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What makes a good bawdy lyric ?

30 Jun 01 - 10:58 PM (#495687)
Subject: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: paddymac

Bawdy songs are an enduring part of the musical scene the world over, presumptively because they usually speak to themes common to the human condition. But not all bawdy song lyrics seem well-received by audiences. Some are just too crass, and might better be thought of as "shock shlock." Others seem so subtle as to be obtuse, and the audience has to work too hard to appreciate it. I do appreciate that much of the performance aspect is picking material that reaches commonalities within a given audience. That selection process is an art form in itself.

I've been playing with bawdy lyrics of late as poetry, presenting them as a poetic art in appropriate venues. I've noticed that the best laughs seem to come from material wherein I use a nonsense sound, such as "phwet, spwit", etc., in lieu of the expected "dirty" word set up by the apparent rhyming scheme. Maybe it just that younger audiences are so accustomed to the "shock shlock" that anything that avoids the shock factor strikes them as funny because of the avoidance.

Anyhow, it's all gotten me to thinking about just what it is that makes a bawdy lyric fun for an audience. I'd like to hear the ideas of other 'Catters.

30 Jun 01 - 11:00 PM (#495689)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: paddymac

Sorry. I accidently "prefixed" this as Lyr Req, when it obviously should be BS.

--- Changed it. ---
---Jeff (PA)---

01 Jul 01 - 12:08 AM (#495714)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Anglo

I've always preferred the humor to come from the situation, rather than simply inserting expletives, which is what some (famous) singers do, at least IMHO. Years ago I was at a folk festival in a "Dirty Songs" workshop. My partner and I indicated that we preferred it to be a "Bawdy Songs" workshop, and gave them an example of a dirty song to illustrate our point. The audience was on our side.

01 Jul 01 - 12:22 AM (#495721)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Bert

I must admit that I tend to prefer the less crude ones.

Such as Threshing Machine, Nobby Hall and Cockoo's Nest. Although I do sing a version of Cathewsalem which is a bit more raunchy.

01 Jul 01 - 12:46 AM (#495731)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Abby Sale

I think you've already put your finger on it in your assumption - a bawdy song is a funny song by definition. That's the point. No matter how extreme, if a song is funny it works, if it doesn't at least try then it's prurient without redemption - that's pornography, not bawdry.

But I much disagree in the other issues. No matter how extreme, how strong the language or adult the situations, the song will work if it's funny and just a good song for the usual reasons - tune, narrative value, etc. If a particular audience gets hung up on a strong word or two and loses track of of the text then it was wrong for that particular audience.

I strongly disagree with repeated reliance on substitute words - some songs are famous for it and they are the point of the song. But habitual use of this device turns to snideness - juvenile smuttiness - cheap laughs. The laugh is a forced one and, itself, detracts from the theme or story of the song. You might as well Bowdlerize (or Brandize) the songs in the first place.

I think if the audience is adult and you have the courage to present the song as a legit piece of art or story or humor then there are a huge number (maybe 15% of all songs) of bawdy songs well worth singing. As to "shock shlock," I'm not sure how you mean it in this context. I'd agree that just "naughty" words stuck arbitrarily in an otherwise non-bawdy song is pointless. But among the unashamed, non-double entendre songs, well, it would just be a shame to PC them down to emasculation.

Well, that's my opinion.

01 Jul 01 - 05:04 AM (#495793)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Mr Red

Bawdy avoids the squirmy words and uses euphemisms, or telegraphs the rhyme and them substitutes. It's like wearing clothes, just about everyone does and we all know whats underneath but we don't like to see it all the time. But a hint of it ..........
Crude uses THE words
but if it were that simple I'd be rich
the audience make a good bawdy song, and unmake it.
It depends on the songs before and after, the weather (ozone make people agressive) and probably the world news that night.
"context" is the word I am struggling for.
Well that's my %, I find my risque songs can bomb even without known factors to cause it.

01 Jul 01 - 07:08 AM (#495816)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: paddymac

Thanks, Jeff(PA), for fixing the modifier, and thanks to all for sharing your thoughts.

01 Jul 01 - 08:27 AM (#495823)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Midchuck

Many, many years ago, when "they" were much more restrictive of what you could get away with in print, I bought a couple of pamphlets of dirty limericks that someone had printed for private sale. They had all the ones that I later realized were the classics, among others.

What the compiler had done, was delete all the standard dirty words for body parts, products, and functions, and put "noun" or "verb" in their place.

The good dirty limericks were still funny in spite of this having been done to them. The ones that just depended on shock value became meaningless. That may be one good test of a good bawdy song in general.


01 Jul 01 - 09:11 AM (#495832)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Charley Noble

Most of these songs, if not all, were intended to be song while drinking and thus were capable of provoking more uninhibated laughter than in a concert setting before a congregation of PLURAL NOUN (substitute your favorite uptight PC group). On sober reflection, the morning or afternoon after, fewer of these songs would provoke mirth. The exception, of course, would be the ballad of "Anthony Clare."

01 Jul 01 - 10:36 AM (#495871)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: dick greenhaus

Innaresting. Ed Cray (author of The Erotic Muse) defines a "bawdy" song as one containing the "dirty" words; I've come to define it as one in which the primary content of the song is sexual (or scatalogical) regardless of the language employed. We've had some arguments about this. Others seem to define "bawdy" as contrasted to "dirty"--with the no-no words deleted.

It's hard to discuss the subject of bawdy songs--one that's well worth discussing--without defining terms.

01 Jul 01 - 01:48 PM (#495920)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Liz the Squeak

Funny inuedno, obvious rhymes that are substituted and not actually saying the rude words. The better limericks work that way....

One of my favourite naughty songs is by Jehosophat and Jones (The Two Ronnies) which has lines like:(this is an approximation, CRS has set in...)

Down in the hollow where the firefly flickers, see the girls swimming without no hesitation....

Has me in hysterics, but then most things do.....

Another is called 'we knew what she meant' which relies on inuendo. Lady goes into a department store and asks the attendant 'I need some material to make a new belt, perhaps you can tell me where I can get felt'.

Go for delicate rather than obvious and you'll find that most people will actually listen rather than just shout the rude bits out.


01 Jul 01 - 02:10 PM (#495930)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Abby Sale

Others seem to define "bawdy" as contrasted to "dirty"--with the no-no words deleted. Of course the meaning is broad and has varried much (see Bawdy defts.) I have a feeling this results from the degeneration of the genre in Oscar Brand terming his material as "bawdy." Since many people have only this as a standard (without realizing how extensively Brand bowdlerized his songs) the definition moderated.

I'd tend to agree that the main purpose of the song would be sexual (or scatalogical - or some other "taboo" area) but add the Humerous proviso. Cray includes many mild and non-taboo, double-entendre songs in Muse so I don't think he's all that strict in his definition. Elsewhere he assumes (without specifically stating) that all bawdy songs are humorous. It is this, he says, that prevents them from being salacious - "you simply cannot be tittilated while laughing."

Here's another aspect: I've been accused of singing a few "very" bawdy songs - "too gross" as it were. But also been applauded for the same songs. I define all humerous sexy songs as "bawdy." They may be mildly so, partially so, subtlely so, but they can't be very so. Like a tire can be out of round or roundish but it can't be very round. It is or it ain't.

It also puzzles me that a song may be "suggestive - off color" and very sexy and certain people will enjoy it in a snickering fashion - pass it on as a (child's) dirty song, even. But toss a "fuck" or a "cunt" or two and the same people get insulted as if it were a cut to their essential sense of morality. Something wrong there, I think.

01 Jul 01 - 02:30 PM (#495943)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Micca

What makes a good Bawdy lyric???? skill on the part of the songwriter is the only valid answer...if there is real skill in the songwriting then it doesnt matter if the occasional " word" occurs...as the great Tom Lehrer said
" Filth ,I'm glad to say
is in the mind of the beholder
when correctly viewed ,
everything is rude,
I could tell you things about Peter Pan
and the Wizard of Oz , Theres a Dirty Old Man...

01 Jul 01 - 03:04 PM (#495957)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Mrs.Duck

Go to Whitby Liz. You can get felt in Boyes!!
I agree that a good bawdy song should be more in the mind of the listener than over explicit. Saying rude words is not in itself funny!

01 Jul 01 - 03:11 PM (#495966)
From: Micca

Or ,of course there is always this, (sorry if I posted it before)

Banish the use of the four-letter words
Whose meanings are never obscure
The Angles, the Saxons those hardy old birds
Were vulgar obscene and impure
But cherish the use of the weaselling phrase
That never quite says what you mean
You'd better be known for your hypocrite ways
Than as vulgar impure and obscene

When nature is calling, plain speaking is out
When the Ladies, God Bless'em are milling about
You may pee-wee, make water, or empty the glass
You can powder your nose, even Johnny may pass
Shake the dew off the Lily; see a man about a dog
When every ones soused, it's condensing the fog
But please to remember, if you would know bliss
That only in Shakespeare do characters piss

A woman has bosoms, a bust or a breast
Those lily-white swellings that bulge 'neath her vest
They are towers of Ivory, sheaves of new wheat
In a moment of passion, ripe apples to eat
You may speak of her nipples as fingers of fire
With hardly a question of raising her ire
But by Rabelaise's beard she will throw several fits
If you speak of them roundly as good honest tits

It's a cavern of Joy you are thinking of now
A warm tender field awaiting the plough
It's a quivering pigeon caressing your hand
Or the National Anthem-It makes us all stand
It's known among men as the centre of Love
The hope of the world or a velvety glove
But friend, heed this warning, beware of affront
Of aping the Saxon--- don't call it a c***
Tho' a Lady repels your advance, shell be kind
As long as you intimate what's on your mind
You may tell her your hungry; you need to be swung
You may ask her to see how your etchings are hung
Or mention the ashes that need to be hauled
Put the lid on her saucepan even "lay" is not too bald,
But the moment you're forthright, get ready to duck
For the girls isn't born yet who'll stand for "lets F***

So banish the words that Elizabeth used
When she was a Queen on the Throne
The modern maids' virtue is easily bruised
By the four-letter words all alone
Let your morals be clean as an Alderman's vest
If your language is always obscure
Today not the act but the word is the test
Of the vulgar, obscene and impure

01 Jul 01 - 03:18 PM (#495970)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Charley Noble

Micca, that's much too philosophical to rate as a bawdy song, even with the cleaver lyrics. It might even have some redeeming social value!

01 Jul 01 - 03:33 PM (#495977)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Bill D

above all, the song/poem/limerick must be well-constructed to be a first class bawdy song. If you define, say, 5 classes, I will almost NEVER do one in class 4 or 5, as these are ususally just poorly done excuses to be smarmy and crude. (5th grade humor, I call it).

Using 'vulgar words of language', as Woody put it, 'can' be done with wit and cleverness, but it takes careful writing to make them work well.....and, when it is done, it takes awareness & ummmmmm.....'sensitivity' to decide when & where to sing it.

I know a parody to "King of the Road", written by two friends of mine, that is clever, mostly well constructed, but has SO much to offend in it, that I have only sung it in public maybe 3 times.

Likewise the classic, "Charlotte the Harlot", which, in 'polished' versions has some of the funniest images and lines, but has poorly done versions that are awkward and stupid.

In my opinion, limericks are the surpreme form of 'sung' poetry which can make crude language funny...in the right context and presentation.

01 Jul 01 - 03:54 PM (#495988)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: GUEST,Frogmore

With me, it all depends on the venue. As a rule subtlety is always kinder and also a better demonstration of your talents. (Be careful where you spread songs from Patrick Sky's bizarre album "Songs that made America Famous") If, however, I find myself in the company of pirates drinking rum after midnight I'll let it all loose. (I used to hang out with "Filthy Fred" Davis. Does anyone know his wherabouts?) I'm a nice boy now.

01 Jul 01 - 04:18 PM (#496003)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Richard Bridge

"Good" is pretty subjective, and "bawdy" is pretty vague.

Humour is said to be a defence mechanism used when one's sense of propriety is challenged but it is not appropriate to respond with hostility. However there is another sense is which humour can be a defence mechanism, that is to say deflecting the identification with the misfortune of others. This may be particularly so when the others are those who would normally have power over one but are temporarily at least seen to be (if not actually) disempowered by some misfortune.

Engaging it consistently can be tricky. What some find funny others find offensive. This is not necessarily due to the artistic quality of the material (vide Lady Chatterly's lover).

To take an example that is not sexual or scatological, many folkies find "Fixing to die Rag" (Country Joe and the Fish) both politically piercing and humourous. But others will find it merely disrespectful both of authority and of the dead patriots.

If this can be generalised, the reception given to a song is not necessarily the measure of its quality - only its fit to the audience. It may however be acceptable to hypothesise that the breadth of audience that can find a bawdy song acceptable could be a parameter useable to help to measure its quality, but you would also need to take into account the nearness to the knuckle of the material. The Ballad of Eskimo Nell is frequently said to be good poetry - but it would be rare for it to be thought of as acceptably humourous rather than generally offensive.

We have a long way to go to crack this puzzle!

01 Jul 01 - 06:16 PM (#496085)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: toadfrog

1. I don't really think what makes the difference is whether crude words are replaced with euphemisms. The spirit of the song is much more important.

2. Nor is it correct that bawdy songs are all funny. I think that the definition of a bad bawdy song is one that assumes sex is funny, without more.

3. The reaction of your audience is going to vary according to more subtle things than euphemisms or 4 letter words. ITEM: "Roll Me Over" has no four-letter words in it. It contains no gross conceits; only healthy, normal sentiments. But no one would ever, ever, ever, sing that song in mixed company, or if they did, would feel constrained to insert cutsey (phoney) words a la Oscar Brand. Why? I think the song is unacceptable because it is just too masculine. On the other hand, I heard a woman sing "Our Lugger Venus," (the only reason for whose existence is its crudeness) and get roundly applauded. Go figure.

My favorite bawdy song is "little ball of yarn." The song is not funny. It has only one vulgar word, which comes at the end. The only euphemism is the one in the title. It is a gentle, affectionate song. And so, for that matter is "foggy dew"- also not funny. Maybe that's another way to look at it.

02 Jul 01 - 03:02 AM (#496363)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: pavane

There is a song called the Old Man's Courtship, or Old Grey Beard kept wagging in which an old man comes courting a young girl, who is obviously not interested(This version GREY BEARD NEWLY SHAVEN in the DT is missing the whole point of the song, I think).

In one verse, we have

Me mother she told me to give him a glass
Hey Ho I won't have him
I gave him a glass and he fell on his head
And his old grey beard kept wagging

(There is a technical name for this kind of substitution, which I can't remember now - 'suspended rhyme' or something.)

But in the following verse, we have

Me mother she told me to give him some bread
Hey Ho I won't have him
I gave him some bread and he fell on his arse (or ass)
And his old grey beard kept wagging

making a joke of the original euphemism

02 Jul 01 - 03:29 AM (#496367)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: SeanM

This is my own personal view, and pretty simplistic as it doesn't apply across the board but needs to be defined with each new song...

But I rather like the (probably mangled) quote from a misremembered source (Wilde? Who knows?)...

"Erotic is using a feather. Kinky is using the whole chicken."

I personally feel that this is akin to what separates a good bawdy lyric from a good just plain crude lyric. The bawdy leaves some things to the imagination, and doesn't revel and glorify the 'explicit' language, while 'crude' songs would. I'd say a good example of the poles (to me) would be The Lusty Young Smith vs. Eskimo Nell.

Though THAT would be an interesting song... "The Lusty Young Smith vs. Eskimo Nell"... Hmmmmm....


02 Jul 01 - 10:43 AM (#496565)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Abby Sale

Referring back to the Master, Ed Cray, have a look at THE LEHIGH VALLEY. There are, as suggested above, many songs in which the language is clearly integral, not an end in itself. Obviously, a simple receital of taboo words is not art but this is a careful & exact use of them. Cray makes the point that the song just couldn't be euphemized, so it was rarely sung or printed. But it's a good song.

BTW, I shouldn't pan Brand as hard as I tend to -- he did record partial versions of many good songs and, most importantly, recorded the tunes of many that had never had their tunes recorded or even printed. Gotta give him that.

02 Jul 01 - 01:41 PM (#496708)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: M.Ted

Every song or poem has its place--sadly enough, at least for those of us who like traditional, ethnic, and folk music, a lot of those places have disappeared--this is certainly true for wonderful epics like The Lehigh Valley and The Ballad of Eskimo Nell--

It wouldn't be possible to perform them as they were intended to be performed, which was on the far fringes of society, in the rough work camps, the hobo jungles, in skid road bars, in the God-forsaken sort of places that men alone go, when they must work or die--

When I was growing up, in a automobile factory town, there were a lot of fathers and grandfathers who had been on the road during the depression, had fought in the war, and kept the songs alive as cherished reminders of their miserable, but much loved past lives--For a boy, here was no pleasure quite as prized as hearing and learning to recite portions of these epics, among one's friends, of course.

Mothers and sisters never heard them, and it wasn't wise to let on to Dad that you knew them, either--We knew what must have been a variant of "Eskimo Nell" from my friend Wayne's Uncle (our informant has a verse that rhymes "vacuum cleaner" with "weener"), a man who, unaccountably, was forbidden to enter their house when his mother was home.

Most of the songs and verses were forgotten, even before college(many of the old pals didn't make it through high school) and it was a long time before I realized that they had any redeeming social value--Longer still before I realized that, far from being an eternal ritual of adolescence, these songs (or whatever they were) were dying, even as we learned them, and soon would be gone--

02 Jul 01 - 02:13 PM (#496740)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Mrrzy

What about "the more vulgar-minded" - one of my alltime favorite Oscar Brand songs? It delineates the words, uses them, and is still funny... will check trad and post lyrics if not there...

02 Jul 01 - 02:15 PM (#496743)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Mrrzy

OK, not in trad, but in thread about 4-letter words see this thread.

05 Jul 01 - 12:30 PM (#499014)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: Hollowfox

I think a lot of it has to do with the delivery. Tony Barrand told how Marie Lloyd, the English music hall star, was brought up on charges singing indecent songs or somesuch. Her defense was to sing one of her hit songs, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me A Bow-Wow" "straight", with no nods, winks, etc. and then to follow it with a song then very popular in respectable circles (like judges and their wives): "Meet Me at the Garden Gate" (or something similar; I'm doing this from memory) This time, of course, she threw in every innuendo she could, emphasis on certain words, etc. How could she be brought up on charges for the former song when no one was being hauled in for singing the latter? She was found not guilty.
One of the finest bawdy renditions of any song I've ever heard was a late-night rendition of the hymn "Rock of Ages". Neither the words nor the tune were changed.
Another thought comes to mind. At a concert once, Peter Bellamy told of an elderly gentleman who had a song called "Cock-a-Doodle-Do" that he sang at annual family gatherings. It was full of double entendre, but this was never acknowledged by either singer or listeners. Then apparently some of the younger set began sniggering at *those* parts of the song, etc., and he stopped singing it, because the unacknowledged presentation was humorous, and the acknowledged one was vulgar.

06 Jul 01 - 03:17 AM (#499571)
Subject: RE: BS: What makes a good bawdy lyric ?
From: pavane

Cock-a-doodle-do was apparently a well known song, but not recorded very often by the collectors! I think a version surfaced relatively recently, I have may it in a book at home.