"Aunt Bee, Barney's been singin' again. I don't know how he does it, but he's got a knack of hittin' a note just enough off to make your skin crawl."
Andy (Andy Griffith)
The Andy Griffith Show is one of those shows from which I find it hard to select my absolute favorite episode. I can usually narrow it down from a set of similar episodes, such as episodes that focus on Andy's father–son relationship with Opie (Ron Howard), but picking my very favorite episode is pretty darn tough. In fact, it is virtually impossible.
However, the episode that first aired on this night in 1962, "Barney and the Choir," is a strong contender. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to acknowledge that just about any episode that focuses on Barney (Don Knotts) is a contender for my favorite Andy Griffith episode.
But the episodes that dealt with his performances with the Mayberry choir are special favorites.
There was one time when Barney was slated to solo for the choir, but he wasn't very good, and the choir director was quick to replace him with Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors). That was kind of bewildering. I mean, that episode came along after "Barney and the Choir" aired. I've never really been sure how Barney was in a position to do a solo for the choir in that episode when, in "Barney and the Choir," Barney's very status in the choir was in doubt.
Perhaps he got in the choir director's good graces and remained in the choir — but the choir director knew by then that Barney couldn't sing so why would he make Barney a soloist for a second time? By this time in the Andy Griffith Show timeline Barney's inability to sing may have been the worst kept secret in Mayberry — and considering how quickly gossip spread in that town, that was saying something.
In fact, I can assure you of something. Having grown up in a small town, I can tell you that almost nothing remains a secret for very long in a small town.
Well, anyway ...
I suppose prior knowledge of Barney's lack of talent was regarded as a mere technicality — if it was considered at all — when the second episode was written. I mean, every TV show has its inconsistencies, right?
Anyway, back to "Barney and the Choir."
The choir director actually did choose Barney to be the soloist in this episode — but he was misled by Barney, who spoke about his voice teacher and the fact that he was a tenor, which was what the choir director needed, but he never actually auditioned for the director.
At the first choir practice, though, the choir director found out that Barney couldn't sing. He tried to work around it, but it just couldn't be done. So Andy (Andy Griffith) agreed to tell Barney that he was out of the choir. Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) brought Barney over to Andy's house for dinner, and Andy was going to tell him when Barney suggested they get a little practice in.
Reluctantly, Andy, Thelma Lou and Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) trudged over to the piano. Opie was with them — and may have been the only one in town besides Barney who didn't know that Barney couldn't sing. As they began to sing, Barney hit a sour note, and Opie remarked, "Somebody sounds terrible."
The singing continued, and Opie exclaimed, "It's Barney!" In one of my all–time favorite moments on the show, Andy gently put his hand over Opie's mouth.
One of the things I always admired about Andy was the fact that he sincerely cared about the people of Mayberry, particularly those in his inner circle, and he always tried to spare them embarrassment or pain if he could. He wasn't above telling a white lie or two if he thought doing so would permit him to achieve that goal.
In this case, as the group was trying to sing, he got an idea he thought might get him off the hook with Barney. A way for both to save face, you might say.
He suggested that Barney's throat was swollen and inflamed. Barney protested that he didn't feel sick, but Aunt Bee and Thelma Lou picked up on what Andy was trying to do and went along with what he was saying — that Barney needed to take to bed to nip whatever ailment he had in the bud.
Obviously, this would mean that he couldn't perform in the upcoming concert, but he wouldn't want to expose everyone to his germs, would he?
They talked Barney into leaving and going straight to bed, but he double crossed them, demanding that Thelma Lou take him to see the doctor — who confirmed that Barney wasn't sick. So that plan failed.
But Andy had another brainstorm. He told Barney the choir was going to try something different. Barney would still be the soloist, but he would recite his parts instead of sing them. That didn't work, either.
But Andy had one more trick up his sleeve.
He told Barney he would be singing into a special soloist's microphone. Extremely sensitive. Consequently, he would have to sing very low. If he sang at a normal tone of voice, he would "bust every eardrum in the auditorium."
Andy convinced Barney, even though he thought he was barely making a sound, but Andy assured him it would reverberate in the auditorium the following night.
Barney's microphone, though, was dead. Another singer would be singing into a live microphone backstage.
It worked just as Andy hoped it would. Barney believed his solo had been superb, and the concert was saved from Barney's hilarious off–key singing.