“Why don’t you all just F….F….F…F…Fade Away!” so sang The Who in 1965 on Top of The Pops and had all the government censors leaping for the off button and the kids screaming with antici…pation. Such is the symbiotic and thrilling relationship between pop and profanity. The desire of the young and creative to shock is as strong as it is irrational. In 1974, the charts were dominated by the Bay City Rollers and The Osmonds with Bye Bye Baby and Puppy Love presenting a safe lexicon for pop hungry youth (little did we know then about the sinister side of the Rollers’ “baby” (however, I think The Osmonds’ puppies are safe).
When Punk broke in 1976 it had a modus operandi to be as offensive and nasty as possible and we thought “here we go, someone is going to swear on telly”. How fantastic! So it was that I delivered the Mirror newspaper and read about the “Filth and the Fury” the Sex Pistols 4 letter tirade on the Bill Grundy show.
Of course being from up north we had never seen Bill Grundy, but we understood that (to protect the innocent I have replaced swear words with vegetables: the F word is courgette, the S word is Turnip… that should suffice for now) there had been at least 2 courgettes and 1 turnip. How amazing! Had the revolution started! Our young minds were awash with possibilities, a barrier had been broken down and this was our movement and we could declare to all who would listen “Go and courgette yourself! I don’t give a turnip!”.
Then, thrill upon thrill, the album came out with a profanity in the title! I had to explain to my mother, in a strategic act of diplomacy, that, although the cover was a bit rum, it was a record that I had to own and Never Mind The Bollocks was mine. Amazing record, but the chat in the school yard focused on one song, Bodies, with its exclamation “Screaming courgette (ok more veg needed lets go for Tomato for Bl###y) tomato mess! Followed by no less than a further 5 courgettes! Then the Buzzcocks waded in with Oh Turnip and The Stranglers topped the outrage chart in their Bring On The Nubiles stating “Let me let me courgette courgette you.”
Could we stand anymore excitement?! Then, in what was widely regarded as the best use of the technique, the Sex Pistols b-side cover of No Fun had the introduction “a sociology lecture, with a bit of psychology, a bit of neurology, a bit of courgetteology”. Oh Yes!
What was surprising, however, in this environment, where dropping a profanity into a lyric was, shall we say, a quick win to certain demographic, was how many resisted. I am struggling to remember The Damned, Elvis Costello or The Clash spitting out courgettes or turnips in this era and it took Paul Weller years before he announced that “we don’t have to take this turnip” (ok, it was not a turnip but it was in the same area) in Walls Come Tumbling Down. [Have you forgotten the rare vegetable in Death or Glory? – TTW Ed.]
One group who grasped the easy access to an audience via the power of the profane were Crass. Their ultra political anti art noise was so expletive laden that it was the only time a parent marched into my room and turned the ultra offensive bile-filled noise off. The surprising thing was that rather that feeling my freedoms curtailed and stirring me to fight back against my first oppressors, I was relived because it sounded tomato awful.
Of course, fast forward to today and we have such regularity of cussing in pop that it’s impossible to keep up. But has this robbed us all of the unique excitement of shocking the more sensitive souls in our society with our charismatic strolling over the commonly agreed red lines? If we take 2 top pop pickers from today, Cee-Lo Green and Nicky Minaj; the former topped the charts with a song titled “Courgette You” and the latter had a chart topper with a song that declared “Courgette who you want, courgette who you need”. Intriguingly, however, they both issued radio edits that substituted their courgettes with something less offensive, which suggests that despite the omnipresence of the cuss in popular culture today, the kids still feel a frisson of excitement over this illicit taboo. Bless their cotton socks and our censorious rulers for keeping the dream alive!
This debate was sparked by an observation by Chorizo Garbanzo in The Bruce Springsteen Roulette Podcast and Wizard-in-Chief, Kicker of Elves, has continued the furious debate to find the King of the Cuss see here so be sure to get your nomination in. My nomination is the mightily fouled mouthed Ben Folds find out why here.