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Archive for September 4th, 2010

See the girls with the dresses so tight
Give you love if the price is right.
  –  Aldo Nova, “Fantasy”

Given the strange love/hate relationship Western culture has with our profession, it only stands to reason that there should be quite a number of songs about whores.  Working girls of one type or another are at least mentioned in innumerable lyrics, but what I want to talk about today and tomorrow are songs which are directly about prostitutes.  To be sure the cultural obsession with streetwalkers means that they are mentioned more often than other sorts, but we’ll also see a call girl, a tavern wench, a Belgian doxy, brothel girls, officially-employed camp followers, and two who may not be what they seem to be.  In most of these cases I was able to locate a Youtube video of the song, which can be accessed by clicking on its title.  Since most songwriters are male, most of these songs are of course from the male point of view; we’ll start with the two exceptions in observance of the “ladies first” principle.

Fancy (Bobbie Gentry)

Well, I remember it all very well lookin’ back
It was the summer I turned eighteen.
We lived in a one-room, run-down shack
On the outskirts of New Orleans.

We didn’t have money for food or rent
To say the least we was hard-pressed
When Momma spent every last penny we had
To buy me a dancin’ dress.

Well, Momma washed and combed and curled my hair,
Then she painted my eyes and lips.
Then I stepped into the satin dancin’ dress.
It had a split in the side clean up to my hips.

It was red, velvet-trimmed, and it fit me good
And starin’ back from the lookin’ glass
Was a woman where a half grown kid had stood.
She said,

(refrain) “Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down!
Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.
God forgive me for what I do,
But if you want out girl it’s up to you.
Now get on out, you better start sleepin’ uptown.”

Momma dabbed a little bit of perfume
On my neck and she kissed my cheek
Then I saw the tears welling up
In her troubled eyes as she started to speak

She looked at our pitiful shack and then
She looked at me and took a ragged breath
She said, “Your Pa’s runned off, and I’m real sick
and the baby’s gonna starve to death.”

She handed me a heart-shaped locket that said
“To thine own self be true”
And I shivered as I watched a roach crawl across
The toe of my high-heeled shoe.

It sounded like somebody else was talkin’
Askin’, “Momma what do I do?”
She said, “Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy.
They’ll be nice to you.”

(refrain)

That was the last time I saw my momma
When I left that rickety shack
The welfare people came and took the baby.
Momma died and I ain’t been back.

But the wheels of fate had started to turn
And for me there was no other way out.
It wasn’t very long after that I knew exactly
What my momma was talkin’ ’bout.

I did what I had to do.
But I made myself this solemn vow:
I’s gonna to be a lady someday
Though I didn’t know when or how.

But I couldn’t see spendin’ the rest of my life
With my head hung down in shame.
You know I mighta been born just plain white trash.
But Fancy was my name.

(refrain)

Wasn’t long after that a benevolent man
Took me in off the streets
One week later I was pourin’ his tea
In a five roomed penthouse suite.

Since then I’ve charmed a king, a congressman
And an occasional aristocrat
And I got me an elegant Georgia mansion
And a New York townhouse flat.

Now I ain’t done bad

Now in this world there’s a lot of self-righteous
Hypocrites who call me bad.
They criticize Momma for turning me out
No matter how little we had.

But I haven’t had to worry ’bout nothin’
Now for nigh on fifteen years
But I can still hear the desperation
In my poor mommas voice ringin’ in my ears.

(refrain)

There was nobody who could tell a story like Bobbie Gentry; she drew on her Mississippi roots to evoke slices of life whose essential truth was both profound and undeniable.  Her best-known song was the enigmatic “Ode To Billie Joe”, but “Fancy” is no less powerful.  Gentry has stated in interviews that she considers the song a feminist statement; as I pointed out in my column of August 9th, feminists of the late ‘60s recognized that sexual freedom, including the right of a woman to live by prostitution if she chooses, is an important concern of feminism.  Country star Reba McEntire apparently agrees, because she recorded a cover of the song in 1991.

The character Fancy has no shame about her profession, which is more than can be said for Aldonza, the kitchen-maid and whore in Man of La Mancha, as demonstrated in her song below:

It’s All the Same (Joe Darion)

One pair of arms is like another
I don’t know why or who’s to blame,
I’ll go with you or with your brother
It’s all the same, it’s all the same.
This I have learned:
That when the light’s out,
No man will burn with special flame,
You’ll prove to me before the night’s out,
You’re all the same, you’re all the same.

So do not talk to me of love,
I’m not a fool with starry eyes,
Just put your money in my hand,
And you will get what money buys!
When I am dead, no man will miss me
For life’s a cruel and dirty game,
So you can curse or you can kiss me
It’s all the same, it’s all the same.

Oh, I have seen too many beds,
But I have known too little rest,
And I have loved too many men
With hatred burning in my breast.
I do not like you or your brother,
I do not like the life I live,
But I am me, I am Aldonza.
And what I give, I choose to give.
One pair of arms is like another
It’s all the same, it’s all the same!

I find it very interesting that while the miserable and degraded Aldonza was created by male writers, the proud and unrepentant Fancy was created by a female writer.  So were the well-adjusted ladies of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a musical starring Dolly Parton which is based on the true story of a Texas brothel named the Chicken Ranch which was tolerated by local authorities for decades until a “crusading” reporter from Houston exposed the arrangement in order to make a name for himself.  The singer of the song below is the character Melvin P. Thorp, the fictional version of the ambitious reporter.

Texas Has A Whorehouse In It  (Carol Hall)

(Chorus lyrics in parentheses)

(Watch dog will get you if you don’t watch out
Watch dog sees and watch dog knows.
Watch keeps us on our toes
Watch dog assures you that the laws the law
No exception to the rule, watch dog ain’t no fool.)

(Watch dog protects you, he’s out on the prowl.
Guards and checks the best he can,
Watch dog is a fighting man.
Watch dog will throw his beam of light around
If folks don’t toe the line, watch dog’s light will shine.)

Texas has a whorehouse in it. (Lord have mercy on our souls.)
Texas has a whorehouse in it. (Lord have mercy on our souls.)
I’ll expose the facts although it fills me with disgust
Please excuse the filthy dark details, and carnal lust.
(Filthy dark details, and carnal lust.)

Dancing going on inside it, don’t you see they gone plum wild
I inquired no one denied it, now I think I’m getting riled
Bodies close together, arms and legs all rearranged.
And the sheriff does not close them down; that’s very strange.
(Does not close him down, that’s very strange.)

Mean-eyed juiced-up brilliantine honky-tonk cowboys. (Oh no)
Mixing with green-eyed thin-lipped hard-as-nails peroxide blonds. (Oh no)
Not to mention some types, that you’d never guess would venture near.
Actin’ all depraved and loose and wild, ninety miles from here.

(spoken) And now our own Melvin P Thorp Singers.

(Texas has a whorehouse in it) I’ll not let this scandal fade
(Texas has a whorehouse in it) All uprooting, our crusade.
I can smell corruption, and I’ll fight it to the top.
(Loveless copulation going on), and it must stop!

(Stop this copulation) Stop that copulation
(Loveless copulation) Stop that copulation

(Texas has a whorehouse in it.
Lord have mercy on our souls.
Texas has a whorehouse in it.
Lord have mercy on our souls.
Watch dog smell corruption and will fight it to the top.
Loveless copulation going on, going on,
Going on, going on, going on, going on.)

(Spoken) Don’t touch that dial; this is Melvin P Thorp saying I’ll be back, with new and revealing information about this and other cases.
Watch dog never sleeps.

(And it must stop.
Watch dog going to get you
Going to shine his light on you
Watch dog going to get you
Going to shine his light on you.)

Tomorrow we’ll see another song in which Southern whores are portrayed in a positive light, two about men who just don’t get it, and two very different songs about two very different kinds of harlots from the late Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel.

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