This week all came about thanks to listening to Steve Lamacq on 6Music the Friday before last, where he ended up playing Eat The Rich by Motörhead, and perhaps for the first time, I actually paid attention to the lyrics. “You wanna see my bacon torpedo!” was the one that had me raising my eyebrows, but looking back at the rest of the song is not much more subtle – an anti-capitalist tirade this is not.
a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
Which, as is usual nowadays when I have inspiration for a potential Ten, I opened it to the floor, and as usual my friends and readers delivered spectacularly with a diverse, intriguing list of songs and artists that saw me discovering areas of music I knew nothing about, rekindling my love of some old favourites, and also hearing some songs that are just plain wrong.
So, this week is ten songs that use euphemisms. Sometimes it is simply clever wordplay, other times it is very much a way to get around censors.
I Didn’t Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)
I can thank a swing-dancing friend for introducing me to the concept of dirty blues amid the comments on my original request for submissions. I’m well aware that there were a great many bawdy songs in the early years of popular music (The exceptional series American Epic earlier in the year touched upon it, particularly the Memphis Jug Band’s Cocaine Habit Blues which was less than guarded in it’s descriptions), but I hadn’t realised that some got quite as risqué and daring as Julia Lee did.
“I didn’t like it the first time, I had it on a date / Although the first was the worst time, right now I think it’s great”
This one, too, could potentially be taken two ways, and some research online has suggested that it has never been fully agreed. The main suggestion (and one I agree with) is that it is about smoking marijuana, but there is also the view that it could well be a double meaning for sex, too…
Pull Up To The Bumper
Not the only song of the early eighties to use car terms as euphemisms for sex (see also Prince’s Little Red Corvette – he, er, looms large in parts of this week’s Tuesday Ten, that’s for sure), but Grace Jones did a particularly amazing job here. Her taut, electro-funk has turned out to be massively influential, and her music was only one aspect of a varied career that has also taken in modelling, acting and writing.
“Pull up to my bumper, baby, in your long black limousine”
Somehow I can’t imagine that she’s really talking about parking a long car here…
Tattooed Beat Messiah
Somehow I’d never previously noticed that Jimmy Cauty (later of the KLF, of course) was originally part of this band – and his later partner-in-chaos Bill Drummond produced the album – although I’ve not really paid much attention to them aside from this fist-pumping eighties hard-rock anthem. Interestingly I’ve read somewhere that their lyrics were deliberately over the top, poking fun at the genre that they were part of. I guess this might explain some of the outlandish euphemisms used, like this one, where meteorology are definitely not part of the plan.
“Your lipstick flickers round my lightning rod”
The filth and the fury hardly hurt them, mind, and this track was a big hit.
An early single targetted by the PMRC on their original Filthy Fifteen in 1984, this song was where Sheena Easton changed her style. Remarkably she came through to the public eye thanks to one of the first reality TV shows at the turn of the eighties, but her wholesome pop image was absolutely transformed by Prince writing this song for her.
“I feel so alive when I’m with you / Come and feel my presence, it’s raining tonight / Heaven on earth inside my sugar walls”
The influence of Prince is stamped all over this song, too – from the synths to her vocal stylings, to the lyrics, of course. Prince was the master of the euphemism in his eighties golden age, with songs being absolutely stuffed with them, and it’s not exactly surprising that the various songs he provided to others across the period (there are loads) follow along similar lines.
Anyway, this song is certainly not about confectionery construction activities.
Eighties rock/metal was, frequently, anything but subtle, rarely even going as far as euphemisms (although Def Leppard’s Let’s Get Rocked is easily the equal of this one), just outright saying what they wanted instead. Warrant, however, hit paydirt in a big, big way with the sleazy three minutes of Cherry Pie. Singer Jani Lane isn’t singing about dessert, that’s for sure. He’s not “swinging” in the physical sense, either. Urban dictionary helpfully explains, if you hadn’t already worked it out, what Cherry Pie means.
Warrant’s success was short-lived, as just a year after the release of Cherry Pie, they and their ilk were all but swept away by the explosion into the mainstream of Nirvana and their peers – and sadly it didn’t work out well for Jani Lane, either, in the end.
For a band that all but formed for a laugh (they were Norwegian TV presenters and producers!), they had a remarkable amount of success in Europe with their debut album We Care, led by the ass-kicking single Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe. Deeper into the album, though, things got mighty, mighty weird.
Tricky was part of this, working with the band on some of the songs (and opener Kickin’ another full of filth, never mind the eight-minute sexathon of I’ll Do Ya), but Whale alone came up with Eurodog, which includes one particularly odd euphemism, that makes it fairly clear exactly what Cia Berg wanted to do to Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, perhaps enhancing European relations – the European Union as we know it had only just come into being – at the same time…
“I can’t help it if I wanna fumble / Sarah Cracknell up her Channel Tunnel”
I never quite worked out where this band fitted in. Probably somewhere in indie-dance, new rave, I guess, but their best single by a mile was the suggestive, sexy fun of Ice Cream. A whole vanload of sex-and-sweet ideas are put forth here, and the eye-poppingly bright video rather makes it even more of a tasty idea. Quite how sweet?
“Drink me like a liquor
Come on and dip your dipper”
I can’t imagine what she was talking about.
Kelis took a similarly sweet concept and took it yet further, with an awesomely catchy track that became a massive hit. This took a female angle to rap braggadocio, with Kelis proclaiming just how amazing and how hot she is…by way of drink vending. The video was perhaps the least subtle way possible of making it clear exactly what Kelis was talking about. Back to the song, though:
“My milk shake brings all the boys to the yard, And they’re like, Its better than yours, Damn right it’s better than yours, I can teach you, But I have to charge”
Kelis, hot, desirable, and happy to brag about it.
Away from sex, kinda, to drugs. And specifically cocaine.
“If I give you sugar / will you give me / something elusive and temporary?”
Never a band to be that subtle about drug use, I guess, but Sugar took things a whole lot further. Witching Hour was the band’s best album by a mile, and not just for Destroy Everything You Touch, as there wasn’t a bad song on it. Sugar was a punchy, heavily shoegaze-influenced track, with a hammering rhythm and MBV-esque cascades of squalling guitars, and amid the musical snowstorm was barely disguised drug-for-sex imagery that hardly took an ideological leap to notice.
“Open ya mouth / Taste the rainbow taste my Skittles ah!”
Not an artist I’d usually feature, but she is one of a number of female artists in recent times to be unafraid of being upfront sexually, and spelling out exactly what she wants in song. This song, as a friend noted, is dealing with the same subject as Consolidated‘s industrial-hip-hop pro-cunnilingus anthem You Suck, but rather than being the instruction manual that that was (thanks to the Yeastie Girls’ upfront rap), this is at least a little more suggestive and subtle. Just.