Celebrate sweat with an ode to an oscillating fan

Celebrate sweat with an ode to an oscillating fan

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

For about six years, I was a publicist in the music industry. One of the acts I worked with, Ha Ha Tonka, plays about 200 shows a year, and pretty much always covers one track: “12-inch, 3-Speed Oscillating Fan.” The song fits in pretty well with the Tonka’s repertoire, so I didn’t immediately know it was a cover, but I’ve come to love the original in the years since. 

Written by Scott Young, the track has been performed by a number of associated Ozark Mountain acts, including both Red Meat and Big Smith, making it almost a local, folksy classic now rather than one band’s possession. And while I like Red Meat’s version, I think I prefer Big Smith’s. The best version on YouTube finds the band laying down the track while crowded onto a stage for a Big Smith Live At Cartoons TV special that certainly didn’t air on any network I’ve ever gotten. The version is a little less rocking than Ha Ha Tonka’s tends to be, but the band’s homespun charm—plus some stellar washboard playing—really make the song feel like something overheard from a porch one summer night rather than something anyone could catch in a sterile rock club. The rhymes are simple (“fan” and “divan,” for instance), the beat simple, and the lyrics catchy. Taken together, they make for one heck of an earworm.