Text (c) Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet
This column was inspired while listening to the true local oldies station, at 1410 AM out of New Jersey (WCBS 101.1 FM has deserted us and is promoting a lie, but that’s for later). I play it while I shower, and attempt to sing along to it.
During the early 1960s, culture was undergoing a revolution. But as the axiom goes, the more things change… Music is usually a strong agent of change, but it can also be reflexive. There are certain hit songs from the ‘60s that are cherished as “golden oldies” but need to be lyrically scrutinized under present sensibilities.
Now, I fully understand that many of the songs that came later are more blatant, and could never have been made back then, such as the Ramones’ “Gonna Kill That Girl” and Anti-Nowhere League’s “So Wot” through whatever is on the dance charts at the moment, including crap like “I Kissed a Girl” or “Circus.”
Below are some songs that, if we looked at with any scrutiny, are of questionable content.
Jimmy Soul – If You Want to be Happy
This is one of the early ska radio hits, along with Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop.” Lyrically, while this was done tongue in cheek, it was also pretty misogynistic. The chorus claims, “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life / Never make a pretty woman your wife / If you want my personal point of view / Get an ugly girl to marry you.” The reasoning? Well, they posit, she won’t cheat because no one else would want her. [Sidebar: this is reminiscent of a joke from Abbott & Costello, where Costello claims that he wants to marry an ugly girl because a pretty one may leave him. Abbott states that an ugly one can leave, too, to which Costello explains, “Yeah, but who cares?”] Also, as one person says in the song, “Man, you wife is uuuuugly,” to which the singer responds, “Yeah, but she sure can cook.” Yikes. And yet, the melody of this song is very catchy, and even the semi-harmonious voices get one to sing along. Just don’t sing it in front of you-know-who.
Tom Jones – She’s a Lady
Amazingly, this song has been revitalized in a television commercial. This is basically the exact opposite as the previous song, as Tommy describes in a list what makes the perfect woman, including that, “She’s got style, she’s got grace / And she always knows her place.” To love and obey? Maybe the writer was trying to get a “The Lady is a Tramp” vibe going? Yep, Tommy loves the women. Except Delilah, of course, who he brutally stabs to death after being caught cheating. Guess she wasn’t a “lady.”
Leslie Gore – Judy’s Turn to Cry
In this sequel to the popular, “It’s My Party,” Leslie reunites with her lying-ass boyfriend, Johnny, after he socks another guy who Leslie tricks into dancing with her, the poor sap. So let me break this down into themes. First, even though Johnny has been cheating with Judy at Leslie’s own party, without telling her what is happening, Leslie still wants him back. Why? So, to make him jealous, she gets some other poor schmuck to dance with her, leading him on like she’s interested. Leslie, it turns out, is not so nice after all, so maybe they do deserve each other. And when Johnny, who wants his Judy-cake and eat Leslie too, sees her dancing with the mark, he socks him in the eye, and then Johnny and Leslie are reunited. This is a couple headed for premature babies, marriage, trailer park, and divorce. Maybe Judy is crying in relief to be out of the situation?
The Crystals – He Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss
This is an infamous b-side that was only a minor hit on the radio, for obvious reasons. The theme to this is similar to “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” if Johnny had hit Leslie instead of the mook. In this song, because her boyfriend whacked her a good one, it meant he still had feelings for her. Can anyone say “ownership?” A couple with control and boundary issues, at least. Anyone who hits Darlene Love is crazy, anyway. Sighhhhh.
Lou Christie – Lightening Strikes
I loved this song growing up, and then one day, I actually listened to the lyrics. Jeez Louise. Lou is a real scumbag in this, as upbeat and cheery as it sounds, musically. “Am I asking too much for you to stick around,” he asks the song’s subject. He’s a horny dude with commitment issues, and expects his girlfriend to stay pure and virginal while he dicks around with anyone he wants, and when he’s good and ready, yeah, he’ll marry her. Lucky her! And not only that, he sees someone else while talking to her, and dumps her right then and there: “When I see lips waitin’ to be kissed / I can’t stop / I can’t stop / Because lightning’s striking again.” Yes, that’s present tense, so that means he leaves her standing there. She, too, should just walk away, Renee. Y’think this nutsack is ever going to stay loyal?
The Kingston Trio – Ah Woe, Ah Me
There were a whole series of folk songs that were based on Calypso (i.e., ripped off), sung by white groups trying to cash in on Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O.” Well, white artists ripping off artists of color was certainly nothing new in the music biz (e.g., Pat Boone, Vanilla Ice). The calypso genre was huge in the folk scene, and in fact was made sport of on the A Might Wind soundtrack (The Folksmen’s “Loco Man”). In “Ah Woe, Ah Me,” the problem is poking fun at the lack of morale of Islanders, as a young man is trying to find a wife. It seems every sweetie he brings home, his father brags “The girl is your sister / But your mama don’t know.” And when the son finally rats the father out in desperation, his mother tells him, “Go, man, go / Your papa ain’t your papa / But your papa don’t know.” The singer says the characters’ lines in a bad Jamaican style accent, in a bit of internalized racism that would not become obvious to even the liberals in the folk crowd until years later.
Note: The video is by The Cumberland Trio, as I could not find a video of the Kingston Trio doing this song.
Feel free to add any in the comments you can think of from this time period.