The seedy underbelly of oldies music

April 3, 2013

When I was a kid there were only two FM radio stations I could have on when my parents were driving me around: oldies or classical. I chose oldies.

I've found myself listening to the oldies channel on Pandora when hanging out with the baby, based on nostalgia and the songs' basic sing-a-long formation. Maybe it's been a while since I listened to these tunes, because I'm a little shocked now by some of the old songs that have always been my favorites.

Obviously with pinning, going steady and sock hops, oldies evoke charmingly retro, bygone era. I used to see these as innocent tunes, ideal to listen to as you and your main squeeze drank a milkshake via two straws. But now I realize the tableaus these songs paint aren't always so rosy, at least if you're a woman. To wit:

Runaround Sue is about slut-shaming:

Dion's cautionary tale about a cheating girl is certainly enjoyable, with its nonsense word chorus. But what's the theme, exactly? Telling everyone on earth that not only did his ex-girlfriend cheat on him, she did it with "every single guy in town." Hyperbole much? Later on in the song Dion sings, "Sue goes out with other guys." Well, that makes things more complicated. Maybe Sue didn't realize that she and Dion were an exclusive couple. Maybe they were on a break, like Ross and Rachel. And now Dion's ruining her image. You know who Sue needs? Her boyfriend to come back to town to save her reputation. (Haha, just kidding. Sue doesn't need a man to save her reputation. She's not helpless.)

"The Wanderer" glorifies an almost psychotic level of sexual promiscuity:

Oh look, it's Dion again! Seriously, if you look at the lyrics to this song it's like this guy gets a kick out of being a complete a-hole and practically hates women.

I kiss 'em and I love 'em 'cause to me they're all the same/
I hug 'em and I squeeze 'em they don't even know my name


Then, when these poor dumb girls ask him who's his favorite, he seems to get a sick pleasure out of informing them that it's not them – unless they happen to be Rosie. What the hell is wrong with this guy? Maybe this is why Sue didn't want to stick around.

Judy gets victimized when Johnny is the true villain:

This is a song by Lesley Gore, who actually sang one of the few feminist songs of the era. But in this song, which is a sequel to "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)," the buck gets passed to a gal when the guy is just as – if not more – guilty. In "It's My Party," Lesley Gore's crying because at her birthday party, her boyfriend Johnny sneaks off with Judy and returns, having given his ring to Judy. Some friend, Judy! What an ass, Johnny! You couldn't have done this at any other time? Now you've broken Lesley Gore's heart, embarrassed her in front of all her friends and ruined her birthday! In "Judy's Turn To Cry," though, Lesley brags that Judy's upset, now, because Johnny took Lesley back – not because he realized he made a mistake with Judy but because he saw Lesley kissing another guy. Johnny punched Lesley's new flame and took her back. So why is Judy the villainess here? Johnny's the insensitive cad with jealousy and anger issues. Who would even want him? You're both better off without him, Lesley and Judy.

Chubby Checker really milked "The Twist" for everything it was worth, didn't he?

OK, this isn't really in line with the previous observations, but I happened to subscribe to the "Let's Twist Again" channel and here are the Twist-related songs Chubby recorded:

"The Twist"

"Let's Twist Again"

"Slow Twistin"

"Twistin Round the World"

"Twist It Up"

"The Twist (Yo, Twist!)" (with the Fat Boys, naturally)

I mean, let someone else have a turn with that dance, Chubby, dang.

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