working tool in the sixties. Those of us who owned Pickett and Eckel aluminum slide rules (in Eye-Ease tinted yellow) scorned those who owned Keuffel and Esser models, and vice versa.

    The pucks don't bounce: In the fifties, some educational genius invented the "frictionless air puck," a circular metal puck with a CO2 cartridge. The CO2 created a thin layer of gas on which the puck could slide with almost no friction, allowing very good demonstrations and experiments of basic physics principles.

    Cum (pronounced "cyoom"): Cumulative grade; average grade over the student's time spent at the Institute.

    Avogadro's number: 6.0221367 x 10^23, the number of molecules in a mole.

    Daughters of King Lear: All MIT students were required to take a certain number of "humanities" courses, and King Lear was required reading in the introductory courses. Oh, yeah... they were Goneril, Regan, and um, uh, er... I forget...

    McCormick Hall: See "Talking McCormick."

    Tool: MIT slang; v. "to study;" n. "one who studies a lot."

    Bible: Collections of problems and quiz questions and their answers.

    1700 down the drain: Annual tuition at MIT from 1962 to 1966 was $1700, possibly the only four-year period in history with no tuition increases. Spring tuition riots occurred whenever tuition was raised, and the (unimaginative) slogan "Seventeen hundred is too damn much" was a slogan during that four-year period, along with "IHTFP" and "Tech is Hell."

    --Dan Smith.

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