Those Old Songs


I read a fun little article in the DailyMail today; it was speculating on what other old songs (besides Brown Sugar) will be next on the list to be cancelled. If you've been living under a rock, or are not familiar with the music of the Rolling Stones, this week the Stones announced they would no longer play the song at their concerts. Though I always liked the rhythm of the song, I was always glad that the lyrics were so mumbled you could hardly make out what it was about. But you could guess it was sexual exploitation of women of color by white men, to be sure.

While I love classic rock 'n roll, it is very true that sometimes it is quite hard to play some of those classics in front of my children. The bands were almost all men, with the male gaze on everything, with male priorities of getting sex without any commitment often front and center. Many times I had to get my senses to simply "not hear" what I could guess these men were saying. And it was a shame, because some of these were excellent songs, musically speaking. Other times I could substitute a very similar-sounding word for some of the objectionable ones. Yet other times I thought about how the meaning of the song would change when a woman sang it, and so I sang it with gusto, as Joan Jett taught us in "I Love Rock 'N Roll." Still do.

But as I approach senior-citizen-hood, I just turn the car radio off when some of these songs come on the oldies station. Just can't do it anymore. Can't cover for these guys anymore. Don't even want to hear it. "My Sharona," fugeddaboutit.

There's now even some songs by women (songs I suspect were written by men) that I don't care for anymore. Think "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer. (Yes, one of my guilty pleasures was disco . . . )

So my interest was piqued when I saw the list the article had compiled. I had to admit most of those songs were indeed quite slimy, and in need of a scrub or even a wholesale reboot: "Under My Thumb" by the Stone; "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, etc. But one caught my eye because it was the very first rock 'n roll song my heart objected to . . . "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry.

I think I started listening to the radio around the same time this song was released. I remember the old radio I commandeered from the family and kept in my room, where I'd crack sunflower seeds and read book after book after book. (If you'd have lived in the family I did, you would have wanted to hide away, as well.) But the radio songs in that era inculcated me into the social understanding that women should never expect men to make a commitment to them. I understand now that this was a deliberate ploy. Fallen men always arrange things so they can get sex without commitment. It's the whole purpose of so many large swaths of our economy--and radio songs are a powerful expression of that desire. "I've Got to be Free," by The Monkees, "Free Bird," by Lynary Skynard, even less direct songs such as "Brandi" by Looking Glass. Training us girls, over and over again, that "love" was really having sex, but that "love" also meant not tying a man down.

I know other generations of women have had it worse--those who were socialized by rap, for example. But I think my generation were the ones who heard it first in such a prevalent way--the songs of the generation right before me were all about going steady and getting married.

But I guess I had potential as a feminist, because when I first heard that Mungo Jerry song, I remember detesting it despite the fact it was qite a catchy tune. While there are several problematic phrases ("In the summertime, you got women, you got women on your mind . . ."), the one that really make my blood boil was "Have a drink, have a drive Go out and see what you can find. If her daddy's rich, take her out for a meal If her daddy's poor, just do what you feel."

See "what" you can find. It's clear that we women are just "things" to "find."

But even worse--"if her daddy's poor, just do what you feel," made my blood boil. I'd been on the receiving end of this kind of predatory behavior even at the tender age of 13 and would be for years.

So, yeah, I guess I hope this song either gets re-written or scrubbed. I'm not into cancelling anything, but surely we as a culture know better than this now? Well, it doesn't matter one way or the other--I am turning off the car radio when Mungo Jerry comes on . . . I hope young women of this generation will be smarter than we were--don't give these creeps space in your head, don't give them the minutes of your day, don't give them any royalty payments.