April 10, 2007

"The correct interpretation of the song: to be sung by a male, not a female, and to be sung sadly/ruefully/bitterly, not exuberantly."

Jeremy recommends Greg Laswell's recording of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun":
Laswell offers what I have been arguing for years via karaoke is the correct interpretation of the song: to be sung by a male, not a female, and to be sung sadly/ruefully/bitterly, not exuberantly. It's unclear from the recording, however, if he also steals my tactic of choosing an audience member at random to be the target of this rue.
I love the expression "arguing via karaoke." And songs transformed by the sex of the singer is an old topic of mine.

I paid the 99¢ and got the Laswell recording. I liked the idea better in writing, let me say. So maybe you just want to steal the idea for your next karaoke venture, guys. Or do you think perhaps a guy singing this song is really quite creepy? Not because a guy is singing a girl song, but because a guy singing this particular song must be the boy who would take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world.


Henry said...

Isn't this exactly the opposite of Aretha Franklin singing Otis' Redding's Respect?

Franklin sings the guy song and transforms it from a chauvinist gripe into an anthem.

Here the anthem get turned into a chauvinist gripe.

David said...

Cindy Lauper sings her version of "Girls just want to have fu--unnn!"

What is next, Britney Spears singing "Girls Gone Wild" in an underwear Commercial staged in a mosh pit?

We can have correct interpretation of song lyrics but entertain a "living" Constitution?

LutherM said...

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
In high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say come dance with me
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems
At seventeen

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Married into what she needs
A guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
Indebentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you
in dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me
We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen


James Wigderson said...

When this topic comes up, I can't help but think of Matt Damon singing My Funny Valentine in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Peter B. said...

The Roches singing "Yakity Yak" changes it from an abusive man smacking down his woman to a strong woman telling the abusive jerk to hit the road.

Marghlar said...

One of my favorite examples of this is Cake's rendition of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Much, much more entertaining than the original, IMO.

rafinlay said...


Well, you have to change a few words, but substitute the concept of a "jock" for "beauty queen" and "nerd" for "ugly duckling" and the song works quite well.

Or, if you must keep the subject female, make it sung by a "sympathetic" male trying to convince the subject that life seems rough now, but she's actually better off, because, if you look closely at the lyrics, the beauty queens are selling themselves short by settling to easily and too quickly. The singer could play a wannabe boyfriend or an older/wiser relative, etc.

Laura Reynolds said...

Sometimes I like to leave well enough alone. Don't know who wrote it, don't know who's ever sung it before and since. Don't care. Cindy Lauper owns the song. Janice Ian and "Seventeen" good analogy.

Unknown said...

"Girls…" was written by a man, so which came first?

Some one pointed me to this today.
Double threat, inverted gender and more.

Hazy Dave said...

I can see a guy covering a "girl" song, tongue in cheek or not, and might prefer it, at karaoke, to seeing a randomly tuneless female trying to channel Cyndi Lauper or Janis Ian. Gender and (shall we say) socio-economic twists can make for interesting cover versions:

Nina Gordon - "Straight Outta Compton"
(Oh, xanthrope found it, too!)
Klaus Nomi - "You Don't Own Me"
Ben Folds - "Bitches Ain't Shit"

As noted in the previous thread, changing lyrics to suit the altered orientation should be approached with caution. Sometimes it's better to deliver an incongruous pronoun than lose some of what made the song interesting in the first place. I think both Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt messed up Dylan songs that way.

Hector Owen said...

Peter B.: Yakety Yak was never about abusive man-woman relationships. It's about a teen-ager's reaction to a parent's attempt to extract some chores. The only transformation in the Roches' rendition is to change "father ... he" to "mother ... she" in the last verse. Or are you talking about something else?

TMink said...

Henry, is any song from a man's perspective complaining about a woman chauvinistic? Have you read the words to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?" Where is the chauvinism? The point is a broken hearted man looking for a relationshp and "girl's just want to have fun." There is no chauvinism there, so where are you pulling it from?

Changing focus, "I Know What Boys Want" was also written by a man. It is not so squeaky clean as the Cindy Lauper song, but an interesting piece of writing.

And I agree about Janice Ian and at 17. She indeed owns the song. But that is Janice Ian!

From the opposite gender perspective, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Liz Phair and P.J. Harvey have all written songs from a male perspective that were interesting. I am sure you guys can think of others.

But no matter how interesting the premise, or how thick the irony, some people will always see chauvinism or misandry no matter what the intent and/or meaning.


John said...

The ultimate example of a guy song flipped by a woman is "Respect", which was written by Otis Redding as a kind of he man "hey woman, you can take my money but you better keep your smart mouth shut" sort of thing. The total opposite of the better known Aretha Franklin cover and feminist anthem.

As far as a female song being flipped by a man, how about a male version of the old Merilee Rush and Turnabouts Angel of the Morning? It could be the rat fink philandering male song of all time. Instead of just call me, make it I will just call you. The man explaining how he is going to bed and leave some poor desperate woman, all with total pop shamelessness. It would be so over the top and despicable it would be funny.

jeremy said...

BTW, in my own karaoke version of GJWTHF, I actually yell the lyrics with gusto bitterness instead of Laswell's mellow take, but I declined to mention that in my post.

annie said...

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch do a beautiful cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." He sings, the tempo is slow, and it transforms the sugar pop song into a longing ballad. It's a regular encore song at their shows, which are always worth seeing.

bill said...

Then there's John Prine's Angel From Montgomery, where he sings:
I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that's grown old

You probably know it as a Bonnie Raitt song.

With lyrics, moreso than just about any other medium, it is expected that the writing is personal and relevatory. Few songwriters can get away with writing "in character" (Randy Newman is one of them); we expect songs to be the signer's ideas sung to us. That's my reasoning for why it's such a big deal when a women sings a man's song, and vice versa, without changing the genders. No big deal when a book author writes in the voice of another sex, but it's apparently noteworthy when a singer does it.

Ok, another example. Bytches With Problems. Female rap act from the early 90s. Seemed to come together as an answer to all the misogynist rap groups at the time (yeah, things are so much better now). As bad as a male rapper was towards women, they were equally offensive towards men. Look up their lyrics, in the right context some funny stuff. Even funnier? All their songs were written by a man.

Henry said...

Hey Trey, Did I say there was anything wrong with chauvinist griping?

michael farris said...

I remember that when the song was a hit many years ago, Lauper in at least one interview openly said she rewrote the lyrics to convey what she wanted to convey.

It wasn't until Lyle Lovett sang it that I realized 'Stand By Your Man' is a man's song and not a woman's song at all. (IIRC it was Tammy Wynette's least favorite of her hits).

Not a gender switch, but I loved Aztec Camera's drunk, morose version of 'Jump', which seemed much closer to the pathetic reality of attempted pick ups in bars than anything David Lee Roth could manage (gifted performer/annoyance that he was).

Unknown said...

Hazy Dave et al

Best Rap cover ever

Gin and Juice http://www.thegourds.com/videos.html

michael farris said...

Two more from the 60's.

"Message to Michael" (most famously by Dionne Warwicke was originally "Message to Martha" and had a very different vibe. When you change the gender of the singer, instead of hurt, but still loyal girlfriend you get obsessive, vaguely creepy stalker boy.

And '24 hours from Tulsa' was originally sung by Gene Pitney and makes the guy sound like a real jerk for dumping his girlfriend for some floozy he met at a truckstop. Dusty Springfield's version however comes across as a cry of self-fulfillment and independence.

KCFleming said...

Best alternative gender cover ever?

In Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell sings "My Humps", saying it is the only song he will skate to. He adds, "Nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

When I sing it at home now, my kids are particualrly grossed out. So, you know, win-win.

PeterP said...

Have I stumbled into 'Will & Grace'?

TMink said...

Henry asked me: "Hey Trey, Did I say there was anything wrong with chauvinist griping?"

Well, er no. You did not. And I took it as if you did. So that makes it my bad. I took the word "chauvinist" to be pejorative, which it is.

So throw me a bone here Henry, what did you mean by a "chauvinist gripe?" And sorry I missed your point, I do that sometimes.


Sean Kinsell said...

Interesting that Cyndi Lauper's version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has passed into pop culture history as the "real" one. At the time, she was accused of having denatured or somehow spoiled all the cover songs on She's So Unusual, except maybe for Jules Shears's "All Through the Night," because they'd originally been written and sung by men. A woman singing Prince's "When You Were Mine" puts an entirely different cast on the line "I know that you're going with another guy," and "Money Changes Everything" sounds way different sung by the woman dumping the guy.