The Truth about Love

Few pop songs can bear too much reality when it comes to sexual politics. Here are four that tell it like it is…

Boy meets girl, is happy. Boy loses girl, is sad. And reverse the genders. With those four plots you’ve covered most pop, which as a genre doesn’t tend to go too deep into sexual psychology. Lyrics are largely predictable: if a chap is begging please baby please, there’s a damn good chance that he’ll soon be down on his knees. If his heart (or another part of his anatomy) is on fire then like as not he’s also somehow going higher and higher. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the alternative to sentimental simplicity is Adult Oriented Rock, a hazardous place where you risk bumping into Dr Hook.

But just now and again a song comes along that fearlessly states a fundamental truth about man’s inhumanity to woman, or vice versa. Take the problem of incompatible approaches to romantic encounters, as expressed by this succinct ditty (attributed variously to William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and others):

Hogamus higamus, men are polygamous.

Higamus hogamus, women monogamous.

Many female songwriters have addressed this problem, but for my money no song has ever cut more directly to the heart of the matter, nor better expressed the essence of female insecurity than this one (first a hit for the Shirelles but played here in 1971 by its composer Carole King), Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?…

…’No’ is the simple answer, according to a range of misogynistic male musicians, from 80s cock-rockers to rap artists. The Rolling Stones’ jaw-droppingly sexist Yesterday’s Papers sums up the attitude (“it seems very hard to have just one girl, when there’s a million in the world… who wants yesterday’s papers, who wants yesterday’s girls?”) but few mainstream popstars have been as brazen as Shaggy, in his amusing (bordering on novelty) hit It Wasn’t Me. Inspired by an Eddie Murphy stand-up routine, it features an experienced ‘player’ advising a philanderer to simply deny his crime – in this case, gettin’ jiggy with the ‘girl next door’ (rather an exceptional specimen of the ‘girl next door’ in this video) – despite an overwhelming quantity of evidence against him including CCTV footage and first-hand eye-witnessing by the wronged party. The track inspired Slate writer Josh Levin to coin the term the “The Shaggy Defense” to describe R. Kelly’s defence at his child pornography trial stemming from the production of a sex tape: “I predict that in the decades to come, law schools will teach this as the ‘Shaggy defence.’ You allege that I was caught on camera, butt naked, banging on the log cabin floor? It wasn’t me.”

Alas, It Wasn’t Me ends limply and drippily, but for real limpness and drippiness, let us return to 1971. If Carole King perfectly expressed the concerns of the insecure female, then Neil Young’s A Man Needs a Maid does the same for the utterly dysfunctional male, who finds himself wishing for “Just someone to keep my house clean, Fix my meals and go away.” He even goes to the cinema and falls in love with the actress because she’s playing a servant (“a role that I could understand.”) It’s bleak stuff, but Young sounds wonderful on this live recording, which I reckon is superior to the version on Harvest

But enough of such self-pitying drivel. Here, to finish, is a primal scream, emitted by Kelis. It’s called Caught Out There and requires no further commentary, the chorus speaking, or rather, bellowing, for itself…

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4 thoughts on “The Truth about Love

    July 15, 2012 at 14:13

    I happened to catch a few minutes of the local TV news in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, once when Shaggy was in town for a concert. The camera, swept the crowd, and I saw a girl holding up a sign reading “It Was Me!” It struck me then how useful the old practice of sending refractory daughters off to convents must have been.

    But the misogyny was baked into pop music long before the 1980s. In listening to old Bob Dylan songs, I’m amused at the vanity and bad attitude: have a listen to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s alright” or “Positively Fourth Street.” I can certainly understand why I liked them at the age of about 20, feeling myself wronged by a world of women who (with sound judgment) didn’t seem to notice me. Why some of those women have carried into middle age a weakness for Bob Dylan, I do not understand; or maybe the girl in Harrisburg had a hint.

    July 15, 2012 at 19:49

    Yes, yes, yes, keep it coming, if you will forgive the innuendo, you have, wor Brit, unwittingly I suspect, alluded to the greatest exhibition of marital shenanigans ever committed to celluloid, R.Burton and L.Taylor’s moment of truth, without a shadow of doubt their finest hour. Whoever is afraid of Virginia Wolf, well, actually, nobody. She was an over-hyped tosser, the movie however is a snapshot of wedded technicalities of an altogether different hue. There but for the grace of himself go we. Try twenty years as business partners bolted to the rearing of two sprogs and a sprinkling of cultural conflict. Our friends swear that we will end our days in the Nicholson-Turner bedroom scene from Prizzi’s honour, with the Shirelles ‘Be my baby’ throbbing in the background.

    Dunno about the musical content, except for Carole King, still have the LP, reminds me of Ravensbourne Park Cresc Catford, 1965, crap weather you have at the moment, it was thirty degrees in Wiesbaden on Friday.

  3. Brit
    July 15, 2012 at 21:31

    In fact the Beatles have recorded one of the most disturbingly misogynistic songs ever made – ‘Run for your Life’, which closes Rubber Soul. Lennon basically warning a girl that if she cheats on him he will kill her. Jealous guy indeed…

      July 16, 2012 at 10:40

      ..and lets forget Tom Jones classic ‘Delilah’, a charming song about stabbing a prostitute which he belted out to the queen the other week

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