Archive for October 25th, 2011

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there.
  –  Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

One year ago today I published my second column featuring songs about whores, and after it and my other columns on the subject (September 4th, 2010 and 2011 and September 5th, 2010) a number of readers named their own favorite songs on the subject.  So today I’d like to feature those songs, picked by you; interestingly, each song is about a different type of prostitute.  We’ll start out with what has to be the most famous song about a Creole streetwalker ever, suggested by Sailor Barsoom:

Lady Marmalade (Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan)

Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister
Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister

He met Marmalade down in Old New Orleans
Struttin’ her stuff on the street
She said “Hello, hey Joe,
You wanna give it a go?”

(refrain)Mmm Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Here
Mocha chocolata Ya Ya
Creole Lady Marmalade
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

He savored her cool while she freshened up
That boy drank all that Magnolia wine
On the black satin sheets where
He started to freak


Seeing her skin feeling silky smooth
Color of cafe au lait
Made the savage beast inside
Roaring till it cried, “More, More, More!”

Now he’s at home doing 9 to 5
Living his brave life of lies
But when he turns off to sleep
All memories creep more, more, more

(refrain x 2)

The best and best-known version was the second one, a hit for Patti Labelle’s self-named girl group in 1974.  It was produced by the legendary Allan Toussaint and the backing band is The Meters, whom regular readers may remember from my column “They All Axed for You”.

Our next selection describes an underage prostitute in London, and was suggested by Comixchik:

Cross-Eyed Mary (Ian Anderson)

Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief —
If he had a rich man in his hand?
And who would steal the candy from a laughing baby’s mouth
If he could take it from the money man?

Cross-eyed Mary goes jumping in again.
She signs no contract but she always plays the game.
Dines in Hampstead village on expense accounted gruel,
And the jack-knife barber drops her off at school.

Laughing in the playground — gets no kicks from little boys:
Would rather make it with a letching grey.
Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung,
Who watches through the railings as they play.

Cross-eyed Mary finds it hard to get along.
She’s a poor man’s rich girl and she’ll do it for a song.
She’s a rich man stealer but her favour’s good and strong:
She’s the Robin Hood of Highgate — helps the poor man get along.

(repeat third verse)

(repeat second verse)

The lyrics are a bit vague, but we can tell a few things for certain about Mary:  she’s no runaway because she goes to school, and she’s clearly independent (despite internet commenters who imagine they see a pimp somewhere in there).  She doesn’t charge very much, doesn’t use protection (“jack-knife barber” = back-alley abortionist) and seems to be in “the game” more for the kicks rather than for the money.  It has been suggested that the name “Mary” is specifically meant to be a reference to the Madonna because several of the songs on the Aqualung album are critical of organized religion, but Anderson insists that it is not a concept album despite being widely regarded as one.

A different type of urban hooker appears in our next song, suggested by Dean Clark:

Hey, Big Spender (Dorothy Fields)

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could see you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender,
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point,
I don’t pop my cork for ev’ry guy I see.
Hey, big spender, spend…
A little time with me!

Do you wanna have fun…?
How’s about a few laughs…?
I can show you a…good time…
Do you wanna have fun…fun…fun?
How’s about a few laughs…laughs?
I can show you a…good time…
Let me show you a…good time
Hey, big spender…
Hey, big spender…

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could see you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender.
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point,
I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see.
Hey, big spender,
Hey, big spender!
Hey, big spender!
Spend…a little time with me…!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
Fun…Laughs…Good Time!
[spoken] Hows about it, Palsy?…Yeah!

As in “Private Dancer” (discussed in my last song column), this song and the musical in which it appears (Sweet Charity) use taxi dancing as a metaphor for prostitution and the dance hall as a metaphor for the brothel; indeed, the musical is based on Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), in which the heroine is openly portrayed as a prostitute.

The ladies in our first three songs, and indeed in most songs about whores, are urban.  But the subject of our next selection, suggested by Rapid and Dr. Sarah on two different columns, lived in a small rural town:

The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (Dallas Frazier)

(refrain)  Oh, the path was deep and wide
From footsteps leading to our cabin
Above the door there burned a scarlet lamp
And late at night a hand would knock
And there would stand a stranger
Yes, I’m the son of Hickory Holler’s tramp

Yeah, the weeds were high, the corn was dry
When Daddy took to drinking
Him and Sally Walker, they up and ran away
Then Momma shed a silent tear
And promised fourteen children
I swear you’ll never see a hungry day

When Momma sacrificed her pride
The neighbors started talking
But we were much too young
To understand the things they said
All we really cared about
Was Momma’s chicken dumplings
And a goodnight kiss
Before we went to bed


When Daddy left and destitution
Came upon our family
Not one neighbor volunteered
To lend a helping hand
So just let ‘em gossip all they want
She loved us, and she raised us
The proof is standing here
A full grown man

Last summer Momma passed away
And left the ones who loved her
Each and every one is
More than grateful for their birth
And each Sunday she receives
A big bouquet of fourteen roses
With a card that reads
The Greatest Mom on Earth


The song was a hit for O.C. Smith in 1968, and was covered by Kenny Rogers in 1977; it’s one of a small group of whore songs which are not only positive, but defiantly so, asserting that the harlot is morally superior to those who would judge her.  Our last selection, suggested by Ornithorhynchus, falls into that category as well; it is not about any specific type of prostitute but rather about all of us as a group:

Sweet Cream Ladies (Jon Stroll and Bobby Weinstein)

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
The world owes you a living
Sweet cream ladies, do your part
Think of what you’re giving

To the lost and lonely people of the night
Out of need, they seek direction for their life
They will love you in the darkness
Take advantage of your starkness
And refuse to recognize you in the light

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
Think what you’re providing
Sweet cream ladies, show your starch
What’s the use of hiding?

Tell the socialites to look the other way
It’s instinctive stimulation you convey
It’s a necessary function
Meant for those without compunction
Who get tired of vanilla everyday

Sweet cream ladies, forward march
Puritans ignore them
Sweet cream ladies do their part
Sweet cream men adore them

Let them satisfy the ego of the male
Let them fabricate success to those who fail
And should penalties pursue them
When there’s really credit due them
They might keep a simple fellow out of jail

Sweet cream ladies forward march
Sweet cream ladies forward march
Sweet cream ladies forward march…

I had never heard of this 1968 Box Tops hit before, so I’m really glad it was called to my attention; I think it may be the only song which goes beyond a positive portrayal of one prostitute or a sort of accepting tolerance of our whole profession to declare that we serve a vital social function and should be proud of ourselves.

Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions!

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