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RATE THAT TUNE : Taking Note of Any References to Sex, Violence, Drugs or Bigotry

August 06, 1995|Patt Morrison

Here's my $36; sign me up. The Music Monitor is to debut Sept. 1, a monthly magazine devoted to rating songs not for the cleverness of rhyme schemes or the hummability of melody, but for sex, violence, drugs, potentially offensive language and slang in the lyrics.

While the entire premiere issue could be dedicated to Michael Jackson's recall and re-recording of a supposedly anti-Semitic song and his apparent digs at the Santa Barbara district attorney who had Jackson's genitalia photographed ("You think he brother with the KKK? He wants your vote just to remain D.A."), managing editor and L.A. music exec Charlie Gilreath promises that the pages of the Music Monitor will patrol the horizons of Top 40, country, pop, rap, dance, rock and R&B. The premise is that this is a First Amendment extension of truth in packaging, as forthright and maybe as unpleasant to know as the saturated fat percentage in barbecue potato chips.

But as far back as the Orpheus label, music has showcased virtuosos of innuendo. Gilbert and Sullivan wrapped their satirical spikes in patter ("Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen's na-vee.")

Mick Jagger sang the bowdlerized version of "Let's Spend the Night Together" as "Let's Spend Some Time Together" on "The Ed Sullivan Show," but even Ed had to know that Mick Jagger could sing the instructions for assembling a tricycle and they'd sound lewd.

Why stop at pop? In L.A., a left-to-right survey of FM frequencies draws down oldies from the 1930s to the 1960s, C&W (can it be a real country song if someone isn't drunk, wronged or shot?), Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks like these that certainly bear scrutiny, too:

"With a Little Bit of Luck" from "My Fair Lady": "The gentle sex was made for man to marry but with a little bit of luck . . . you can have it all and not get hooked." Unsanctified cohabitation.

"Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from "Gigi." Potential child molestation or statutory rape, in a musical extolling courtesans.

"I Cain't Say No" from "Oklahoma." Nymphomania.

"Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific," about a stranger seen across a crowded room, and "somewhere you'll see him again and again." Obsessive relationship and stalking.

"I Get a Kick Out of You," from "Anything Goes." Substance abuse, high tolerances for cocaine and, later, champagne. (Cole Porter provided a whole cottage industry to the Mrs. Grundys; "Love for Sale" was banned from radio for years.)

"She Knows Her Onions," a 1920s hit: "She's got mink and sable fur, all she makes is $40 per, she's a girl who knows her onions." Gold digging.

"This old man, he played two, he played nick-nack on my shoe . . . this old man came rolling home." Mockery of Alzheimer's and elder neglect.

"When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all" from "Rock-a-bye Baby, on the treetop." Child abuse.

"Daddy's gone a-hunting, to get a little bunny skin to wrap his baby bunting in," from "Bye Baby Bunting." Violence against animals and possible endangered-species violations.

If Music Monitor were to go beyond lyric propriety to evaluating artistic quality, they could publish forever. What would critics make of this, set to an often-heard tune?

"On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep, where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, what is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, as it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?"

That, my fellow Americans, is the convoluted second verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Rate it "U," for unintelligible. It doesn't have a good beat, and you can't even march to it.

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