Archive for October 25th, 2012

Picking up on all kinds of strangers
If the price is right
You can’t score if you’re pocket’s tight
But you want a good time.
  –  Donna Summer, “Bad Girls”

For the third year in a row on this date, I present a column featuring the lyrics (and this time, videos) of songs about whores.  Whenever I do one of these I like to present as wide a variety of types as possible, and this time is no exception:  Here are songs about a thieving Liverpool streetwalker, a “hooker with a heart of gold” and an irresistible black call girl, but we’ll start out with one suggested by reader B.B. Wye, whose work has appeared in a previous song column.

The Magdalene Laundries (Joni Mitchell)

I was an unmarried girl
I’d just turned twenty-seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men looked at me
Branded as a jezebel
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I’d be cast in shame
Into the Magdalene laundries

Most girls come here pregnant
Some by their own fathers
Bridget got that belly
By her parish priest
We’re trying to get things white as snow
All of us woe-begotten-daughters
In the steaming stains
Of the Magdalene laundries

Prostitutes and destitutes
And temptresses like me–
Fallen women–
Sentenced into dreamless drudgery…
Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?
Oh charity!

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their groom
Then they’d know, and they’d drop those stones
Concealed behind their rosaries
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room
They’d like to drive us down the drain
At the Magdalene laundries

Peg O’Connell died today
She was a cheeky girl, a flirt
They just stuffed her in a hole!
Surely to God you’d think at least some bells should ring!
One day I’m going to die here, too
And they’ll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms come any spring
Not any spring
No, not any spring
Not any spring

As I discussed in “Dirty Laundry”, the Magdalene Laundries started out as asylums for “repentant” prostitutes, but quickly devolved into nothing more than prisons and, as depicted in this song, were eventually used to incarcerate any girl who somehow embarrassed her family or the “authorities”.

Our next selection was written in 1925, and has changed in two major ways since then.  First the two verses, containing lyrics specifically describing Georgia as “colored”, largely vanished within ten years and left only the far catchier double chorus.  Next, the rest of the lyrics (which were never exactly graphic or obvious to start with) were modified depending upon the singer’s level of prudishness.  The video below is the Ella Fitzgerald version, which cuts out the verses but leaves the choral lyrics intact and adds a few lines near the end to demonstrate just how successful Georgia is in her trade.

Sweet Georgia Brown (Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey)

She just got here yesterday,
Things are hot here now they say,
There’s a big change in town.
Gals are jealous, there’s no doubt,
Still the fellers rave about,
Sweet, sweet Georgia Brown;
And ever since she came
The colored folks all claim, say:

No gal made has got a shade on sweet Georgia Brown;
Two left feet but oh so neat has sweet Georgia Brown;
They all sigh and wanna die for sweet Georgia Brown;
I’ll tell you just why,
You know I don’t lie,
Not much!

It’s been said she knocks ‘em dead when she lands in town;
Since she came, why it’s a shame how she cools ‘em down;
Fellers she can’t get are fellers she ain’t met;
Georgia named her, Georgia claimed her,
Sweet Georgia Brown!

Brownskin gals you’ll get the blues,
Brownskin pals you’ll surely lose,
And there’s but one excuse.
Now I’ve told you who she was,
And I’ve told you what she does,
Hand this gal her dues,
This colored maiden’s prayer
Is answered anywhere, say:

No gal made has got a shade on sweet Georgia Brown;
Two left feet but oh so neat has sweet Georgia Brown;
They all sigh and wanna die for sweet Georgia Brown;
I’ll tell you just why,
You know I don’t lie,
Not much!

All those tips the porter slips to sweet Georgia Brown;
They buy clothes at fashion shows with one dollar down;
Oh boy, tip your hats; oh joy, she’s the “cat’s”,
Who’s that Mister?  ‘T’ain’t her sister,
Sweet Georgia Brown!

Our next song was one of the most popular of 1931, and became Cab Calloway’s signature tune (performed regularly until his death in 1994).  Prudes who believe that music has become “dirtier” would do well to consider this song, whose heroine falls in love with a cokehead who leads her into opium use, then runs off with her bail money after she’s arrested in a raid of the opium den.  Though he generally played the whole song in live performances, most recorded versions stop at the end of Minnie’s opium dream.  Calloway was one of the masters of scat singing, and though the chorus featured the famous “Hi-dee hi-dee hidey ho” line he often varied it or embroidered upon it.  The video I’ve chosen is actually a Betty Boop cartoon, but the dancing walrus is actually a rotoscoped Calloway.

Minnie the Moocher (Cab Calloway)

Folks, here’s a story ’bout Minnie the Moocher;
She was a red hot hoochie-koocher.
She was the roughest, toughest frail,
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.

(Scat chorus)

She messed around with a bloke named Smoky;
She loved him though he was cokey.
He took her down to Chinatown
He showed her how to kick the gong around.

(Scat chorus)

She had a dream that the King of Sweden,
He gave her things that she was needin’,
He built her a house of gold and steel
A diamond car with platinum wheels!

(Scat chorus)

He gave her his townhouse and his racing horses,
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses.
She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes,
She sat around and counted them all a million times.

(Scat chorus)

Now Min and Smoky, they started jaggin’;
They got a free ride in a wagon.
She gave him money to pay her bail,
But he left her flat in the county jail.

(Scat chorus)

Poor Min met old Deacon Lowdown,
He preached to her that she ought to slow down,
But Minnie wiggled her jelly roll,
And Deacon Lowdown yelled, “Lord save my soul!”

(Scat chorus)

They took her where they put the crazies;
Now poor Min’s kicking up those daisies.
You’ve heard my story, this is her song;
She was just a good gal, but they done her wrong.

(Scat chorus)

Poor Min, Poor Min, Poor Min.

Our last selection today is an early 19th-century sea chanty about a streetwalker who robs a sailor; Lime Street is a traditional Liverpool waterfront stroll.  The Beatles often performed the song in their early concerts, and a short performance of the first verse (and a little of the second) appears on Let It Be.

Maggie May (traditional)

Oh dirty Maggie May, they have taken her away
And she’ll never walk down Lime Street any more.
Well the judge he guilty found her,
For robbing a homeward-bounder,
That dirty no good robbin’ Maggie May.

Now I was paid off at the Pool, in the port of Liverpool.
Well three pound ten a week that was my pay.
With a pocket full of tin
I was very soon taken in,
By a gal with the name of Maggie May.

Now the first time I saw Maggie she took my breath away,
She was cruisin up and down in Canning Place.
She had a figure so divine,
Her voice was so refined,
Well being a sailor I gave chase.

Now in the morning I awoke, I was flat and stony broke.
No jacket, trousers, waistcoat did I find.
Oh and when I asked her “where?”
She said “My very dear sir
They’re down in Kelly’s pawnshop number nine”.

To the pawnshop I did go, no clothes there did I find,
And the p’lice they took that gal away from me.
And the judge he guilty found her,
Of robbin’ a homeward-bounder,
She’ll never walk down Lime Street anymore.

Oh dirty Maggie May, they have taken her away
And she’ll never walk down Lime Street anymore.
Well the judge he guilty found her,
For robbin’ a homeward-bounder,
That dirty no good robbin’ Maggie May.

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