SEX vs SENSUALITY (2021): What's love got to do with it?

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SEX vs SENSUALITY (2021): What's love got to do with it?

"you gotta sin to get saved" -- old saying

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Aside from love -- falling in love, falling out of love, moping around afterwards and writing bad poetry -- there are other great themes to explore in song.

It goes without saying, surely, that death, redemption and the Devil have alwys been big ideas.

And sex and sensuality have preoccupied writers ever since . . .

Well just ever since. 

Let's take a smirk on the wild side . . .  

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According to one recent survey, in the Fifties 3% of songs in the American charts were about sex, by the Seventies it had risen to 40%.

In 2009 it was 92%. 

The allusions can be subtle, saucy, risque, rude, unsubtle, graphic, pornographic . . .

Let's start with old blues where the language was coded, but often hardly subtle.

Here are the titles of blues songs from the Twenties and Thirties, you can fill in the lyrics!

Hard Lead Pencil, Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon, Bed Spring Poker, I Want Plenty of Grease in my Frying Pan, Organ Grinder Blues . . .

As Francis Davis wrote in The History of the Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People From Charley Patton To Robert Cray, "The bues has never been big on moral or social uplift, the only deliverance most of its singers promise is sexual".

The English writer and blues expert Paul Oliver estimated that as many as three quarters of the blues recorded since 1920 are about sexual relationships, often of an aberrant and pathological nature.

(Scholars might disagree about a percentage that high and of course it depends on how you define sexual relationships, aberrant and pathological. But there's certainly a lot of it about.) 

This is Julia Lee from Kansas City who specialized in "dirty blues" although most of her songs are not that overt. For example I Didn't Like It The First Time is (ostensibly anyway) about eating spinach.

Here she is in 1950 though with a song which has plenty of double entendres.

Don't Come Too Soon
 

Lil Johnson back in the Thirties was infamous for a series of rude blues songs full of suggestive lyrics. Here's one of them.

My Stove's in Good Condition, Lil Johnson, 1936
 

And here's Bessie Smith

"Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot, Never fails to touch the spot. I can't do without my kitchen man. His frankfurters are oh so sweet How I like his sausage meat. I can't do without my kitchen man.

"Oh, how that boy can open clam. No one else is can touch my ham I can't do without my kitchen man. When I eat his doughnuts All I leave is the hole Any time he wants to, Why, he can use my sugar bowl" – Kitchen Man by Bessie Smith, 1929

 

Here's Mary J Blige, also in the kitchen but with a warning . . .  

 

"I don't know it all, but I tell ya what I know, Never let a girl cook in your kitchen. All up in your fridge, and next will be the stove. Never let a girl cook in your kitchen. When it all gets hot ... everything drops. Eyes on your man, hands on your pot. If she runs in to help, tell her stay right in her spot. Never let a girl cook in your kitchen".  – Kitchen by Mary J Blige, 2009

The blues (and black American music in general) is full of metaphors

For example in 1954 when Dinah Washington sings about her man's big long slidin' thing she means . . . his trombone.

Here's Lonnie Johnson from '31

The Best Jockey in Town, Lonnie JOhnson, 1931

and Bo Carter from 1931

Banana in Your Fruit Basket, Bo Carter, 1931

If you are ready for serious rudeness and dirty talk you could check out Lucille Bogan's Shave 'Em Dry from 1935 

Sometimes though sexual references are just about being risque  . . . as in this from the Thirties by Ronald Frankau, a London music hall comedian who specialised in risque monologues and songs which were usually banned.

Frankly Mr Frankau, this just sounds sleazy and is less about sex than wink-wink. 

I'd Like to Have a Honeymoon With Her

And George Formby and his song When I'm Cleaning Windows

And you can hear New Zealander Noel McKay from the early Sixties with his risque Sweater Girl here..

That's broad humour and entertainment for the masses, sometimes the songs just steam, as in Fever writen by Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley.

Blackwell wrote a large number of rock'n'roll era hits (covered by Elvis among others) and this song from '56 went to number one on the rhythm and blues charts, and top 30 on the pop charts in the US. 

Here's Little Willie John's original version

Fever

Here's Peggy Lee, who rewrote some of the lyrics because, ironically given the way she sang it, she thought some of the original lyrics were too risque. This was a hit for her in '58. Here.

Fever by Peggy Lee
 

Madonna did this version in '93, it was on her Erotica album and -- as always with her -- she goes for the obvious.

 

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But sex and innuendo Vs sensuality? 

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Some songs are graphic (especially in these days of video clips) but others are more sensual.

These are perhaps songs which are less about actual sex than providing the soundtrack for it.

Here is Barry White, the man they call "the Walrus of Love".

White was a tough character as a kid in LA (he served time for stealing car tyres) but then started singing with various groups.

By the Seventies had formed the girl group Love Unlimited and made his name as a producer.

He branched out as a solo singer using his baritone on songs which anticipated the disco era . . . and then, with the Love Unlimited Orchestra, started recording songs which appealed to "the ladies".

White made numerous albums which had a sensually slow beat, sweet orchestration and his dark voice whispering up very close to the microphone. It was quite deliberately music for seduction and he made millions out of songs like this . . .

I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby, Barry White, 1973
 

And while we are here . . . a tip o'the hat to the great Teddy Pendergrass.

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Donna Summer caused a sensation with a song for which they turned out the lights in the studio and she moaned sensually.

There was an extended version also, 17 minutes of the mood and groove.

The German producer was the great Giorgio Moroder who is credited with inventing a particular pre-disco sound which then provided the template for dozens of albums and artists.

Donna Summer went on to record classic songs like I Feel Love (again pretty steamy) and dance albums like Bad Girls (an ambitious album based on prostitution and her risque image).

Love to Love You Baby by Donna Summer, 1975

Donna Summer was in fact just part of a long tradition of such songs.

Hard to believe that this duet manages to break through in the conservative Fifties

This is John and Jackie. The lyrics and John seem secondary to whatever Jackie is getting up to.

Little Girl by John and Jackie, 1959

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serge_janeOne of the most notorious songs in this manner was Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus (I Love You . . . Me, Not, Anymore) by French singer Serge Gainsbourg and his young lover Jane Birkin in '69.

He had recorded an earlier version with Bridgette Bardot but her husband found out and begged that it not be released.

The fact that Birkin was an actress and couldn't sing hardly matters, because she is acting here rather than singing.

Again though, as with Barry White and Donna Summer, the music conveys the sensual mood as much as the whispers and moans.

(Their daughter is the singer/actress Charlotte Gainsbourg) 

Je t'aime, Gainsbourg and Birkin, 1969
 

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And almost finally with regard to sensuality, this is Vanessa Daou who is an American multi-media artist (singer, poet etc) whose albums sit on the edge of electronica and trip-hop.

For her album Zipless in '94 (a longtime Essential Elsewhere album incidentally, make of that what you will) she was inspired by the novelist/writer Erica Jong (who wrote the sexually frank Fear of Flying in '73).

This song - which has some graphic language, although perhaps hard to discern on a casual listen -- has been considered one of the most sensual ever recorded, but has also been reviled as one of the most silly in some circles.

Vanessa Daou, The Long Tunnel of Wanting You

And this, Near the Black Forest from the same album. She adapted a poem by Jong. Here are the lyrics (sexy?) but the delivery and video conveys a steamy sensuality.

"Living in a house near the Black Forest, without any clocks, she's begun to listen to the walls. Her neighbors have clocks, not one but twenty clocks apiece. Sometimes a claque of clocks applauds the passing of each day. Listen to the walls & wind your watch. Poor love, poor love, have they caught you by the pendulum? Do they think they've got you stopped? Have you already gathered how, living near the Black Forest, she gets by on cups of borrowed time?" – Erica Jong

 

All roads of sex and sensuality invariably lead to hip-hop which hands down often takes the prize for being graphic and sometimes gross.

Iggy Azalea is an Australian-born singer who fell in love with hip-hop, moved to the States and embraced the whole culture. She speaks the language, embraces the consumerism (money, Louis Vutton etc), uses sex and sensuality in her videos and songs (see the clip for Work).

Recent accusations of blackfishing have ensued, of course.

So is this song subtle, using a metaphor, clever or just graphic?

And here are some sample lyrics (they are more graphic in the second verse)

Iggy Iggy pussy illy, wetter than the amazon, taste this kitty, silly billy poppin pillys, smoke it like a swisher. lick this fillin, mold em ah' soak em ah' hook em like crack aftershock molten ah' lava drop this should be outlawed call me pot the illest on the planet. better play ya cards right mr gambit. if you wanna hang here ain't no hammock. never, not better - law should ban it never, not better - law should ban it. i do it right, with drugs understand it. i do it right, now please soak panty. (I said) left right back to the middle. head on swivel neck till i quivel open ya mouth.... taste the rainbow taste my skittles ah! . . . etc etc

Over to you to Nicki Minaj!

the explicit lyrics are here. They are not subtle and the association between sex and money (a power relationship) is being explored. That perhaps being a bit charitable.

All of this raises some questions about sex and exploitation and empowerment and messaging

This is Mylie Cyrus' recent Mother's Daughter

("virginity is a social contruct"?) 

 

Hallelujah, I'm a freak
I'm a freak, hallelujah
Every day of the week I'ma do ya
Like I want to
I'm a Nile Crocodile, a Piranha
Oh my God, she got the power
Oh, look at her, she got the power
So-so, so don't fuck with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I'm nasty, I'm evil
Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter
Don't fuck with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I'm nasty, I'm evil
Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter
So, back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh
Back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh
Hallelujah, I'm a witch
I'm a witch, hallelujah
Swish swish, I'm a three-point shooter
I blow through ya
Like a hot wind out in the bayou, ya

Oh my God, she got the power
Well, look at her, she got the power

Don't fuck with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I'm nasty, I'm evil
Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter
Don't fuck with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I'm nasty, I'm evil
Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter

So, back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh
Back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh
Back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh
Back up, back up, back up, back up, boy, ooh

My mama always told me that I'd make it
That I'd make it, so I made it
I put my back into and my heart in it
So I did it, yeah, I did it
My mamma always told me that I'd make it
That I'd make it, so I made it
I put my back into and my heart in it
So I did it, yeah, I did it

Don't fuck with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I'm nasty, I'm evil
Must be something in the water or that I'm my mother's daughter

Don't fuck with my freedom
Oh my God, oh my God
Don't fuck with my freedom
Oh my God, oh my God
Don't fuck with my freedom
Oh my God, oh my God
Don't fuck with my freedom
Oh my God, oh my God

Swish swish, motherfucker 

And sometimes you can take an ordinary song . . .

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Some day we'll really get to Prince 

Whether this clip is sex, sensuality or risque is open to debate. Is it about empowerment or self-exploitation?

Dunno.

But it's hard to look away and I guess that's the point. After this you may want a palate cleanser, and George Formby (below) now seems just tame.

 

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Rosco - Oct 25, 2021

C'mon Graham. Let's not shag around here!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxuHZ_MnUY4

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