The Use of Profanity in Music

Parental AdvisoryA warning to the furious…

This post is about the use of profanity in music.

It is likely to use words that some people may find offensive; such offence is not intentional, albeit such offence is possible considering the potential demographic of my readership.

If you find the use of profanity offensive or even just distasteful, you may want to skip this post.  There are plenty of other posts that I have written without the use of profanity but this isn’t one of them.

Still here?

Good!

Hopefully, like me, you aren’t turned off by so called “bad” language.

Some people say that the use of profanity, in conversation, is a sign of a poor education or an unimaginative mind – these people have obviously not encountered some of the profanity that I have.  In my opinion, profanity can be an artform; not least the use of profanity itself.

From the choice of profanity to the timing and delivery, there is a lot of skill to the proper use of profanity.  Waiting to the count of three or four before appending the word “cock” or even “cunt” to a final statement is the verbal equivalent of delivering the killing blow to an argument – or at least teabagging an already defeated opponent.

I appreciate that some people don’t want to hear profanity and I am careful to curb my language around children but I have to admit, I can and do make use of profanity in day to day speech an awful lot.

I was going to title this Top X Uses of Profanity in Popular Music but I realised that I am discovering new profane tracks all the time and that my musical taste isn’t necessarily what you would class as “popular”.

There are a number of topics on the internet dealing with this subject and even groups supporting people who are against it.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, music is important to me.  Equally as important to me, for a variety of different reasons, is freedom of speech.

I remember being introduced to the concept of music censorship through the introduction of the Parental Advisory stickers in the eighties.

It was almost a decade later, when access to the internet broadened all of our horizons, that I discovered censorship had gone much further than adhering black and white stickers to obscure an album’s artwork.

I remember listening to an old favourite album, So Far So Good So What by Megadeth, in particular Hook In Mouth (2004 Digital Remaster). The track had this enigmatic lyric, repeated throughout:

F is for Fighting,
R is for Red, ancestor’s blood in battle’s they shed,
E we elect them,
E we Eject them, in the land of the free and the home of the brave,
D for your dying,
O your overture,
M is for Money, you know what that cures;
This spells out FREEDOM,
it means nothing to me,
as long as there’s a P.M.R.C.

That last M was also sung as “M they will cover your grave with manure” earlier in the song but I prefer the second, less scatological, rendition. Now I love a good acrostic or acronym as much as the next person but for years I was baffled as to what the song meant by the phrase “as long as there’s a P.M.R.C.”.

Access to the internet taught me that the P.M.R.C. was the Parents Music Research Centre.  These were the douches that instigated the practice of ruining awesome album artwork with those tedious black and white stickers!

The "Filthy Fifteen"

Wikipedia cites this as the so called "Filthy Fifteen", originally demonised by the PMRC

These members of America’s political right claimed to be “frightened” by the graphical violent and sexual content they perceived in some of the music of the day.

When the debate eventually hit the courts the P.M.R.C. cited a handful of albums whose lyrical content they interpreted as having an inappropriate content.

Whilst a number of the musicians of the day defended the proposal, using a defence along the lines of “Beauty” or in this case “Profanity is in the Eye of the Beholder”, the P.M.R.C. won out and we have those little black and white warnings on albums to this day.

I guess this explains why Tipper Gore gets the abuse she does in so many tracks through the eighties and nineties.

What surprises me though, is the lack of parental advisory labels on just any old profane track.

Maybe I am listening to music that predates the labelling motion but I’m fairly sure that some of my favourite instances of profanity in music are not labelled.  Maybe the track has to be made up of truly diabolical content to be labelled.

Certainly the label seems to be mainly awarded mainly to hip-hop, rap and death metal these days.

Ghost in the MachineThe track that jumps to mind predominantly is, Rehumanize Yourself by The Police (from Ghost In The Machine).  As a minor I never noticed the word but as an adult the profanity leapt out at me:

Billy’s joined the National Front,

He Always was a little runt,

Got his hands in the air with the other cunts,

You gotta humanize yourself…

Now to my mind this is a perfectly acceptable use of the “C” word.  It certainly wasn’t hidden from me in my youth, although I’ll accept that I had a good enough upbringing to not notice the word in common day parlance – let alone the works of one of the world’s greatest musical institutions.

This isn’t the only Police track to contain the “C” word and to be fair, I haven’t picked up on any of the other classic musical profanities.

Over the next week or so, I would like to list some of my favourite “profane” tracks.  I may do so in one large post or I may break it up into smaller single posts.

Honestly, I have an almost childish appreciation of profanity; that being said, many of these tracks stand on their own merit – both lyrically and musically.

Top 7 Telephony Themed Tracks

Phone at workAs I’ve mentioned before, I work for a Telecommunications Service Provider and have done since 2006.

Whilst traveling to work the other morning, I was listening to one of the tracks on this list and it got me thinking about the telephone and its impact on society.

The majority of my waking life appears to be underwritten by music and so I’ve decided to compile my a list of telephone related tracks from my extended playlist.

The telephone is ringing, is that my Mother on the phone?

The telephone is screaming, won’t she leave me alone?

Synchronicity Album CoverTrack 4 on the 5th and final studio album from the Police, SynchronicitySynchronicity is probably my favourite Police album, if not one of my favourite albums overall.

Mother is a brief burst of anger on what is otherwise quite a serene album.  Written by Andy Summers, the track by no means represent my own opinions with regards my maternal parentage; the track has made it onto previous mobile phones as the ring tone for my Mother however.

BlondieBlondie was one of the guilty pleasures of my youth, I’m not sure where I first came across Debbie Harry – probably one of my parents had an album.

As innocent a youth as I was then, I did not pin the undertone to the song that I do now. For some reason, knowing more about Debbie’s colourful past has coloured her songs when I listen to them.

Blondie also released Hanging On The Telephone but I prefer Call Me, mainly due its cover by Skye Edwards.  Skye has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard.

Put your tongue into the mouthpiece…

…and whisper in my ear.

The The - DuskI discovered The The in my mid to late teens, looking back I can see how the lyrics and music would appeal to an angsty rebellious youth.

I still love to listen to The The though, there’s a kind of discordant melody fused out of Matt Johnson‘s voice and the underlying symphonies of some of his tracks.  Or maybe that’s just the angsty-teen reviving within me… or maybe I’m a closet Emo.

Seriously, if Emo types were to listen to The The instead of The Used, the world would be a brighter place.

Water is our business…

Electricity is our business…

Gas is our business…

Lines are our business; Business is our business!

Extremities, Dirt and Other Repressed EmotionsI know it may seem a stretch to link this track to Telephony and I know most lyric sites would tell you differently but the quote above has seared this track into my mind as one associated with Telephony (amongst other things).

In fact, as Jaz bellows the penultimate line “Lines are our business” there is an actual dialing/ringing tone playing in the background.  So I feel somewhat vindicated in my opinion on this one.

This is one of the only musical tracks that actually make me feel like I’ve sold out, the other being Money Is Not Our God. Here I am, working for the very kind of company that the song rails against!

Call all you want but there’s no-one home and you’re not gonna reach my telephone.

GaGaWhen I first heard Lady GaGa, I detested her but she must use the right kind of subliminals in her backing tracks because over the last 12 months she’s grown on me (like athlete’s foot).

More than her music, I like her overt use of occult symbolism.  Forget your kabbalah cults and new age gurus; GaGa takes it back to grass roots Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn level pomp and ritual.

This track pretty much sums up my opinion of telephone use.  I am a lot better now than I was a decade ago but I still don’t like taking calls.  If I’m not expecting a call, especially on the land line, I sometimes get a little rush of anxiety when the phone rings.

I once mentioned it to my nurse (all Diabetics get one, you should try it) in passing, more as a humorous aside than anything else.  She offered me counseling!

Of course, I turned her down; I’m perfectly capable of taking calls, I just find them rude and invasive – unless from friends and family.

Lyrics, symbolism and neurosis aside; the video is pretty good too… In a Kill Bill meets Strangers On a Train kind of way.

Feelings unknown and you’re all alone,

Flesh and bone on the telephone.

Pick up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer.

ViolatorApparently their 23rd UK single (take note fellow Erisians); this is one of my favourite DM tracks (along with Blasphemous Rumours and Enjoy The Silence).

The song has a variety of different meanings depending on who you ask.  Personally I prefer the theory that the song relates to telephone sex lines.

The track just has an element of seediness to it; the sense of a cloying desperate need for emotional and physical contact with another… or maybe that’s my inner Emo again.

And it’s all your fault,

I screen my phone calls,

No matter who calls,

I gotta screen my phone calls.

No Doubt - Tragic KingdomFinally, my favourite telephone based track of all time.  I love it when this comes up on Rock Band!

This song was the first to ever encapsulate my utter contempt for telephony. Back in those dark brooding days (yet again with the inner Emo) when every waking moment would be plagued by a call, out of the blue.

Where are you man?

What are you doing?

What? Where? When? How? Why? … and who with? All these questions and more; and it only got worse when I eventually succumbed to the pressure of mobile telephony.

9 to 5Before I had a mobile, people would actually call the people that they thought I was with, purely because they couldn’t get hold of me any other way. Once I had a mobile, I had to screen the calls just to get a moment to myself.

I’ve heard people speak of the advent of mobile telephony as being one of the greatest turning points for modern civilisation. What mobile telephony did for me was rip aside the final shred of privacy that I clung to.

It wasn’t all bad though. Most calls could be screened, as in Lady Sovereign‘s 9 to 5:

Private callers get no love from me,
Just let me be…

Necroscope 4I’m a lot calmer person when it comes to telephones now, I have to be. Ironically, I have probably got the world’s finest telephone manner. I’m often complemented on my voice and mannerisms but then maybe that’s how I learned to deal with my telephone issues.

Like the great Lumley wrote:

When he yawns his great jaws at you, go in through them, for he’s softer on the inside!

From Brian Lumley’s Necroscope 4: Deadspeak

Top 10 Workout Tracks

Creative Zen X-FiHaving doubled in weight since my teens I’ve been visiting the local gym of late, doing what I can to chip away down to a BMI that’s under my age and not the speed limit on a dual carriageway.

The simplicity of the gym appeals to me, although it is difficult to keep to a slow pace (I’m told that a heart rate of 156+ is not a good thing).  I’ve found over the last few sessions that the best way to focus is to deafen out the gym’s own sound system with my own choice of tracks, streamed over my beloved Creative ZEN X-Fi.

The problem with the gym’s music selection is that it seems to have been edited and compiled by some kind of nineties hardcore techno DJ with a speed-core addiction; this may be really useful to the kind of ‘roid head beefcake that scowls at me, whilst I’m on the rowing machine but it doesn’t help me one bit.

So during my last session, whilst my legs were pumping away at 100rpm, I compiled my top 10 workout tracks.  I will add the caveat that the playlist I was listening to has a limited selection of around 500 tracks on random play.  I’ll also add the caveat that this is more of a good, solid, bike session play list following guidelines for warming up and cooling down.

Moloko Familiar Feeling10 – MolokoFamiliar Feeling (video)

A great track to start out to; a steady increase in tempo until it quickly reaches a steady rhythm. I love Róisín Murphy‘s voice, she can evoke so many emotions and I’d consider replacing this track with something like Pure Pleasure Seeker or Statues but they would actually end up being more of a distraction.

I think Róisín actually tempers herself with Familiar Feeling and that is what makes this such a great warm up track.

Nirvana Territorial Pissings9 – NirvanaTerritorial Pissings (video)

I always feel a little childish when I revert back to Nirvana. Nevermind and Bleach were the soundtrack to my late teens.

Territorial Pissings has a good pace to it, I find that I can build up a good speed whilst this track briefly plays; I also don’t feel too guilty for getting my heart rate too high, seeing as the track is only a couple of minutes long.

Pendulum Propane Nightmares8 – PendulumPropane Nightmares (video)

As I understand it, this is not the usual fare for Pendulum. I first came across this track on the XBOX shortly after switching to the 360. It was a free music video given away to advertise the music marketplace I think.

To me the track has a similar energy to running a race with a pack of dogs chasing you.

Butthole Surfers Locust Abortion Technician7 – Butthole Surfers – Human Cannonball (video) (video)

From their classic 1987 album Locust Abortion Technician, Human Cannonball is another of my favourite “Rage” tracks. Whilst it might not have a specifically angry content, it does keep me in a tightly wound state and is great for maintaining focus.

Nneka Heartbeat6 – NnekaHeartbeat (video)

I stumbled across this track during the back end of last year; it was playing on one of the music TV channels and hooked me the moment I heard it. It has an empowering rhythm and Nneka’s voice is truly enchanting. Like the other tracks on this list, Heartbeat has a great pace: steady, strong and constant; kind of like a heartbeat I guess.

China Drum Goosefair5 – China Drum – Wuthering Heights (video)

As a child I remember watching the VHS version of Kate Bush’s Kate Bush – The Whole Story [VHS] [1986] over and over again to the point of obsession. Later in life I remember hearing China Drum’s cover for the first time; we were in a club called Abrahams on a Rock Society night (Huddersfield University Rock Society, Re-enacting Society and Roleplay Society seemed to meet in the same venues, share the same members and do pretty much the same kind of thing, socially at least).

Energetic, bordering on the violent, this version of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights is another pace setter, helping keep pace and focus without letting the mind wander.

Jonathan Coulton Re: Your Brains4 – Jonathan CoultonRe: Your Brains (video)

More of a cool down song but still a great one to pop up in the workout play list. It may not be as fast paced as the other tracks on this list but that is why it makes such a great addition. It manages to hold your attention whilst encouraging a steady drop in pace.

I’d really hoped we could get everyone singing this at the last Huddersfield Zombie Slouch but didn’t think to actually put any effort into it.

Killing Joke Extremities3 – Killing JokeExtremities (video)

From the phenomenal album, Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions this track maintains Killing Joke’s usual rage but at a slower pace. It makes for a great warm up or cool down track. Other tracks on this album would suit a slower session; in fact I sometimes substitute the album in place of a mixed playlist.

Killing Joke Pandemonium2 – Killing JokeExorcism (video)

Track 2 from Killing Joke’s Pandemonium, this is such an evocation of rage! Pandemonium remains my favourite Killing Joke album, probably because it is the album that introduced me to the band.

At over seven minutes duration, Exorcism is a good focus to move from warm up into your core workout. I also find the track therapeutic, as the title implies it makes for a good exorcism:

Get it out – get it out – get it out now
Let it rise to the surface – let it rise – let it rise – guilt
All your guilt and the pain and the hurt you cause
All the tears in the child’s face
All resentment undeclared
Let it rise
Let it rise let it bubble to the surface

Not an exorcism in the Ama Nazra spirit rescue sense of the word, more a personal emotional cleansing. In fact, Exorcism always strikes me as being almost like a Sith prayer, so full of passion and hate.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion I gain strength.
Through strength I gain power.
Through power I gain victory.
Through victory my chains are broken.
The Force shall set me free.

Sith Credo


Kava Kava Maui1 – Kava Kava – Maui (alternative video as Maui isn’t on YouTube)

From the album of the same name, Maui is incredibly energetic.

Uplifting and vibrant, this track and most of those on the album surpass any other in my collection; the only reason I don’t just play Kava Kava and nothing else is that I need variety in music. If I listen to one band at the expense of others then my appreciation for that band wanes.

Kava Kava are also great to see live, I can highly recommend tracking them down if you’ve not heard them before.

The video linked above is actually the track Bank Job, I could just as easily substituted Sicfuck or Terrorists in place of Maui – honestly, Kava Kava are awesome!

Music

I don’t think it really struck me how important music was to me until I started to work in Elland. Looking back on life I can see now that music has always been an important part of my life but I didn’t really realise this until I started walking to work, when I worked in Elland.

My journey to work in those days took between 30 and 40 minutes, dependent on the weather. It was probably late 2001 when the company I worked for at the time moved from Halifax to Elland, a short couple of miles from my home as the crow flies. I would set out around 07:20, up Crosland Road and across Lindley Moor, over the M62 and down through Blackley into Elland.

It was an awesome route, with fantastic views down into Calderdale. Despite being a lonely and solitary commute, the walk actually made me feel more involved in the community, I don’t know why.

In the early days, I tried to listen to my portable CD player. I had hordes of CD-R compilations that I’d recorded for the commute to Leeds in earlier years. The difference in this case was the seclusion; you can’t really sing along on a train and the background noise seeps in. Walking allowed me to fully appreciate the music I was listening to. As time went on I upgraded to a Creative MP3 player, 40gb of ripped CDs and my favourite compilation discs translated into playlists.

American Psycho BookI still listen to music on my commute to work, although buses are no better than trains for listening to music – and I feel guilty if I crank the volume up high enough to drown out the noise. Those days walking to Elland though, they showed my just how integral music is to me. Over those years I came to realise just how much of my philosophy and ideas were based on music; on the lyrics or the way a song made me feel. I realised that a well performed piece of music could actually make me cry – it actually all clicked when I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis; music is integral to the inner workings of Patrick Bateman‘s mind.

Since those days, my taste in music has diversified incredibly. I’ve taken time to seek out artists that move me; I’ve also paid attention to recommendations from colleagues, family and friends, to the added benefit of my music collection.

Looking back over the years I can see that I’ve always been heavily influenced by music, maybe we all are. I remember babysitting for my cousins and listening to my uncle’s CDs (I think before we had a CD player at home – or at least CDs); Talking Heads, Big Audio Dynamite and Yello – over and over again like some kind of obsessive compulsive. I still do that when I hear a track or album I like, playing it over and over again until I’ve absorbed it all.

Earlier than that I remember listening to tapes from friends at school – or that my Father would bring home from colleagues at college. My early high school days were all Pet Shop Boys and Queen, slowly moving into Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Megadeth and Guns n’ Roses. College itself was all Brit Pop and Grunge; Echobelly, Cud, Nirvana and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine mixed with Ozric Tentacles, the Orb and the Doors for good measure. Talking Heads, The Police and The The also feature in those halcyon days.

Early family holidays are coloured by the tapes my Father would play in the car. Huey Lewis and the News (another favourite of Bateman’s), The Christians and Paul Simon (as I think about it I can I see where Neil Gaiman might have got Fat Charlie from).

Earlier still we find the staple foundations to my musical taste. The first song I remember is Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M, followed by the themes from Sapphire & Steel and Monkey then later by various Pink Floyd and Queen tracks. In my memory of the early 80’s I would definitely classify myself as a new romantic but wasn’t everyone back then?

Over the years I’ve developed a strong connection to certain artists over others. These are artists that I can listen to again and again without getting bored; they are also artists that have had the most profound effect on my psyche. Some of these, like Kate Bush, The Police and The Doors are definitely down to a parental influence during my youth, the others are artists that I’ve collected during adulthood, like Killing Joke, No Doubt and Kelli Ali (the first artist who ever made me cry listening to a song).

The strongest influence I have noticed about music is the way that it can instantly evoke memories. If I listen to Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms i am taken back to the second of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books; the first can be evoked by T’Pau’s Bridge of Spies. Listening to Nirvana always brings to mind my reading Mark Morris‘s Toady – just as strongly as burning Poppy Incense reminds me of the first Baldur’s Gate PC game.

The strange thing is, I don’t really perform musically. I played clarinet at school and am still trying to learn to play the guitar but I’m no musician, I struggle to keep up with guitar games on my X-box. I can hold tune passably as a singer but nothing to write home about. I envy musicians immensely they have a way of sharing their feelings with the world that goes beyond words and pictures. Maybe I’m a musician trapped in a programmer’s body, maybe I’m yet to find my medium?