3 April 2015


If you are reading this, the chances are that you enjoy the jazz band music from the 1920s and 1930s, and you are happy when you hear a band of today playing it just as it might have sounded then.

But the words of the songs are a different matter. Not only have tastes changed; we also have to be careful these days about 'political correctness'.

A century ago, it was commonplace for certain words which are now considered racist to appear in the lyrics and even in the titles of popular songs that were adopted by jazz bands. But in the Twenty-First Century, singers have to beware before using such words. Almost invariably, if they want to sing the song, they have to edit the lyrics and tone things down.

Then there were dozens of songs that entertained and amused by including sexual innuendoes. My guess is that about a quarter of the blues recorded by such singers as Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Lucille Bogan, Barrel House Annie, Victoria Spivey, Ma Rainey, and Hattie Hart contain double entendres - sexually symbolic metaphors - so that a song ostensibly about an everyday event can be interpreted by the audience as a commentary on sexual activities. Perhaps the most famous of them is Kitchen Man; but there are dozens like it.

I think tastes in humour have become a little more sophisticated since then. Yes, audiences do still listen to and enjoy such songs, and they may smile or laugh; but they no longer think this kind of humour is really all that funny. It's a sniggering schoolboy kind of humour. In a few cases, some of the lines are fairly crude; and I have noticed that today's singers often omit these or replace them with some that are relatively innocuous.

In addition to the 'sexual innuendo' songs, there's another group of songs that raise the question 'Should they be censored?'. Songs about drugs - marijuana in particular - were commonplace at one time. They have such good tunes that we still want to play them. So what can we do? We adapt them. Marijuana - with its words toned down - became Lotus Blossom. Viper Mad - again with slightly different words - became Pleasure Mad. Willie the Weeper and When I Get Low I Get High are such romping numbers that nobody minds the words.

There are also songs that tell about life as it really was for the downtrodden and impoverished, especially during the Great Depression.
What about a song in which a prostitute tells you how she has fallen on hard times: in a whole day of searching, she can't find any customers and so can't make any money. Would you want to censor such a song today? Would it be 'politically correct' to sing it?

I think the answer is that if it's a good song and well performed, we still want to hear it. I'm thinking, of course, of Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More - a song many of us have met for the first time in the last few years - performed by one of our favourite singers with one of our favourite bands.

For a look at the music of  Tricks Ain't Walkin' No MoreCLICK HERE.