I know she’ll stroke it so grand”
…but it turns out to be a kitten. In that same year, Cliff’s song about transsexuals, ‘Come Up And See Me Sometime’, was deemed too risky to release.
Many of Jimmie Rodgers’s songs were sexual; ‘What’s It’, ‘Blue Yodel No 9’ and ‘Pistol Packin’ Papa’ have their moments, but I’m not sure what “My dog-faced girl from Nashville, Tennessee” is meant to convey. In 1936 Roy Acuff sang about “banging away my Lulu” in ‘When Lulu’s Gone’, but the prime mover in dirty country was the afore-mentioned Jimmie Davis. His sex was often with “a big, big brown” and in ‘She’s A Hum Dum Dinger From Dingersville’ (1931), he likens her love making to a ‘mowing machine’.
When it comes to repeat offenders, Bo Carter takes some beating. He was born in Bolton, but that’s Bolton, Mississippi in 1893. He is underrated as a blues performer as he spent most of his time with novelty items, delivered dryly, often with just his own guitar accompaniment. Such titles as ‘Pin In Your Cushion’, ‘Banana In Your Fruit Basket’, ‘Don’t Mash My Digger So Deep’ and ‘Please Warm My Weiner’ give you the picture. Some of his songs were about impotence (‘My Pencil Won’t Write No More’) but usually he was singing about healthy sexual appetites. In ‘Let Me Roll Your Lemon’, he suggested,
“Please let me squeeze and roll your lemon until your good juice come.”
There was a similar offering from Charlie Pickett, ‘Let Me Squeeze Your Lemons’ in which he said,
“You can’t squeeze your lemons all by yourself.”
Only this week I saw a press release for a new album by the Deckchair Poets, ‘Searchin’ For A Lemon Squeezer’.
Equally salacious is Blind Boy Fuller who was born in 1907 and started performing in 1927, shortly before losing his sight. The events might be connected as he was blinded by a girlfriend throwing chemicals in his face. In 1937 he sang about his girlfriend (presumably another one) having a ‘Sweet Honey Hole’ and his titles include ‘I Want Some Of Your Pie’, ‘I’m A Rattlesnakin’ Daddy’, ‘Shake It, Baby’ and – am I herring this right? – ‘What’s That Smell Like Fish?’ The Rolling Stones named an album after one of his songs, ‘Get Your Ya Yas Out’, and the Band rewrote his song, ‘Rag Mama Rag’.
A dance conveniently called the truck caused much merriment. Blind Boy Fuller recorded ‘Trucking My Blues Away’ and ‘Truckin’ Little Baby’ and there are scores of songs where the listener is meant to substitute another word, notably the Harlem Hamfats with ‘Let’s Get Drunk And Truck’ (1936). Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart who performed as Slim and Slam clucked their way through ‘Dirty Rooster’ in 1938 and effectively, they were singing ‘fuck off’ over and over.
The censors had a hard time as so many commonplace words had a sexual meaning. The simple word, ‘hole’, had a new lease of life with the blues singers. Laughing Charlie Lincoln, the elder brother of Barbecue Bob, recorded ‘Doodle Hole Blues’, in 1930, in which he liked to “take my straw and go play in that doodle hole”. This Mr Lincoln wasn’t really laughing as he was an alcoholic. He murdered someone on Christmas Day 1955 and spent eight years in prison. He spent his later years repenting and singing religious songs.
With a similar approach to ‘Doodle Hole Blues’, the country singer Cliff Carlisle recorded ‘That Nasty Swing’ in 1934:
“Wind my motor, honey, I’ve got a double spring,
Place the needle in that hole and do that nasty swing.”
Another song about a gramophone is Robert Johnson’s ‘Phonograph Blues’ (1936) in which he sings:
“We played it on the sofa, and we played it ’side the wall,
But my needles have got rusty, and it will not play at all.”
And that’s another couplet which was rewritten by Chuck Berry.
Robert Johnson saw the potential of the motor car as a sexual metaphor, notably in ‘Terraplane Blues’ (1936):
“When I mash down on your little starter
Then your spark plug will give me fire.”
Not much is known about Lil Johnson but like Bo Carter and Blind Boy Fuller, almost anything could be given a sexual twist: pressing buttons, eating meat balls, cooking cabbage or cleaning the stove. If her life was anything like her songs, she had a fine old time. As she sang,
“Come on baby, let’s have some fun
Just put your hot dog in my bun.”
…but she did also record ‘If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)’, so make what you will of that.
In March 1936 Lil Johnson recorded a two parter for Vocalion, which were called ‘Get ’Em From The Peanut Man (Hot Nuts)’ and ‘The New Hot Nuts’ but is now simply known as ‘Nuts’. To an infectious tune, the song features non-stop jokes about a peanut vendor, whose nuts are ‘nice and brown’ –
“They tell me your nuts are mighty small
But it’s better than no nuts at all.
Nuts, hot nuts, get ’em from the peanut man.”
‘Nuts’ had a new lease of life as the title song for a George Melly album in 1972 and it became his most requested song.
“See that man, his pants are green,
He’s got very nice nuts but he don’t keep ’em clean
Nuts, hot nuts, get ’em from the peanut man.”
Another variation came from Blackie Kidd who added, “I got something on my finger and I wrote it on the wall”, a line repeated by Jerry Lee Lewis (‘Keep Your Hands Off Of It’) and Chuck Berry in his revised ‘Reelin’ And Rockin’’. “I got my version of ‘Nuts’ from Roosevelt ‘The Honeydripper’ Sykes,” George Melly told me, “I once sang it in the company of Bette Midler. She had never heard it before and was much taken with it.”
Rufus Perryman, better known as Speckled Red, took black patois and provocative conversation and created his own dialogue in a series known as ‘The Dirty Dozens’. This approach was followed by Bo Diddley in ‘Say Man’ and ‘Say Man, Back Again’ and it has found its place in rap. Besides Speckled Red, there are several early examples. ‘Terrible Operation Blues’ (1930) by Georgia Tom Dorsey and Jane Lucas is a conversation between a doctor and a patient which defies medical ethics: “What are you going to do with that long knife?” From the same year, Butterbeans and Suzie realise that their occupations are incompatible in ‘Elevator Papa, Switchboard Mama’: “Seems like you always go down” and “Your receiver’s worn out”. The couple in ‘Lollypop’ by Hunter and Jenkins (1933) act out schoolyard scenes – “Your lips will never touch my lollypop” – and they talk about lovemaking in ‘Meat Cuttin’ Blues’ (also 1933): “You got all the meat I need.” In ‘Electric Man’ (1936), the electricity man (Buddy Burton) has come to cut off Irene Sanders’ supply and the whole thing sounds like a script from a bad 1970s porno film.
Speaking generally, Speckled Red said, “You had to clean the words up for the records but they meant the same thing”, although it is not obvious what either the clean or the dirty meaning of his song, ‘The Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo’, was. Carl Perkins’ revival of this song in 1956 is innocuous, probably because he hadn’t heard the song for some time and was using its structure for an instrumental workout.
Oh, how the blues singers must have laughed when that simple toy, the yo yo, became a craze in the 1930s. Just like the peanut salesman, the jokes were there for the taking. An outsider might assume that yo yos and blues couldn’t fit in the same sentence but Barbecue Bob and Blind Lemon Jefferson packed their ‘Yo Yo Blues’ with sexual allusions.
While the blues singers were dangling their yo yos, the British music hall performers were also pulling their strings. Billy Cotton is showing his yo yo to everyone in ‘I’ve Gone And Lost My Little Yo Yo’, which had been in his hand all night:
“I showed it to Matilda, she’s the barmaid at the Crown,
I taught her how to play with it and swing it up and down”
In the UK the pole position for saucy lyrics was held by the Lancashire toreador, George Formby. He had worked the music halls where he knew how far he could go. With the BBC, he was not so sure. In 1933 the Beeb considered ‘With My Little Ukulele In My Hand’ too cheeky and a new version from Joe Brown was banned as late as 1963 when Joe was not allowed to perform such smut on, of all places, ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’.
Nobody doubted George Formby’s pulling power but the BBC wondered if he should be on air at all. Its founder, Lord Reith had not envisioned the Corporation being used to peddle smut. He said of his voyeuristic ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’: “If the public wants to listen to Formby singing his disgusting little ditty, they’ll have to be content to hear it in the cinemas, not over the airwaves.”
One BBC manager wrote in 1942 that George Formby “is essentially vulgar and he seems incapable of producing anything that is not objectionable.” But how could they ban the most popular performer in the country? A BBC producer was censured when he allowed George Formby to sing ‘With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock’ on a live show from Belfast. The correspondence states, “We have no record that ‘With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock’ is banned. We do, however, know, and so does Formby, that certain lines in the lyric must not be broadcast.” And, this being a live broadcast, he sang them. The conclusion was never to trust Formby as he was selfish and “a thoroughly intractable kind of person.”
Although the content was similar, there was a significant difference in approach between the British comics and the bluesmen. The bluesmen were singing about sex and what they intended to do to their partners: they meant business. On the other hand, the music hall artists such as George Formby and Billy Cotton had an air of absurdity about them. They made outrageous claims knowing full well that, like the Donald McGill seaside postcards, they had no chance of getting the blonde, busty girl into bed. It was no sex please, we’re British and it became the premise behind the ‘Carry On’ films. The ‘Carry On’ films lost their following once Sidney James and Bernard Bresslaw were getting the girls.
Most of the dirty songs in the 1930s were fun but there were serious love songs of a sexual nature. Cole Porter’s song about prostitution, ‘Love For Sale’, was introduced by Libby Holman in 1931 and even 25 years later, both Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald had radio bans for their versions. It’s a beautiful song but there’s no doubting the significance of,
“If you want to buy my wares,
Follow me and climb the stairs.”
Alberta Hunter’s ‘You Can’t Tell The Difference After Dark’ (1935) was not only about a sexual encounter but also about race.
“I may be as brown as berry,
But that is only secondary
You can’t tell the difference after dark”
One of my favourite moments from the 1930s came in 1932 when the female impersonator Ray Bourbon was broadcasting live in his show ‘Boys Will Be Girls’ in San Francisco. One of his songs was ‘Mr Wong Has The Biggest Dong In China’. Some had considered his act obscene and this was the very night that the police raided the café. Not only was the offensive show broadcast but also the police raid itself.
Still, that wasn’t the worst moment of Ray Bourbon’s life. In 1968 he had over 70 dogs and he left them with a kennel owner while he went on tour. After he had failed to pay for their keep, he assumed that the kennel owner had killed them, which wasn’t the case – he had found new homes for them. Bourbon hired two men to beat him up but the victim died and Bourbon received life imprisonment, dying in prison three years later.
Still, we don’t want to finish this section on a low note. As far as I know, no one has written a song about the card game, Bridge, and if anyone’s interested in writing one, this could get you started. In the 1930s, the film star Mae West said, “Good sex is like good bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.”
THE FILTHY FORTIES
“Music is an ennobling spiritual force, which should influence the life of every listener.”
(BBC policy document, 1942)
Far too often in the 1930s the broadcasting censors had been caught off guard with dirty records which were unsuitable for broadcast. In 1940 the American broadcasting giant, NBC, published a list of banned records, but this was a fluid situation and problematic new releases were being issued all the time. Who knew where the next problem would be? Many stations, for example, were uncomfortable with a song from the new Broadway smash, ‘Oklahama!’, ‘I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No’.
And what is a dirty record? In 1943 the Mills Brothers released their well-known ‘Paper Doll’. It sounded innocuous but taken literally, it’s an odd song. The singer had been let down by a real live girl and resorted to pin-up pictures for consolation, although the implications were never stated. The record was banned by the BBC because in wartime, they did not think it appropriate to broadcast “the song’s theme of feminine faithlessness.” The boys in the firing line needed to believe that their girls back home were being true.
A few years later, the blues shouter Wynonie Harris took the idea a stage further for ‘Lovin’ Machine’. He had “just got wise and built me a lovin’ machine”. It’s meant to be fun but when it was released in the UK, the BBC banned it. Flash forward a few years and we have Cliff Richard’s “Living Doll”, written by Lionel Bart, who got the idea not from either of these records but from an ad in the Sunday Pictorial for a blow-up doll. It’s spooky; “gonna lock her up in a trunk”, what’s all that about?
In the 1940s there were three new R&B artists who were serial offenders when it came to dirty blues – Wynonie Harris, Dinah Washington and Julia Lee. The songwriter Doc Pomus made Wynonie sound like Jim Morrison when he said, “Wynonie Harris was crude, but he was masterful. He was a great, great performer but he used bad language in any company. He would swear on stage and simulate masturbating.”
Wynonie Harris had his main success when he covered Roy Brown’s song, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, another song that can be taken two ways. Roy Brown recorded ‘Rockin’ At Midnight’ which was more of the same, and he had his share of car metaphors with ‘Cadillac Baby’ – how that woman loves to ride all night – but his riskiest record was the two-part’ Butcher Pete’, a combination of sex and gore.
One of Wynonie Harris’ singles was the two-part ‘Around The Clock, in which he could provide satisfaction any hour of the day or night:
“Well, the clock struck seven,
She said, ‘Please don’t stop
It’s like Maxwell House coffee
Good to the last drop.’”
Soon he was back with ‘Lolly Pop Mama’ (and you can imagine what that was) and the extraordinary, ‘She Kept Sittin’ On It All The Time’. This told of a girl who would never yield to sexual advances. It started at the age of 10, which would make it unplayable today, and then went to 15, 22, 25, 31, 35, 38, 44, 49, 52 and finally 63. Wynonie declared, “You’re too old for me so keep sitting on it.” He recorded ‘I Like My Baby’s Pudding’, ‘Shake That Thing’, ‘Keep On Churnin’’, which rewrote ‘Little Boy Blue’, and ‘Wasn’t That Good’, which offered a new take on Little Jack Horner.
And there is Wynonie Harris’ ‘I Want My Fanny Brown’, which was written by Roy Brown, and George Melly described it as “a love song of sorts”. Roy clearly was taken with this as he wrote and recorded the sequels, ‘Miss Fanny Brown Returns’, ‘I Want My Fanny Back’ and even ‘Fanny Brown Got Married’
Dinah Washington was only 19 when she first recorded with the Lionel Hampton Sextet in 1943 and she sounded confident from the start, especially considering the content of the songs. The first song she sang, written by jazz critic Leonard Feather, was about all her men, ‘Evil Gal Blues’.
“I’m an evil gal, don’t you bother with me,
I’ll empty your pockets and feel you with me.”
In ‘My Lovin’ Papa’ (1945), Dinah, like Wynonie, wanted love around the clock and she also says,
“I know you’re not a jockey but I like the way you ride.”
This same image was in ‘My Gal’s A Jockey’ by Big Joe Turner,
“I got a girl, she rides me night and day.”
Most explicit of all was John Lee Hooker’s ‘My Daddy Was A Jockey’:
“My father was a jockey and he taught me how to ride
Sit in the middle and roll from side from side.”
Although Dinah Washington was to make sublime recordings, full of subtlety, she recorded her ‘blue’ material well into the 1950s. ‘Long John Blues’ is about her dentist and she states,
“He took out his trusty drill and he told me to open wide,
He said he wouldn’t hurt me, but he filled my whole inside.”
She praised a trombone player – hopefully the one on the record – in ‘Big Long Sliding Thing’:
“I blow through here, then I work my fingers and my thumb,
I slide it right out and then I slide it back again
And then I got a lot of wind and I slide it back again.”
A few years later Helen Humes went after the whole band with her R&B song, ‘You Played On My Piano’, which sounded even more explicit in the hillbilly version from Hardrock Gunter. His girlfriend blows on his trumpet, beats his drum and squeezes his accordion.
Julia Lee, born in Boonville, Missouri in 1902 and raised in Kansas City, was an R&B singer and pianist who had worked with Charlie Parker and been recording since 1927. She went solo in 1935, securing a contract with Capitol in 1944. Usually it was smaller labels that promoted records with double entendres as it was an easy way to court publicity. Still, one of the founders of Capitol was the songwriter and sometime performer, Johnny Mercer and he had his own controversy with ‘A-Huggin’ And A-Chalkin’’. It was seen as suggestive back then but today it would be castigated for mocking the obese.
Once Julia Lee had had a hit with ‘Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got’, Capitol encouraged her to record smutty songs. She called them “the songs my mother taught me not to sing”. She topped the R&B chart with “King Size Papa” in which she said, “There’s a lot of him, the way he grew” and again, “He’s my one big moment and I’ll keep him right inside.”
There’s ‘Snatch And Grab It’ and she likened lovemaking to eating spinach in ‘I Didn’t Like It The First Time’ – she ended by being hooked on it. Her song to “the world’s outstanding Romeo”, ‘My Man Stands Out’, spoke for itself.
Julia Lee was an excellent performer even singing for Harry Truman at the White House in 1949 and Capitol should also have promoted her as an orthodox singer. When her moment had passed, she became a club singer In Kansas City and she died in 1958.
There were plenty of other feisty females around in the 1940s. The great gospel singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, sang ‘I Want A Tall Skinny Papa’, which sounds little disconcerting from someone who then gave her life to the church. With great humour, Mabel Scott in ‘Just Give Me A Man’ sang,
“What if he’s feeble, no teeth in his head?
Both legs broken and almost dead,
Wheel him in, just give me a man.”
Best of all and my candidate for the best dirty record of the decade is Blue Lu Barker’s sultry, ‘Don’t You Feel My Leg’:
“Don’t you feel my leg,
Don’t you feel my leg,
’Cause if you feel my leg, you’ll want to go up high
And if you go up high, you’ll want to feel my thigh,
So don’t you feel my leg.”
The song was revived by Maria Muldaur in the 1970s and is part of her act to this day.
Dance records often presented problems as the descriptions of the movements could be seen as sexual. Consider ‘The Hucklebuck’, a huge big band success for Paul Williams.
“You push your partner out and then you hunch your back
Start a little movement in your sacroiliac
You wiggle like an eel, you waddle like a duck
That’s the way to do it when you do the hucklebuck.”
One of the more curious records was ‘Mountain Oysters’ recorded by Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis with the Bill Doggett Trio for King in 1949. It was about the delights of “the meat that ain’t got no bone” and appears to be a recommendation for eating pigs’ testicles.
Rather more to the point was Louis Prima who recorded ‘Please No Squeeza De Banana’ (1945), while Hank Penny’s ‘Let Me Play With Your Poodle’ (1947), released on King, had to be withdrawn. A year later Bull Moose Jackson stated ‘I Want A Bowlegged Woman”, and the reason? “Because her legs are so far apart.” Professor Longhair started as he meant to continue with a single about shaved pubes in ‘She Ain’t Go Hair’, in 1949.
King Records in Cincinnati was a prime offender but it was the authorities in Memphis which decided to show no tolerance for dirty records. In one quick action, they raided record companies and warehouses and smashed the offending discs. This was done without following due legal processes.
Around 1962 I can remember buying an album of blues songs and one of the tracks was by Dirty Red called ‘Mother Fuyer’ and it was glaringly obvious what he was really singing. I was fascinated by this track and I couldn’t believe it had been released. It turned out to have been a US single from 1947.
Two other blues songs which courted trouble in the 1940s and later years were ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ and ‘Diggin’ My Potatoes’. ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ which is about life in Storyville, had been around for years and there’s a raunchy version from around 1900:
“There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun,
And when you want your pecker spoilt
That’s where you get it done.”
The song in its expurgated version became a success in 1941 when recorded by the folk/blues singer, Josh White. Even then it troubled many broadcasting authorities and both Josh White and later Bob Dylan had their airplay restricted by the BBC. Not so the Animals who beat the ban and had an international hit in 1964.
In 1946, Leadbelly’s ‘Diggin’ My Potatoes’ was seen as too explicit.
“Now my vines is all green,
Tomatoes they’re all red,
Never found a bruised one
Till I caught them in my bed.
Somebody’s diggin’ my potatoes