Those Smutty Lyrics of Yestercentury

Archaic pop‘s cultural impact has never seemed as interesting as its sound.  Every generation’s music has shaken things up socially, so the ability to shock parents or inspire necking is really just more of the same thing.  The Original Memphis Five‘s punchy tone and transparent textures are what make “Last Night on the Back Porch” stand out.  As for the lyrics, the only real surprise is the contemporary listener’s assumption that this record comes from a simpler, more innocent time:

There’s never been a simpler, more innocent time, only different ways to express (and in some cases hide) all the naughty stuff. It might seem quaint and a little funny to hear Clarence Williams‘ upbeat piano underneath Bertha Idaho’s preaching on “Down on Pennsylvania Avenue,” but their music is a highly original, sweetly sarcastic treatment of a topic that’s as old as they come, and which Williams probably knew all too well:

Though often exaggerated, the links between early jazz and organized crime are undeniable. Early New Orleans musicians did play brothels (as well as other venues), and Al Capone ran some of the most popular clubs in Chicago. Even if Williams himself didn’t deal directly with that milieu, he knew everyone in the music industry and must have had some experience.  If it seems funny to hear these old-time musicians singing about prostitutes, transvestites and cheap, careless carnality, that’s the past laughing at our naïveté, not the other way around.

The Always Immaculately Dressed Debauchery of John Held Jr.

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4 thoughts on “Those Smutty Lyrics of Yestercentury

  1. jazzlives says:

    I’ve never been so offended in my life. How can you put such filth in a public place where the youth of America can see it? I am going to report this “blogpost,” whatever that means, to the Legion of Decency, the WCTU, and my representative in Congress. You’ll be sorry, you scamp!

    • M. Figg says:

      It’s not my fault, I was corrupted by those exotic rhythms and promises of a way out of my humdrum, bourgeois existence! This music is a threat to our whole order!

  2. Not _enough_ of a threat….

    • M. Figg says:

      No, unfortunately it’s not, Steve. With all the sex, gangsters, substance abuse and booty-shaking beats, this music should be like catnip to youngsters, er, I mean, young people, oops I mean KIDS, kids, catnip to the kids…

      Thanks as always for reading, Steve!

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