When it comes to art of the “hidden meaning”, songwriters can be the ultimate puppet masters. It’s not uncommon to go through an artist’s entire discography, love most of their work, but remain oblivious to the underlining themes in their music.
Upon the announcement of their reformation, I started revisiting their music and made a pretty shocking discovery: An Arab Strap is actually a cock ring. To be more specific, this particular cock ring also acts as a harness and is often used in the BDSM community. I never knew that!
Originally, I thought it was just a pretty cool band name. Thinking back, a lot of the subject matter in their music was loosely veiled in sexual allusions, dirty slang, and other innuendos that flew right under the radar. This tends to happen a lot when I revisit older music. I remember the first time my friend played Steely Dan for me. It wasn’t until I got into William S. Burroughs that I realized they were named after the high-powered dildo mentioned in his 1959 novel Naked Lunch, another connection I didn’t make until much later.
It made me wonder how far back in history musicians began using dirty references in their songs and where they drew the line in terms of subtlety. It seems like the art of innuendo and sexual allusions goes all the way back to the 1920s. The timeline below doesn’t get into all the different ways musicians slide filthy things into their songs, but these examples are just some of many that prove just how weird, freaky, and sneaky songwriting can be.
Hokum is a style of American blues that uses euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos. Considering the time in history, it goes without saying that a large amount of the subject matter was deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and sexism.
The songs that came from this highly problematic era had song titles that were the furthest thing from subtle. In fact, a lot of the titles got right to the point and lyrics often did too.
Legends like Bo Carter had song titles like “Please Warm My Weiner”, a song that didn’t exactly scream “dinner and a movie” romance and is quite creepy in its delivery. It’s very likely that hearing this song, you’ll never look at an Oscar Meyer weiner the same way again.
Self-taught jazz pianist Sweet Emma might’ve been one of the first women to write songs letting men know they don’t give it up so easily. With today’s female pop artists writing songs about owning sex, womanhood, and the power of their lady parts, a song like Sweet Emma’s classic “I Aint Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll” feels like it could’ve been the precursor to R&B/Pop gems like Ciara’s “Goodies” or Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle”, two jams that let dudes know they had to work for it.
Also, the jellyroll reference is pretty good. Who eats jellyrolls these days?
Other Hokum blues artists stayed true to the style of short songs with very strange song titles. Food metaphors weren’t officially a thing yet (we’ll get to that in a minute), but artists began using food as a euphemism for sex acts quite a bit during that time.
Memphis Minnie – “I’m Selling My Pork Chops (But I’m Giving My Gravy Away)” (1925)
Clara Smith – “Aint Got Nobody To Grind My Coffee” (1928)
Sippie Thomas – “I’m A Mighty Tight Woman” (1929)
Are You Gonna “Eat” That?
Food metaphors have always been a great way to make a sexual song without being super provocative (depending on the song of course). If the pop sensibilities and imagery matches up, it usually results in a hit record or a bad song that’s funny to sing at karaoke.
Nina Simone – “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl” (1967)
Nina knew how to be sexy and soulful, still leaving a bit to the imagination. Probably one of her best qualities, aside from being one of the greatest singers ever.
The Beatles – “Savoy Truffle” (1976)
The guitar riffs on this jam are pretty tasty. The Beatles talk about every dessert under the sun, without really alluding to the nitty gritty.
Cameo – “Candy” (1986)
Cameo were a funky bunch of dudes who made R&B smooth as peanut butter. “Candy” was that archetypal swoon single that got the girls crushing on boy bands. The video is pretty magical and the saxophone parts midway through the track are more delicious than a bag of sour peaches from 7/11.
Fun fact: Mariah Carey has a sexy track called “Loverboy” featuring Cameo, Ludacris, Da Brat, and Luda’s protege, Chicago rapper Shawna. It’s the lead single from her movie Glitter, which wasn’t very good or sexy.
Cibo Matto – “Artichoke” (1996)
Viva La Woman was a classic album, but with song titles like “Apple”, “Beef Jerky”, and “Birthday Cake”, it’s hard to tell whether this Japanese duo was horny or just really hungry. It’s safe to say that with lyrics like “can you peel my petals one by one”, this particular song is definitely about getting it on.
Kelis – “Milkshake” (2003)
This is the lead single from Kelis’s album Tasty, a record partly about her wild sexual adventures with then husband Nas. What more is there to say? Also, this song was the best in high school.
Location, Location, Location!
Sometimes it’s all about setting the mood or having a great place to have sex. Maybe both? These songs aren’t really hiding anything. It’s less about the sexual allusion and more about the crazy places, matched with weirdo lyrics that make these songs so special.
Sammy Johns – “Chevy Van” (1973)
Making love in a Chevy Van sounds like a bad idea waiting to happen, even though this soft-rock jam seems to hit all the right chords. Although it’s a good song, there’s an undeniable creep factor going on here, and car sex is weird enough as it is. All that aside, this jam did put Chevrolet vans and dudes writing about picking girls up in them on the map, so we all know what to watch out for.
Kylmaxx – “Meeting In The Ladies Room” (1985)
This song encourages man stealing, looking cute for said man snatch and bathroom sex with the man you’ve snatched, all at the same time. It doesn’t get any wilder than that. Not by a long shot.
Fergie – “London Bridge” (2006)
Couldn’t see this going over too well right now, but Fergie owned this jam back in the mid 2000s.
Because sometimes sex might feel like a thing in your closet, your dad’s garage, or a midnight sky.
Prince & The Revolution – “Raspberry Beret” (1985)
You don’t need clothes to have a good time with Prince, just a cute beret.
Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer” (1986)
The thought of a sledgehammer involved in sex doesn’t feel right, but this song definitely does.
Games ft. Laurel Halo – “Strawberry Skies” (2010)
It’s not a far stretch to believe that when “Cindy” finally calls back, things are gonna get sexy. But hey, who knows? Maybe they’re just friends…