I want you to remember the names Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – it’ll be on the test later.
Music (and social) history time. In 1962 Peggy Lee released the song “I am a woman“. You might recognize it if you heard it, it’s the one that goes “I am a woman! W-O-M-A-N!” It’s been called the greatest girl-power song of all time, and it was often used as the anthem of second wave feminism.
But there’s a slight problem. It was written by two dudes. Said two dudes originally wrote it, and the original performer was actually Christine Kittrell. And the reason they wrote it for her? Because she was overweight. No really.
So all of a sudden the song is less… powerful, I think would be the right word? Well hold onto your butts because it gets better.
Let’s look at the LYRICS, yeah?
I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have ’em hanging out on the line
I can starch & iron 2 dozens shirts ‘fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippings can
Throw it in the skillet, go out & do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
The song is basically a list of chores.
So who wrote it? Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – told you it was on the test.
These two were EVERYWHERE in the 50s and 60s. They wrote a LOT of songs. Especially for Elvis.
Another example of their writing making the song a bit twisted is “Hound Dog“. Like most of Elvis’ hit songs, it wasn’t actually written by him, or even FOR him. It was originally a blues hit sung by Big Mama Thornton, and again, it was inspired by the singer’s weight (and also the fear of her). Thornton’s audience, knew that “Hound Dog” was actually code for “m**********r”. The song is effectively her kicking a gigolo out of her home. Elvis thought it was a silly nonsense song, which says a lot about Elvis’ hearing and awareness.
To reiterate, “Hound dog” is the lament of a white dude imagining he’s a black woman sick of being taken advantage of by men and throwing a gigolo out on his butt. Yeesh.
So why bring this up at all? Partly because I’m trapped in my home thanks to the ice storm, partly because this is more interesting than the story behind Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” even if it’s more topical, partly to plug my show “Musical Spiderweb” which airs on Wednesdays over on AIR, and partly because this sort of thing is fascinating to me, and I hope that at least ONE of you out there is just as fascinated.
Thanks for reading, dear listeners. I’ll talk to you next time.