Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Love the music but question the lyrics?

What do you see in the image on the right? A woman, or a man playing the saxophone? I chose this pic because it seems to fit with two songs I really like, but have come to see in different light.

The song, "In the summertime, when the weather is high, you can stretch right up and touch the sky..." appealed to me as a kid when I heard it on the radio. The Mungo Jerry original is really catchy. But, when I got older, as a teenager, I felt a bit insulted by these words:  If her daddy's rich, take her out for a meal..If her daddy's poor, just do what you feel.

Recently the song came up on the repertoire of the Scarborough Uke Jam, and I was reminded how much I hate the lyric. So instead of singing about cruising for women, why not change things up a bit and make it a song about cruising and sailing? If the wind is fair, just go out for a sail, if the weather's poor, just do what you feel / Hoist the main and jib, tie your lines and set your point of sail.

"Drinking rum and coca-cola" is another tune I thought I might play on the ukulele... until I actually listened to the words the Andrew sisters were singing with fresh ears. How bizarre to hear three white girls cheerily sing about black prostitutes. The song was banned from radio in the '40s, not for alluding to prostitution but because of the mention of alcohol and the concern that singing about coca cola could be construed as free advertising. Turns out the melody and lyrics were 'adapted' without permission from calypso musician, Lord Invader, whose lyrics are far more explicit.  Invader borrowed the song from Lionel Belasco, who in turn interpolated it from a Martinique folksong L'Annee Passee, which is actually a tragic song about a Martinique girl who turns to prostitution in Trinidad.

Incidentally, Lionel Belasco was quite a character himself. "According to rumour", he taught the mayor's daughter a bit more than simply how to play the piano.... She was shipped back to England in disgrace, and Belasco was forced to flee to New York (1903-1904).

All this to say, as I look around for songs to learn on the ukulele, I'm listening to them, really listening to them, in a new way. And if I'm going to spend hours learning something, I want to really love it on many different levels.

In the meantime, it's great discovering new dimensions. 

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