Music is intentionally sexy. It's the sexiest thing in the world, apart from – well, sex. This isn't a point of contention with anyone – I mean, if The Mule can happily get it on to the likes of Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, it's pretty clear there's something for everyone.
Everyone, that is, except my mom.
You see, my mom is like June Cleaver minus the dress and the necklace. She's just so gosh-darn wholesome it makes my teeth ache. Here's the trouble – she's a big music fan, loves to dance and sing along to songs she likes. Which is why it gives me a severe case of the giggling crazies to watch her exuberantly bounce around waving her hands in the air to a jam that is clearly about fuckin'. If only she realized it.
CHINA GROVE – DOOBIE BROTHERS
Man, my mom likes her some Doobie Brothers. The Doobs have the distinction of being one of those rock 'n' roll outfits that aren't quite blues, not really country, but not standard bubble-gum 70s rock either, and that really appeals to the sock-hop dance set. But according to my longtime correspondent Brent “Pop Culture Guru” Chittenden, “China Grove” shares something in common with “La Grange” or “House of the Rising Sun” in that it's about a brothel. Now I'll admit I didn't immediately get the connection, but there's certainly some raunchy stuff happening between the preacher and the teacher, who are ostensibly the talk of the town gossips – apparently the sewing circle isn't lying because when the sun gets to falling down, the insane preacher and schoolmarm Miss Perkins are definitely doing something brothel-worthy. Hooray for Texas.
CAT SCRATCH FEVER – TED NUGENT
Every good mom knows about cat scratch fever. It's a real illness that can afflict children if they're – go figure – scratched by a cat's nasty litter-encrusted nails. Typically it manifests as a rash and fever, which is not unlike many of the symptoms associated with what the Nuge's song is actually about: STDs. Okay, the argument can be made (and my mom made it) that the “fever” he's suffering is just the sheer force of his libido burning him up, but come on – it's the Nuge. You know he's had him some skeezy groupie lovin' that probably bequeathed onto him that delightful “burns when you pee” sensation – and no, I don't know what that feels like, so don't start. Though I have to admit, it's pretty impressive that a ten-year-old Ted had the wherewithal to go see a doctor after contracting it from the girl next door. Most kids don't even know what that equipment is for at that age. Then again, he did grow up in Detroit – take what you want from that.
TORN – NATALIE IMBRUGLIA
Remember Natalie Imbruglia? She was the really cute Australian girl who rose to prominence in the late 90s with her cover of this tune by the virtually-unknown Scandinavian outfit Ednaswap. Moms the world over loved Natalie for her pop-dance musical sentiments and the fact that there was absolutely nothing even remotely controversial about her. I mean, look at the girl. She's pretty, friendly, and Australian. There's no such thing as a mean Australian, is there? (I mean, apart from Mel Gibson, obviously). Anyway, it turns out this innocuous song is also about sex...sort of. It's about rape. Yeah. It took me ten years to figure out that gem of knowledge, and when I did, I never looked at the guy in the video the same way again. I don't trust men who are better-looking than me as a general rule, and now I have good reason. Remember ladies: just because he looks like a hunk of burning love doesn't mean he doesn't moonlight as Shifty McRapist, Predator At Large.
SHE BOP – CYNDI LAUPER
Anybody want to explain to me why this woman was popular, ever? Leaving aside the fact that in her prime she looked like some kind of haggard fairy cultivating a serious pixie dust habit and inhabiting my nightmares, her voice is enough to give my eardrums boils. And the saccharine, upbeat synth that typified pop music of that era (1984) always sets my teeth on edge, particularly when it's played ad nauseum at my thrice-remarried Aunt Edna's wedding reception, which is exactly when my mom starts really hitting the dance floor. Personally I hate dancing; it strikes me as the equivalent of very public, very exhibitionist masturbation, which in the case of Cyndi Lauper is a good thing because that's exactly what “She Bop” is about. It took me a while to figure that out because her voice is so processed (and so impossible to listen to naturally) it's hard to hear the lyrics, but they're there, all right: “picking up a good vibration”... “better stop or I'll go blind” (learned that little fact from Green Day myself, but I digress)...when you actually filter through the pop pabulum and listen to what she's saying it's unmistakable. Thankfully these days Cyndi has long since given up “messing with the danger zone” in favour of being mercifully obscure, but her shitty jack-off music lives on.
THE WANDERER – DION AND THE BELMONTS
Of all the songs on this list, the crowning jewel has to be this little ditty from one of those late-50s sock-hop bands that all sound the same to me. Dion and the Belmonts are in regular rotation at the James household, along with contemporaries Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, Bobby Darin and the Big Bopper. My mom loves this stuff, mostly as a function of being a child of the 50s. She always goes on about how music used to be so upstanding and decent, before the days when “that rap crap” introduced naughty words into recorded music. From now on, Dion and the Belmonts will stand as testament to my belief that people have always been filth-brained sex addicts, even in the pristine 50s. “The Wanderer” is basically a folk tale of a guy who goes from town to town, wooing and screwing and then vanishing before anybody can even nail down (har har) what his name is. They just call him, predictably, “The Wanderer”. In a world dominated by STDs (thanks Nuge) and support groups for people with commitment issues, this Wanderer guy would be strung up, but back in the 50s, as long as all the nookie took place off screen and nobody was shown sleeping in the same bed, I guess it was fair game. Wholesome like a fox, that wanderer.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
My mom's not stupid; far from it. She's a very smart, very hip lady who's a joy to be around. But her brain just doesn't function the way mine does – that is to say, she doesn't see dancing boobies in every dark corner and gyrating hips on every billboard, and she certainly doesn't hear the nastiness I hear in music. But fair is fair, and there's no denying the limitless ability we have in making sure sex is as present in our tunes as it is everywhere else.
Except my bedroom, Mom – my girlfriend still sleeps on the couch, I promise. (She'll probably buy that.)
Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found playing Natalie Imbruglia records backwards hoping to hear her phone number
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