Saturday, April 24, 2021


As I read Jordan's last piece, erudite and informative, it got me a'thinking around the other taboo subject in popular song, seemingly equally common a subject matter as rumpy pumpy, namely drugs, the paths of blues and jazz as awash with as much reliance, if not more, upon uppers, downers and in-betweeners as more recent times. The censor was seldom enthusiastic about such, and remains still a little averse today, worried about the corruption of young and fertile minds. Thus the need to disguise in simile and metaphor. (Here I feel I should add, having delved deep into the subcultural yearnings put my way over 50 plus years of enjoying the devil's music, never have I felt it necessary to partake, give or take the odd jazz cigarette as a teen and young adult. Never did anything beyond make me cough, together with a need to poo (TMI), however many times I listened to Paul McCartney.)

The BBC were notoriously eagle-eared for references, frequently banning anything that could be possibly construed as smacking of, well, smack or, indeed, anything else. So as well as the ex-Beatle's paean to hot air ballooning, so too were songs by myriad other acts struck from air-play. So alongside anything overtly sexual, anything that contained the name of a commercial product, the list of presumed drug songs deemed unsuitable included other, earlier songs involving the very same perverter of the young, Paul McCartney*. None of these could really be classed double entendres, as, bizarrely, colour your reference in the imagery of food or, more commonly, candy, much as with sex, and you could take the arbiters of taste on quite a trip. Or references to literature, the classics being drug free zones, right?

Ice cream is frequently invoked as a euphemism for narcotics, and has been since forever. In part the idea of a special treat and part the network of delivery outlets. For, as well as being for sale in shops and restaurants, there is the time hallowed ice-cream man in his, or her, ice-cream van, bring his product to a curb side near you. I used to think this purely a British phenomenon, but John Carpenter and Jonathan Richman have taught me different. (Richman's Ice Cream Man, despite the lyrics, a give away in any other hands, is arguably one of the few where you can feel some confidence that it really is a Mr Whippy he sings about.) 

Heroin has been a scourge of the central belt of Scotland for decades, the combination of grim concrete estates, with populations transplanted from slum squalor to out of town desolation, built with little thought of leisure and recreation factored in by town planners. Add the Scottish love of sweet things and, particularly of ice cream, no Scottish town without a family of Italian emigres, with cafes and ice-cream emporia, resident since the early part of the twentieth century, and any business brain can begin to see a hole in the market. For the hole in Daddy's arm every bit as much as the hole in his kids tummy. Even genuine ice-cream vans initially became subject to vicious turf wars, but it wasn't too long before the rinky dink tone of Greensleeves  denoted that something else was there for the buying.

Mary Coughlan is a terrific singer, with a smoky voice at as much ease in folk and blues as she is in rock and jazz, ploughing her idiosyncratic fare for 35 years. I see I wrote about her in 2013. The featured song for this piece comes from her second album, Under the Influence, in 1987. That title too might be a broad hint, but my suspicions and her admissions point to towards her own poisons being largely booze. But there are two songs about ice-cream, two in a row, tracks two and three on side one. OK, the second is a brief instrumental, but the first, by Johnny Mulhearn, is sung through the eyes of a housewife, hooked on the scag brought to her and the other women on the street by the same van selling cones and wafers to her children. Based on a both a true story, one with a happy ending, in that the dealer was arrested and imprisoned, with a good deal of anecdata from The Glasgow ice-cream wars, as mentioned above. She mentions the song in this interview.

Still so keen on that 99?

*I know, literary extension...

Friday, April 23, 2021

Double Entendres: Squeeze Box


purchase [ The Who By Numbers]

When I purchased my own first "stereo" back in '71, the merchant included a copy of "Who's Next" in the deal. I have mentioned this before here. Andy La RayGun has also brought it to our attention

Always a fan of the Who/Pete Townsend, I have tried to keep up as he has done side gigs, the NFL Superbowl (however difficult with the group at that age) and more.

The album <The Who By Numbers> includes this piece that might fit the current theme: Squeeze Box.

Ostensibly, a squeeze box is an accordion: you know, the player pulls and pushes/squeezes the box to produce the musical sounds. That doesn't  appears to be the actual subject of the song:

Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest

 .. [daddy] never gets no rest

Yes, the accordion usually rests on the players chest. But more:

She goes in and out and in and out ... [Hmm...meaning what?]

... Come on and squeeze me ...come on and tease me ... [Hmm.. tease the accordion?]

The album studio version is a lot better:

Sheryl Crow does it too

Monday, April 19, 2021

Double Entendres: My Butcher Man

Memphis Minnie: My Butcher Man

There’s a long history in music of songs with double entendre lyrics. Now, Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion can go on network TV and sing about their WAP (although it appears that they bleeped out the word “pussy” at the Grammys), and that song, and other sexually explicit ones, are played on the radio, streaming, and wherever popular music is found. But there was a time when sexually explicit songs had to be couched in innuendo and double entendres. 

The benefit of this approach is that the song could get wider distribution, those who got the references, felt that they were in the know, and the artist could feel like he or she got over on authority. I understood this well back when I contributed to halftime shows for the Princeton Band, which were censored by the University, and we used to joke that if we ever wanted to play a particular famous folk song, we’d have to call it, “She’ll Be Arriving Around The Mountain When She Arrives.” So we slipped a lot of references past the censors—the first joke I wrote as a freshman was about freshman male social life, and had the band form a shower with water shooting from the spout, as we played "He’s Got The Whole World By The Hand." It was fun, we had lots of laughs, and eventually got in trouble with both Princeton and the United States Army… 

This theme, like many I’ve suggested here, was inspired by a song I heard in the car. This time, I had on the B.B. King’s Bluesville station and I heard “My Butcher Man,” by Memphis Minnie, with her then-husband, Kansas Joe McCoy. It became pretty clear that Minnie was not really singing about the man’s butchering skill. The song includes lines such as: 

I’m going to tell everybody I've got the best butcher man in town
He can slice your ham, he can cut it from the fat on down

He slice my pork chops and he grinds my sausage, too
Ain't nothing in the line of butcherin' that my butcher man can't do

Butcher man, in the morning, won't you please stop by my house
I've got enough butcherin' for you to do if you promise me you just only hush your mouth? 

And finally, if the references weren’t clear enough:

If anybody asks you, "Butcher man, where have you been?"
Show 'em that long-bladed knife, tell 'em you been butchering out in the slaughter pens
Let's go, butcher man, for me

Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas in 1897 in New Orleans, She ran away from home at the age of 13, and started playing on street corners, eventually moving up touring with the Ringling Bros. Circus and then as a singer and guitarist in the Beale Street blues scene. She was, by all accounts, a tough, street smart woman. One observer remembered: ”Any men fool with her she’d go right after them right away. She didn’t take no foolishness off them. Guitar, pocket-knife, pistol, anything she get her hand on she’d use it.” Apparently, the blues business wasn’t sufficiently lucrative, so Minnie’ reportedly subsidized her income with prostitution, charging the relatively large sum of $12 for her services. Minnie also gained a reputation for partying and gambling. She was an early adopter of the electric guitar, and didn’t shy away from guitar contests against the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red and Muddy Waters, sometimes winning. 

Minnie recorded over 200 songs, and wrote many of them, including “My Butcher Man,” “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” (another song filled with double entendres, originally credited to someone else, and was later recorded by the Jefferson Airplane, who credited yet another different person), and “When The Levee Breaks,” (with Kansas Joe, later re-worked by Led Zeppelin, who actually gave Minnie a writing credit without litigation). 

This genre of music was sometimes called “Dirty Blues,” and often featured double entendres. In researching this piece, I found a fascinating article written in 1927, a few years before “My Butcher Man” was written, by Guy B. Johnson, a white “scholar of black culture and longtime advocate of improved race relations,” as his obituary in The New York Times stated when he died at 90, in 1991 (and whose last name, itself, is a double entendre….). One of Johnson’s observations was 

that the majority of the expressions in the blues relating to the sex act are sung from the point of view of woman and are mostly concerned with the quality of the movements made by the mail during coitus. 

He then goes on to describe many examples, proving clearly that academic writing, even about sex, can be bone-dry. 

Johnson concludes, 

Double meaning in secular song is after all nothing new. Folk song students know that many standard folk songs have come up out of the slime. But it is doubtful if any group ever has carried its ordinary vulgarities over into respectable song life so completely and successfully as the American Negro. And the ease with which the Negro has put this thing over leads one to suspect that the white man, too, enjoys seeing “the other meaning.”