It’s only words…

“Hey! Little girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore”

Songwriters: Burt Bacharach / Hal David

Wives And Lovers lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Burt Bacharach is lauded as one of the greatest songwriters/composers of the 20th century. Rightly so.  With Hal David the duo have written near-on 100 memorable tracks including Make It Easy On Yourself, Close To You, Walk On By, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head – a veritable feast –a smorgasbord in fact of unforgettable pieces of music recorded by a host of extremely talented artists, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, The Righteous Brothers, Dusty Springfield to name but a few.

There is however, one notable exception. The 1963 track Wives and Lovers recorded by Jack Jones is a catchy number with the hallmark of a Bacharach/David early 60’s classic tune. It would be perfectly pitched in a Mad Men TV production. However, I wonder if the cool and classy Mr Bacharach has ever winced a trifle when he reflects upon the shockingly misogynistic undertones in this track? We are told, in simple terms, how that man in our life calls the shots.  Imagine waiting for him to come home from the office, making sure we don’t have our hair in curlers and that we are wearing something pretty because – as the words remind us – ‘men will be men’ and if we’re not the dutiful, grateful little woman at home the song then warns there are ‘girls in the office’ and we may not see him again. Ah the glorious 60’s when the female of the species had to be sure a woman’s role was that of a Stepford wife e-fit…

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you

We are frequently reminded that this is the ‘language of its day’ – abuse of which is almost always reserved and directed at issues of race, women or disability in its various guises.  When correctly rebuked or challenged it is the privileged voice (usually reserved for white men in my experience) that scoffs and rolls out the accusatory tired and tedious trope:  ‘politically correct’, ‘snowflake’ which inevitably further justifies offensive  words and behaviour ‘oh it’s just a bit of banter’.

Who hasn’t ever heard the expression ‘lighten up – where’s your sense of humour?’ Fancy not having broad enough shoulders to smile sweetly and go along with some of that good old-fashioned joshing – especially after being subjected to a diatribe of sexist claptrap from some machismo Malcolm – it is penis penury in its finest form.

Imagine then another powerhouse from the songwriter’s hall of fame: Gerry Goffin and Carole King who boast a catalogue of memorable hits in the 60’s and 70’s including The Locomotion, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, One Fine Day and You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman) – amongst many more.

For all that influence and prolific writing prowess, there is the ignominy of the Crystals 1962 recording He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) being one of the duo’s credited tracks. Apparently, the song was written for Goffin and King’s babysitter at the time, Locomotion songstress Little Eva who claimed that she believed that it was love that motivated her boyfriend to hit her. Phil Spector (a man whose star fell from a great height following his conviction for murder in 2009) produced the record. It is reassuring to report that such was the controversy of the song’s sentiment it did not get much radio airplay and Carole King has admitted since that this was not one of her finest penned works in an otherwise illustrious back catalogue of notable lyricist credits.

He hit me
And it felt like a kiss
He hit me
And I knew he loved me

If he didn’t care for me
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me,
And I was glad

songwriters: Carole King / Gerry Goffin

He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Lennon and McCartney were not averse to scribbling a few unpleasantries either it seems. From the Beatles 1967 Sgt Pepper album – thankfully one of the lesser known tracks, Getting Better tells us:

I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man, I was mean but I’m changing my scene
And I’m doing the best that I can (ooh)

Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Getting Better lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

From writing songs that are now etched into our DNA, classics like The Long and Winding Road, Let it Be, Strawberry Fields Forever – a track openly admitting domestic violence! Am I likely to fall into ‘victim’ territory if I attempt to dismiss and excuse this awful song as the boys having a pretty bad day? One of the fab four’s earlier hits Please, Please Me has a slightly uncomfortable feel too. All that Come On (Come On) Come On (Come On) Please, Please Me Yeah Like I Please You…

In similar fashion Jagger and Richards were strutting an ugly tune with the Rolling Stones in 1966 Under My Thumb. In his inimitable vocals Jagger likens to ‘his girl’ to a ‘squirmin dog. A rock classic?

I think not…

Under my thumb
It’s a squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

It’s down to me
Yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told down to me
The change has come
She’s under my thumb

Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

Under My Thumb lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Lesley Gore’s simpering tale of teenage betrayal in her debut song of 1963 It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To) was followed up with the defiant and brilliant track You Don’t Own Me later in the same year. Both records were early production hits for Quincy Jones – the genius that went onto produce a score of masterpieces, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller – the best-selling album of all time.

Many artists went onto record their own version of You Don’t Own Me including Dusty Springfield and the track still sounds good with a contemporary treatment, the artist Grace with rapper G-eazy released an excellent version in 2015.

And don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

Songwriters: David White / John Madara

You Don’t Own Me lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Compare and contrast the message in the lyrics to that of the painfully awful 1968 track She Wears My Ring recorded by Solomon King. The hideous and subservient message of ownership…

She wears my ring to show the world that she belongs to me
She wears my ring to show the world she’s mine eternally

Songwriters: B BRYANT / F BRYANT

She Wears My Ring lyrics © Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music, S.I.A.E. Direzione Generale, House Of Bryant Publications

Misogyny also has a class element as highlighted in the cheap lyrics of Mungo Jerry’s  chart number one in 1970 In the Summertime – the opening Chh chh-chh, uh, chh chh-chh, uh
Chh chh-chh, uh, chh chh-chh, uh
is the pre-emptive hook for good old Mungo (real name Ray Dorset) to offer the following advice:

If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel

Songwriters: Ray Dorset

In the Summertime lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

As we say often today: ‘this is a record of its time’ – probably best consigned to the ‘instantly forgettable’ casket, more so as good old Mungo had more to say that wasn’t particularly clever either – and all the dee dee dees and da da dahs do not make the words when the weather’s fine and you’ve got women on your mind have a drink, have a drive any more acceptable today than 49 years ago surely?

Another record regarded as one of the worst songs ever recorded was Paul Anka’s You’re Having My Baby in 1974. Crass and cloying in equal measure – and to think Anka wrote the English lyrics to Sinatra’s My Way. He should have perhaps retired at that point.

Regrets, I’ve had a few…Yes indeed. It comes in the form of a song that has lyrics including:

Having my baby
What a lovely way of saying
How much you love me.

And then worse still:

Didn’t have to keep it
Wouldn’t put you through it.
You could have swept it from your life
But you wouldn’t do it

Songwriters: Paul Anka

(You’re) Having My Baby lyrics © BMG Rights Management

As Morecambe and Wise once said. Yep. It’s a record – a criminal record! (They were referring, jokingly, to their old adversary Des O’Connor in that instance….)

Anyone who was under the misapprehension that Every Breath You Take (The Police 1983) was a love song is sadly mistaken. The sinister undertone I’ll be watching you was Sting’s foray into the world of a stalker. Deeply disturbing on many levels…

Every little word you say is…tragic…

It is as well to keep in mind that the decade that spawned so many good bands, artists and a plethora of blistering hit records, the 60’s also has to answer for some of the worst examples of what could only be described as rogue – or stronger still – just bad, bad music. Complete with ‘eeeeyak’ lyrics and in shockingly poor taste, a few examples would certainly provoke a few ‘aaaaargh’ emojis today.

One can only wonder what the artist Len Barry was thinking with the 1965 record 1-2-3 followed up in quick succession with Like A Baby.

When you smile
You’re so adorable
So infantile
Just like a little child

Was singing along to this record ever acceptable?

Oh, you feel
So very wonderful now
Oh, daddy needs a baby
Mmm, baby needs a daddy now

Songwriters: Len Barry / John Madara / David White

Like a Baby lyrics © Champion Music Corp., Double Diamond Music, Warner-tamerlane Pub Corp.

In a similar vein Gary Puckett’s 1968 hit Young Girl is dodgy to say the very least beneath the perfume and make up you’re just a baby in disguise and then into the early ‘70’s the song about Clair by Gilbert O’Sullivan (1972) –  about his love for a very young girl (this is a babysitter who intends to marry his young charge at some point in the future) we can believe the sentiment was innocent but it is nevertheless a tad creepy to say the least.

Words mean so little when you look up and smile.
I don’t care what people say, to me you’re more than a child.
Oh Clair. Clair …

songwriters: Gilbert O’sullivan

Clair lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management

The Eurovision winners of 1976 (at a time when the UK were not the enemies of Europe and managed a few more than ‘nul points’ every year) churned out Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me. Age has not improved this particular example of euro trash – its banality only made worse because at the end of the boomp boomp boomp boomp  it transpires they were singing about a girl aged three, saving ‘all those kisses for me…’

Yukk.

In the early 70’s Gary Glitter and the glam rock scene was a phenomena at the time, and it is a great pity that his reputation and notoriety has all but confined his chart hits – good as they were – co-written by Mike Leander and performed alongside the underrated Glitter Band – to the bin marked ‘no longer welcome here’.

I do still love the sound of Gary Glitter and possess a few 45’s from his heyday, although I sometimes reflect and wonder how we didn’t sometimes stop and pause at some of those lyrics…the Do You Wanna Touch Me (Where? There? Oh Yeah) and then the ‘come on, come on’s’ in the 1973 number 1 chart hit I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)

I’m the leader, I’m the leader, I’m the man who put the bang in gang

Songwriters: Gary Glitter / Mike Leander

I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am) lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Did we ever not think that the man who ‘put the bang in gang’ was as immersed in sleaze as he was in glitter?

The Splatter Platters

He sort of smiled and kissed me good bye
The tears were beginning to show
As he drove away on that rainy night,
I begged him to go slow, whether he heard,
I’ll never know Look out! Look out! Look out!

Leader of the Pack (The Shangri-las) 1964 & 1972

Songwriters: Jeff Barry / Ellie Greenwich / George Morton

Leader of the Pack lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Carlin America Inc

Ahh the era of the tragedy tracks! We laughed and cried and grimaced all at the same as the wonderful Mary Weiss-led vocals of the Shangri-las: beautifully paced, part sung, part breathily voiced interspersed with what can only be described as the sound of teenage angst:

He stood there and asked me why, but all I could do was cry…

Motorbikes and cars provided good material for the lyricist in the early 60’s.  All crash and cacophony, squealing tyres and woeful wailing by the misguided girlfriend, whose misunderstood and maligned boyfriend drove off into the night as in one of the earlier ‘crash tracks’  Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots, written by yet another song writing partnership powerhouse Lieber and Stoller in 1955. That was – apparently – all they found of the poor motorcyclist who ‘took off like the devil with fire in his eyes’ and after the inevitable collision (in this case with a ‘screamin diesel’ all they found was his black denim trousers and motorcycle boots.

Interestingly Edith Piaf – the French chanteuse – never to be outdone on misery and melancholy – recorded her own version of the song – its French translation L’homme à la moto was one of her bestselling singles.

One of the best examples of its genre was Twinkle and her 1964 lament to her departed boyfriend Terry – remember she implored him to wait at the gate of heaven for me (was there ever a better line in a song?!) and there was plenty of ‘don’t do it, don’t do its’ as he rode off into the night, having ‘accelerated his motorbike…’

There must have been quite a queue at the pearly gates back in the early 60’s: St Peter was quite busy sifting through the songsters with their tales of heartache and woe, many of whom met an untimely end… Laura’s beau Tommy who was seduced by the lure of a few quid to win a stock car race to buy her a wedding ring in Tell Laura I Love Her (Ricky Valens 1960). As did Mary and Jimmy in the 1965 Shangri-las hit Give Us Your Blessings such was the desperation for their folks’ approval as they drove away to be married, and missed the road detour sign through their tears apparently…an inevitable end to the star-crossed lovers and tortured parents who never got the chance to say goodbye.

Some poor soul lost his life at Dead Man’s Curve in 1963 (Jan and Dean’s story of boys and drag racing) and even air travel wasn’t safe as the Everly Brothers reminded us in 1961 when poor Ebony Eyes lost her life on flight 12:03. Cue the introduction of the choir of angels, they had a later gig in 1968 when Bobby Goldsboro told us the sad story of Honey. The tree, the twig, the spring, the robin and Honey I Miss You, And I’m Being Good – thank you heavenly angels for reminding us that Honey isn’t around anymore.

A Lancastrian friend once made me laugh when she baulked at the songs of Leonard Cohen. It’s a matter of taste for sure, he had a gift for writing a sorrowful song matched with a lugubrious vocal…

‘oooh ‘eck music to flamin’ die by!’ she lamented (imagine a voice like that of Mrs Merton for the full regional effect).

The painful whiny voice of Terry Jacks in 1974 told the story of a dying man as he said goodbye to his nearest and dearest. How Seasons In The Sun found its way to Terry Jacks a full 14 years after the masterful Jacques Brel wrote and performed this track in 1961 Le Moribund. It is a far superior version, despite its mawkish message.

Other examples of tear jerkers – more heartbreakers about life, death, love and loss can be found in the tracks Jeannie’s Afraid of The Dark, Dolly Parton 1968 (the death of a child), I Can Never Go Home Anymore, The Shangri-Las 1965 (the death of a mother), Ode to Billie Joe, Bobbie Gentry 1967 (suicide at the Tallahatchie Bridge) and With Pen In Hand, Vikki Carr 1968 (divorce). Another weepy written by Bobby Goldsboro.

You’re Gonna Need An Ocean Of Calamine Lotion

(memorable comedy words and verses)

Lieber and Stoller are another of those famous partnerships etched into the songwriters hall of fame. Notable credits include the Elvis classics Hound Dog (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and Ben E King’s timeless classic Stand By Me (1961).

The duo also penned Poison Ivy for The Coasters in 1959 and Love Potion No 9 recorded by The Coasters in 1959 and then again by The Searchers in 1964. It is the stroke of a genius pen that conjures up the lines:

Poison Ivy

You’re gonna need an ocean
Of calamine lotion
You’ll be scratching like a hound
The minute you start to mess around

Songwriters: Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller

Poison Ivy lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

And then again:

Love Potion No 9

She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink
She said “I’m gonna make it up right here in the sink”
It smelled like turpentine, it looked like Indian ink
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink

Songwriters: Jed Leiber

Love Potion No. 9 lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

One of my all-time favourite records (and one I would take as a castaway as a desert island disc) was written by Lieber and Stoller who teamed up with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to produce the magnificent On Broadway. Mann and Weil – in the tradition of highly successful creators of great pop music have You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin to their credit.

I love those random comedy lines in records. I think I inherited this from my Dad – he was a logophile and spent his life immersed in language and the clever use of words. There were many occasions I recall where he would laugh raucously at an offbeat line in a record – past or present. We have always been a family immersed in words and music, my brothers share the same passion, so it is little wonder this selection of random gems always make me smile (and I can hear Dad’s guffaw when the songs are played!)

From the brilliant Ray Davies:

Sunny Afternoon (The Kinks) 1966

My girlfriend’s run off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty

Songwriters: Ray Davies

Sunny Afternoon lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

My Boyfriend’s Back (The Angels) 1963

My boyfriend’s back he’s gonna save my reputation
(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)
If I were you I’d take a permanent vacation
(Hey-la, hey-la, my boyfriend’s back)

In earlier versions the song included the lyrics:

Hey he knows I wasn’t cheatin’ and now you’re gonna get a beatin’

Songwriters: Gerald Goldstein / Bob Feldman / Richard Gottehrer

My Boyfriend’s Back lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Or how about this cracker – it could be released again and named ‘The Brexit Lament’ – Somerzet-style!

Adge Cutler’s When the Common Market Comes to Stanton Drew (The Wurzels) 1967

Now, as for what we eat, we must export more meat,
Send ’em all our best prime beef and ham,
While we does stuff our guts with Transylvanian nuts
And garlic-flavoured processed German spam!
When George comes home from milkin’, he’ll get a big surprise,
When ‘e sits down expectin’ Irish stew,
And ‘is wife says “George, I’ll get ‘ee, a girt dollop of spaghetti,”
When the Common Market comes to Stanton Drew!

They’ll say “Ooh la la, oui oui,” instead of “How’s bist thee?”

Mum and Dad were Dorset born and bred and we were very familiar with ‘ow bist thee’ as a greeting, which makes this portentous track even more poignant – it’s a rare gem and hardly ever heard these days.

The late, great Kirsty MacColl, was an extraordinary talent and the genius writer behind There’s A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis (1981). An imagination that dreams up lyrics for this classic track can only be described as inspirational. Kirsty reminded us of those Billy Bullshit characters whose mastery was to spin a few tall tales… and he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you…

There are of course a multitude of the dedicated comedy songs over the past 50 years – released by a variety of musicians, actors and comedians alike. Most are genuinely awful and hardly worth a second outing on the turntable. Most of us would prefer to forget the Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker version of You’re The One That I Want in 1978 but there are a few notable exceptions, my brother Russell (for reasons better known to him!) can recite all the words to Benny Hill’s 1971 story of the lusty milkman Ernie – the Fastest Milkman In The West and his love rival two ton Ted from Teddington…it’s the country burr and she nearly swooned at his macaroon then onto the throwaway line that tickled him old Ernie – the saucy holiday postcard material of Benny Hill. The milkman’s ultimate demise – downed by his love rival armed with a rock cake and a stale pork pie!

And a rock cake caught him underneath his heart
And he looked up in pained surprise
As the concrete hardened crust
Of a stale pork pie caught him in the eye
And Ernie bit the dust
Poor Ernie (Ernie)
And he drove the fastest milkcart in the west

In the same fashion Chuck Berry’s 1972 Number 1 hit My Ding-a-Ling was another inuendo-laden track: from a bitty boy who was seemingly playing innocently with bells on a string, the song very quickly develops into something a little more …well…smutty. We still sang along as innocent as we believed the words were 47 years ago.  It’s not a track placed into the folklore of the comedy gold songs of yesteryear for sure.

And then of course there was Bowie – the genius responsible for Life on Mars, Star Man, The Jean Genie and John I’m Only Dancing…I wonder what made him think that The Laughing Gnome (1973) was a good idea?

Few wrote a better comic line than the extremely rude (but very amusing) Essex boy Ian Dury.

From his 1977 album New Boots and Panties (which has the worthy notoriety of an ‘explicit’ warning on Spotify) the unrepentant Dury wrote of memorable sexploits, in glorious technicolour. There are not many records that could ever upstage the laugh-out-loud words of Billericay Dickie

Had a love affair with Nina
In the back of my Cortina
A seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener
She took me to the cleaners
And other misdemeanours
But I got right up between her
Rum and her Ribena

Songwriters: Chaz Jankel / Ian Robins Dury / Stephen Lewis Nugent

Billericay Dickie lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

From the same album the excellent track Wake Up and Make Love With Me is an all-time favourite. What’s not to love in the raw and honest lyric:

You I come awake
With the gift for womankind
I’m still alseep
But the gift don’t seem to mind

The Blockheads were great musicians and deserve a greater accolade for their part in the late 70’s success of Ian Dury – his hit single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick in 1979 is remarkably tame compared to the tracks on the New Boots album.

Carole Bayer Sager is an artist better known as a song writer – she was once married to Burt Bacharach so the pedigree is impressive and she was in good company. She is credited with her only solo record You’re Moving Out Today in 1977, although Bette Midler was a co-writer, who recorded the track before Bayer Sagar, who went onto have a worldwide hit with this tale of a slovenly house mate.

The lyrics are curious to say the least, but the mention of rubber ducks, hoses, Spanish flies, dodgy cigarettes and 61 cassettes has the feel of a disgruntled lover bidding farewell to an unpleasant flatmate. And according to Carole the girl can’t help it..so off he goes (we presume it’s a male?) with a mangy cat, a portrait of the Queen and a map of Mozambique. The eclectic mix of odd words and phrases (but good for the purpose of a rhyming stanza!)

And I think we have all wondered over the years what did this odd individual do with bread?!

Your nasty habits ain’t confined to bed (ha ha ha ha ha)
The grocer told me what you do with bread (what do you do?)
Why don’t you take up with the bakers wife instead of me? Fool.

Songwriters: Carole Bayer Sager / Bette Midler / Bruce Roberts

You’re Moving Out Today lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Reservoir Media Management Inc

In recent years songwriters of note – and another duo who have penned classic material are Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook, of the 80’s band Squeeze. After the punk era the pop scene seemed   defunct of new ideas and apparently exhausted such was the frenetic energy of the punk artists. The meaningful lyric appeared lost in another world – but then the sound of the suburbs evolved from 1979 and into the early 80’s. Squeeze wrote and produced a string of great hits from Cool For Cats. Up The Junction, Labelled With Love and Pulling Mussels From A Shell.

The lyrics manage to evoke the sound and feeling of the early 80’s:

Cool for Cats (1979)

fancy this, I fancy that
I want to be so flash
I give a little muscle
And I spend a little cash

But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash

Songwriters: Christopher Henry Difford / Glenn Martin Tilbrook

Cool for Cats lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Squeeze produced a host of excellent hit records in the early 80’s, the band created a soundtrack for the decade. Great lyrics that told a story. Difford and Tilbrook are certainly worthy entrants in the songwriters hall of fame.

There is a playlist of all these tracks – memorable or otherwise – they are shared on Spotify and can be accessed via the playlist It’s Only Words.

It might just rank as the loopiest soundtrack you’ve ever played!

*as voted by CNN.com users in 2006

One thought on “It’s only words…

  1. Brilliant work – it’s shocking when you unpick some of the lyrics that we’ve all sung along to. Good job you didn’t get into rap! Jude x

    Like

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