Thursday, February 17, 2011

The "F" word in pop songs (1966 -1978)




Just over fifty years ago (1965), theatre and film critic, Kenneth Tynan, a well respected if not rather cynical reviewer, was invited to partake in a debate in the BBC's late-night satirical show BBC-3. He was asked to comment on whether he would allow a play to be staged in which sexual intercourse was represented on the stage. Tynan replied , “Well, I think so, certainly. I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word 'fuck' would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden. I think that anything which can be printed or said can also be seen." This was the first time the word "fuck" had been spoken on British television and for a time it made him the most notorious man in the country.

Billy Connolly later commemorate this event in his song "A Four-Letter Word".



Tynan campaigned tirelessly to break down linguistic inhibitions on the stage and in print. He had previously managed to get ‘fuck’ into an Observer article about the Lady Chatterley Trial in 1960. A decade after the "angry young men" of British literature, the critic’s utterance had Parliamentarians and censorship advocates up in arms. Later Tynan wrote an erotic revue called Oh! Calcutta! which debuted in 1969 and became one of the most successful theatre hits of all time.

Until this time the “F” word had not featured in recordings and certainly not pop songs. But this was the 60s and soon all that changed. During the recording session which produced the The Troggs hit ‘With a girl like you’ in 1966. Unbeknown to the band an unknown sound engineer caught an in-studio argument between the Troggs which later appeared as a bootleg known as "The Troggs Tapes." Many believe the dialogue was the inspiration for the movie This Is Spinal Tap. The band members' vocabulary barely extends beyond repeated usages of "fuck," and the behind the scenes attempt at actual music is hilarious in its demonstration of just how musically incompetent the Troggs actually were.



In 1967, Country Joe and the Fish, released an album called I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die. It was the group’s second album. The title track remains one of the most popular Vietnam protest songs from the 1960s. The group used “The F-i-s-h Cheer” at concerts but when they appeared at Woodstock, Country Joe had the crowd yell F-U-C-K instead of F-I-S-H.



Ray Davies wrote Apeman as a protest song against polution and the modern world. The Kinks caused some controversy in 1970 because in the line "...the air pollution is a-foggin' up my eyes...", the word "a-foggin'" sounds too much like "a-fuckin'", they had to re-record it prior to its single release. The original lyric remains intact on the album.



In the same year John Lennon released Working Class Hero on his first post-Beatles solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Working class hero is as also a protest song decrying the class system and how working class individuals are being processed into the middle classes. John plays acoustic guitar with basic progression of chords as his backing. The lyrics include "But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." The song was banned from many radio stations and in Australia, the album was released with the expletive removed from the song and the lyrics censored on the inner sleeve.



In 1977 Ian Dury and the Blockheads released the New Boots and Panties album in the UK. The album did not enter the top of the British charts but it did go platinum. The album includes "Plaistow Patricia," with the wonderful introduction “Arse holes, bastards, fuck’en cunts and pricks.”




The Who were never far from controversy and in 1978 recorded “Who are you,”
Which included the line, "Who the f**k are you?" Who Are You was the eighth studio album and peaked at number 2 on the U.S. charts and number 6 on the U.K. charts. It is The Who's last album with Keith Moon as the drummer.

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