TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains coarse language because, d’uh, that’s what the whole thing is about.
For the second week in a row, the rap biography about N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton, was #1 at the box office. Facebook users will recognize immediately how well-marketed the movie has been, thanks to a meme generator sponsored by Beats Audio proprietor Dr. Dre, an original member of N.W.A. Specifically, the movie’s logo and meme-extruder use the easily-recognized “Parental Advisory” label as the defining icon for the film.
The logo was developed in the late-1980s thanks to the a government inquiry headed up by the former wife of former Vice President Al Gore. Famously, individuals like Twisted Sister’s Dee Snyder, Frank Zappa, and others were hauled up to D.C. in defense of expression, free speech, and rock & roll. Nonetheless, the logo eventually became the official symbol for bad words, violent imagery, and sex talk.
Consequently, it also became a symbol of “realness” or “manufactured realness.” Rather than having people run from these products because think of the children!!, people ran to them. Media moguls knew this all too well. Most modern artists go out of their way to get the logo on the front of their cover, thus my only-slightly-sarcastic attribution of “manufactured realness.”
What’s funny is that there are several instances from years before that probably could take on a retroactive slap of the label. Some examples are brief, others are not. Very often, what really defines why these recordings are “shocking” is not what’s being said. This stuff is tamer than the spectator benches at your average little league game. But just you were stunned when your fifth grade English teacher, Mr. Dunaway, told Jamie Crimble he was, “a dirty little bastard,” it is more about who is doing the sprecht than the sprecht itself.
Following, then, are seven examples of how some normally mild, sometimes milquetoast performers filled us with shock — shock, I say! — with their trenchant tongues. The soap will be passed around. Feel free to munch on a bar if you’re inclined to sing along.
7. Gaucho – Steely Dan for “Hey Nineteen” Okay so this is absolutely tame compared to a couple on this list, and there really isn’t a curse word to pin to it. It is also slightly less skeevy than Two Against Nature‘s paean to incestuous kissin’ “Cousin Dupree.” But that wasn’t a major hit song, whereas you can still hear “Hey Nineteen” in line at the finest grocery stores in town (and all the other ones, too).
The song is about an older fellow on the make with the titular nineteen-year-old. Not statutory, but skin-crawlin’ nonetheless. The end of the song, with its slinky jazz groove, is all about plying the lovely Lolita with booze and cocaine. What did you think “The Cuervo Gold / the fine Colombian / make tonight a wonderful thing” meant?
6. Countdown To Ecstasy – Steely Dan for “Show Biz Kids” So this is more in line with the depths we’re lowering ourselves into. We always knew The Dan were capable of saying anything, but seldom was it just blurted out. Alas…
“Show biz kids making movies
“Of themselves you know they
“Don’t give a fuck about anybody else”
5. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon for “Working Class Hero” Not surprisingly, from his first proper record away from The Beatles, John Lennon was all about the primal scream. He had always been, in a sense, the “angry one,” and so the only people who were shocked were the ones who still thought of Lennon as a spacey psychedelic submarine captain.
“They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
“They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
“Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules”
“Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
“And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
“But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”
4. Book Of Dreams – Steve Miller Band for “Jet Airliner” Hang on. I don’t remember a problem there. And wasn’t Miller kind of a chilled out, easy-going San Fran dude? Well, yes. He brought you a crate of papaya, lest you forget. But you’re probably remembering the radio edit of his huge hit “Jet Airliner,” written by Paul Pena. Even the edit, with the dubbed line about “funky chicks going down in the city’ is probably cause for the Morality Police to get involved. But no, the LP line is:
“And I don’t want to get caught up in any-of-that
“Funky shit goin’ down in the city.”
…which actually seems less dirty when you ponder it.
3. On The Third Day – Electric Light Orchestra for “Oh No Not Susan” This starts off three selections where the curse words feel like they’re entirely against the performers’ type. Clear as day, though, Mr. Blue Sky himself Jeff Lynne intones:
“Oh no not me, I wouldn’t
“Oh no not me, I couldn’t
“That’s all she says, her money and her place
“They just don’t mean a fucking thing”
Oh, so that’s the “Livin’ thing” he was talking about. But let’s be clear about this. It was ELO’s third record and the seriously focused pop stuff would emerge more with the next album, Eldorado, and the smash “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head.” ELO was still defining itself as the next step after The Move. That band was officially gone, and after the first ELO record, Roy Wood went on to form Wizzard. The Move was always a little edgier than ELO, so this record clearly was coming at a moment where Lynne was deciding what the band was really going to be.
If you think that I’ve just talked my way out of a body bag just to preserve the possibility I might get to interview Mr. Lynne one day…well, you’re a smart one, aren’t you?
2. The Nylon Curtain – Billy Joel for “Laura” Many years before on the song “Captain Jack” the Piano Man threw out the line about the sorry lot that, instead of getting out and playing the field, wind up staying playing with themselves. But that was as far, and as shocking, as it got. On what is arguably Joel’s greatest achievement as an album auteur, The Nylon Curtain, his most trenchant sides come to the fore after years of taking it softly but painfully from his various muses.
It might not come as a surprise that people call the record Joel’s most “Lennon-like” and that distinction comes from more than just the f-bomb that falls in the middle of “Laura”.
“Here I am
“Feeling like a fucking fool
“Do I react the way exactly
“She intends me to?
“Everytime I think I’m off the hook
“She makes me lose my cool
“I’m her machine
“And she can punch all the keys
“And she can push any button I was programmed through”
1. Grease Soundtrack – Various Artists for “Greased Lightning” But, my kids are doing this show in their high school! Yes they are, Fred. Yes, They Are.
The soundtrack had plenty of hits, but when dudes in the 1970s were buying this album, did you really think they were getting it for “You’re The One That I Want” or “Beauty School Dropout”? NO, FRED! They were picking it up because…
“We’ll get some overhead lifters and four barrel quads
“(Keep talking whoa keep talking)
“Fuel injection cutoffs and chrome plated rods oh yeah
“(I’ll get the money, I’ll kill to get the money)
“With the four speed on the floor they’ll be waiting at the door
“You know that ain’t no shit, we’ll be getting lots of tit
“In Grease Lightning”
And now you know. The road to sin and degradation is not in electro-rave. It’s in musical theater.