A Hard Day's Blog

Oh, by all means, I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality.
FEBRUARY 18, 2012 10:28AM

Birth Control's Greatest Hits (Or, Should I Say, Misses?)

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It has become abundantly clear in the last few days how painfully out of touch certain older, white, and in some cases, celibate men are with middle American culture and the unwashed, fornicating masses.  Out of touch with reality, actually.

But if they're looking for some clues about what's going on in the world, I would advise them to check out popular music, which has always  been the voice of everyday people.  Rock, pop, and country are genres which tell the stories of - and articulate the yearnings and hardships of - those who seem to be forgotten in the hallowed halls of Washington and the incense-scented inner sanctums of the male-dominated Catholic church.

The tales told in the songs here are most likely fictional, yet they speak to experiences shared by millions.  Poverty, youth, ignorance, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted children, broken lives.  I guess you can make the argument that these things were and are happening despite the fact that birth control and abortion are legal - at least for the moment.  But that just convinces me even further that what we need is more education, more access, more availability, and to remove the stigma associated with them.

Here is some musical testimony to support my case. 



Annie Had a Baby (1954 - Glover, Mann)

This was the second installment in the "Annie" series by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.  The first was Work With Me Annie (let's get it while the gettin' is good).  Of course, all that workin' resulted in a baby, and also resulted in this record being banned from the radio.  I'm proud to say that my parents had both of these records, part of a large collection of 78s.  They were teenagers in the 1950s and big fans of so-called "race music".  I grew up listening to these songs.  This one is more than a little sexist - I don't know why he can't help her take care of the baby - and the "naughtiness" of it is probably lost on the modern listener. The singer here bemoans the fact that, ever since the baby came along, Annie has no more time for him.  I guess they found out the hard way that babies are a lot of work and can put quite a strain on a relationship.  Tough nuts, the Catholic bishops would say.  You wanna' play, you gotta' pay.

 

Love Child (1968 - R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards)

It would be hard to find a catchier tune about a young woman's painful memories of growing up as an out-of-wedlock child, and having to balance the desire she shares with her boyfriend against the possibility of having a child of her own go through the same thing. I can't even imagine how controversial this song was in 1968. 

In the Ghetto (1969 - Mac Davis)

Performed by Elvis Presley, released the year after his huge "comeback" special, in the "white jumpsuit" phase of his career, one might be tempted to dismiss this song as a bit sappy. But I challenge you to find a more heartfelt, even poetic, description of generational poverty and despair. 

Ode to Billie Joe (1967 - Bobbie Gentry)

There is supposedly some mystery surrounding this song, but it's always been obvious to me what the song's narrator and Billie Joe McAllister were throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge that day.

This Night Has Opened My Eyes (1983 - Morrissey, Marr)

There was always a line in this song that stuck with me.  "The dream has gone, but the baby is real."  I found it so incredibly sad.  And I was very surprised to hear that line many years after I first heard the song, in a film called A Taste of Honey, a British movie, based on the play of the same name, that was part of the "Kitchen Sink Realism" movement of the early 1960s. Watching it, I could easily see how the story, setting, characters and cinematography influenced Morrissey's view of the world.  It's not completely clear what is happening in this song - the imagery is somewhat abstract. But the feelings of loss and regret are tangible.


Pregnant Again (1980 - Lee Pockriss, Mark Sameth)

The title pretty much says it all.  And although the song ends on a somewhat happy note of resignation, you just know that things aren't going to get any easier for this family.

Loretta Lynn visited this same theme in some other songs, most notably "One's On the Way" and "The Pill", as well as singing about her daddy raising eight kids on a miner's pay in the autobiographical "Coal Miner's Daughter", so I think it's safe to say that she knows this subject matter pretty well. 

Run, Joey, Run (1975 - Paul Vance, Jack Perricone)

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now entering the camp portion of our program. Over-the-top teen melodrama in the tradition of Leader of the Pack and Teen Angel, this is the story of Joey and Julie. Joey gets Julie pregnant, which enrages Julie's father, who beats up Julie and comes after Joey with a gun. Julie tries to intervene, and is accidentally shot by her own father. No wonder Joey now suffers from nightmares! This song is so kitschy, it was even covered in an episode of Glee! Still, I think it speaks to the very real fear that most any teenager would feel about parents finding out about a pregnancy.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves (1971 - Bob Stone)

Like In the Ghetto, this song begins and ends with a birth, continuing the cycle of poverty, especially among a group of people considered as "the other" by "respectable" society. 


Down From Dover (1969 - Dolly Parton)

Update:  My brother-in-law, who knows just about every song ever written, just now told me about this one, and I have to include it. Absolutely haunting. Thanks, Bill.

Papa Don't Preach (1986 - Brian Elliot, Madonna)

Madonna at her absolute cutest. The song and video seem to send mixed messages. Some criticized it and felt that it encouraged teenage pregnancy. (If it ends happily for Madonna, it'll work out for me too!) Others were just glad she defiantly decided to "keep my baby". While I think the video is beautifully done, I wish that we could see this fictional couple five or ten years later. This perky little girl with her "Italians Do It Better" t-shirt and her Catholic school uniform, and her hunky mechanic boyfriend with the artfully-placed grease smudges. Starting out with a baby to take care of before you even finish high school and a husband with a minimum-wage job is not exactly glamorous.  To quote the song, maybe they'll be alright, with some sacrifice, but the odds are against it.  

(Note:  The clip below only contains the audio for the song, as I can't embed the original video. If you want to see that (you'll have to watch an ad first), and get a real blast from the '80s, click here.)

Brick (1997 - Ben Folds, Darren Jessee)

Some really strong imagery in this song.  "Six a.m.  Day after Christmas. Smell of cold. Car seat is freezing. The world is sleeping."  "Now that I have found someone, I'm feeling more alone, than I ever have before." And the chorus is...perfect.

Ben Folds describes the song this way:  "People ask me what this song's about... I was asked about it a lot, and I didn't really wanna make a big hairy deal out of it, because I just wanted the song to speak for itself.  But the song is about when I was in high school, me and my girlfriend had to get an abortion, and it was a very sad thing.  And, I didn't really want to write this song from any kind of political standpoint, or make a statement. I just wanted to reflect what it feels like. So, anyone who's gone through that before, then you'll know what the song's about."

In the end, I think that's probably the strongest statement of all.

  

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I always thought that "The Ode to Billie Joe" was a peculiar tale to have become so popular. In retrospect I believe it was due in part to its story line being denied by so many. Were the the actual story to have been right out in the open and not mysterious I think it would have perished in the river below too.
aka, you might be right. I suppose it was just nebulous enough so that people could deny it (although Bobbie Gentry herself would never come right out and say what it was about). Radio back then was also a lot more "open" in terms of what got played and what could become popular. This song probably wouldn't be a hit today, that's for sure!
I had figured out Ode to Billy Joe and most of the rest but never thought of Gypsies Tramps and Thieves. I am playing The Smiths now as one can never have enough Smiths in my life.
HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG
Jeanette: Great collection. "Love Child" will be going through my head all day. There was one song that immediately popped into my head that would serve opposite your thread here and that is Paul Anka's **cringe, cringe** Having My Baby. Moving right along ... to another extreme is the Sex Pistol's, Bodies.

@AKA: To your point ... just the other day [in an interview] Carly Simon said she would take who "You're So Vain" was about to her grave and acknowledged part of the song's success was the mystery/gossip it has - and still - generates. I loved Bobbie Gentry's southern Gothic tale; still do. Yes, part of the power in it remains that denied story line you mention but in those days there were lots of secrets best not shared. Few were singing about them. She really gave that song POV.
Sorry about the italics! Didn't intend it to continue.
Wow! What a collection of music. Sex was not the only subject in pop music which came under attack. Recall the movement to curb violence in pop songs. Much was made of violence in the lyrics of the day, ignoring the fact that violence has also been a theme for years as evidenced by the Pat Boone song Moody River, the Kingston trio's Tom Dooley, Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison and many others. Very interesting subject you have opened here.
Do you remember the John R show on WLAC Nashville?
I've loved Ben Folds (Five) since high school. When I was 16 or 17 "Brick" was popular, but I had no idea, naive as I was, that it was about abortion until someone told me. That song is a testament to the despair of unplanned pregnancy if ever there was one.
And don't forget Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean".

The Repugnants are fools -- getting rid of birth control is guaranteed to increase the number of abortions. They are also hypocrites, who insist it's their duty to protect the "unborn, but they deny they have any duty to the born. The plain truth is these people want to go back to a world that never existed.

Forgive the shameless self-promotion, but they should be forced to read my post Pilgrims, Playboy and Porn, in which I point out that roughly half the 14-16 yr old girls in the Plymouth Colony were likely pregnant at the time they married.

They should also be forced to read my post Stem Cells and Sophie's Choice, in which I point out just how ludicrous is their position on stem-cell research. As someone who went thru the in vitro process three times, I can assure you I never allowed myself the foolish luxury of thinking of eight-celled zygotes as "persons".
Run Joey, Run evoked such emotion in my teenaged heart yet I never realized the cause of her father's anger until now. Ode to Billy Joe was another favourite, but my guess was as good as yours on that one.
Children born of wedlock is nothing new. One of the Judges of Israel in the Old Testament was born out of wedlock. ..his name slips me at the moment.
Amazing, beautiful collection. And sad.

Is that really the world we want?

Another artistic piece in this collection is My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989 movie with Daniel Day-Lewis). Yes it's the inspiring story of a paralyzed Irish guy who learned to draw with his toes. But it's also the story of poverty and despair in Ireland, with no birth control, where families had far more children than they could afford. There's a harrowing scene with the drunken father beating the mother for being pregnant again, and scenes of the teenage boys sleeping four to a bed. Is that really the world they want?
I'm pleased the president maneuvered these bastards into this shameful display of what they'd prior fairly well hidden. r. Thanks for this post.
toritto, I hope you plan on doing some on-the-ground reporting when the GOP rolls into your town!

Linda, I think I could listen to The Smiths forever. Their sound speaks to me in a very elemental way.

Scarlett, oh god, don't make me think of that song! Out of my head, right now, Paul Anka! (Hadn't thought about "Bodies" - that's a good one.) And don't worry about the runaway italics. I've done it myself on more than one occasion. :-)

Dicky, I don't think I know the radio show you're referring to, but I just googled it and I bet that was pretty cool! I love some of the songs you mention and the themes they explored. Like I said, popular music has always been the voice of the people - it's a reflection of the way life really is.

Kat, I think a lot of people didn't know what that song was about, probably because the chorus was so catchy and sing-alongable. But it really is a masterpiece. Maybe nothing better has been written about the subject in song form.
Excellent post. I have a song that has always resonated with me about abortion that most people don't even know. I think it's one of the most poignant songs on the subject.

Squeezing Out Sparks, Grahame Parker and the Rumour from the album, "Squeezing Out Sparks." It came out at about the same time I went with a friend to a clinic, because the guy who got her pregnant booked the moment he found out. Made me cry, because I don't think she wanted to have the abortion, but felt she couldn't afford to have a baby, either.

I don't know what goes on in those pustule filled excuses for brains of those guys, but I guaran-damn-ty ya, that if their kid was "in a condition" they'd make sure she "went on vacation in Mexico" and the rest of us poor unwashed masses can just "deal with it."

The one thing I really hate is hypocrisy.

--r--
Ode to Billie Joe makes me cry every time. I thought I knew, but was afraid to really admit it. And "Gypsies?" I grew up on that one, and always thought it a very sad song.
Excellent music choices.

Me, I'm damned if I'll let old guys who are so completely out of touch make decisions that impact me and millions of girls and women. They're trying to build a bridge back to the 19th century. Time for another Year of the Woman in 2012!

rated
Well done. I agree with Tom Cordle. I am seething. They want to go back to a better time....better time???? Was that piece of fiction in technicolor? These people are wishing for fantasy or worse, some kind of power they had in the past over women.
Wish I could rate this a million times...wish I could play it on loud speakers going through the towns, people need to remember the reality of all this.
this is one of those subjects that's just so fraught, isn't it? sex - good, bad, something to be celebrated, something to atone for - and whatever the view is in the era about that colors the rest - do you/should you use birth control, is that an admission that you like it?, abortion/adoption/keeping a baby - that a woman is stuck with the guy who's the baby's father whether she loves him or wants him in her life, all of it. and you can see by the angst in all the songs you found (i'd never heard 'brick' - wow) that the whole thing cycles around again and again from back when i remember those earliest ones right up to today. great post, jeanette.
Tom, I didn't think of "Billie Jean". It would be an excellent addition. That's fascinating about the Plymouth settlers. I'm going to go back and look for that post. Obviously, premarital sex is nothing new. As for the rest, I think you've got their number, and I know you're as angry about it as I am.

A. Walrond, I'm so glad you know that song! I thought I was the only one. It's pretty funny to hear it again as an adult and realize that's what it was about. I don't remember knowing it myself when it first came out. Out of wedlock births, yes, as old at the Bible!

froggy, thanks. A post about movies that have portrayed these situations would be fantastic Certainly, Irish cinema has to be full of them.

Jonathan, it is stunning to see the mask come off this way, isn't it? It's about control and power. I just don't think people are going to take it anymore.

scanner, thanks dude! I really appreciate it.

dunniteowl, I don't know that song at all. I looked for it on YouTube, but couldn't find it. I'm going to make it a point to try and find it somehow. I'd really like to hear it. Thanks for coming by.

sweetfeet, yeah, those two songs bring back so many memories of growing up. All of the other explanations I've heard for Ode to Billie Joe just don't make any sense. It's just such a compelling story. As Scarlett said earlier, very southern Gothic.
I've grown up hearing most of these songs on the radio, but finding them together in a common thread like this leaves quite an impact.
Thanks for an excellent post, Jeanette.
R♥
I don't think they are celebate men -- either the priests or the congressmen -- they're just straight up hypocrites. As for "Ode to Billie Joe" I remember watching the movie with Robby Benson where he threw himself off the bride after a homosexual encounter haunted him. Either way. It's scary shit when the government (or anyone else, really) gets involved in the personal lives of others, particularly when they aren't willing to shine a light on their own.
The song I would choose to represent Democrats in 2012 would be Landslide by the Dixie Chicks. The pregnant Emily Robison is absolutely glowing! I think way too often the term "choice" in the abortion debate is FRAMED by the right as choosing abortion, when in fact Pro-choice women most often choose to have their babies, but understand that choice means all options!
And by the way... that Ben Folds song is haunting.
I made myself a big cup of coffee and just sat back and enjoyed this thoughtful progression of music. I wasn't familiar with Ben Folds. Thanks for the intro.
Great approach to this issue, and I think the Ben Folds song and what you said about it are the perfect conclusion.
Shiral, it's maddening, isn't it? But I think they've over-reached in a big way. The backlash is only beginning.

Sheila, thanks so much. Yes, we should play all of these songs on loudspeakers so that all of these people on Congressional panels can't ignore it!

Candace, you sum up the confusion and mixed messages very well. When The Raspberries sing "Go All The Way", that's great. But then you get "Love Child". We've simply got to make up our minds about these issues and stop punishing people for being human.

Fusun, thanks. That's what I was hoping for, a kind of collective impact, hearing all of these songs in one place.

SpiritMan, thanks for stopping by. I love the idea of "Landslide" being the theme song for this year! I think Rick Santorum is going to make it all possible! (And you are so spot on about what choice means. Many people forget that. We need to frame the issue in just that way.)

Bell, I doubt the celibacy thing myself. I'm sure there are some priests who take that vow seriously, but I would bet they're pretty few and far between. The hypocrisy is stunning, and I can't believe they're not totally ashamed of themselves.

froggy, isn' it though?

Hi Fay. Thanks for taking the time to listen. I've loved your posts on this issue as well. Glad you liked the Ben Folds song. It's pretty powerful.
Wow! What an amazing compilation!! I had never heard "Brick" before, it made me cry. Haunting. "Now that I have someone I have never been so alone."
i heard "work with me annie" and the others when i was a pre-teen. by the time i got to them, they were scratchy records, usually abandoned by an older kid. folks songs have the same message (look up The Butcher Boy).
Alysa, thanks. I wanted to present the in a different way, and I'm glad it resonated with you.

Jersey Girl, thanks for stopping by today. I'm glad I included that song. I thought just about everyone had heard it, but I'm glad to have introduced it to a few people, even though it's incredibly sad and poignant.

Terry, wow, I just listened to a version of that song by Sinead O'Connor. Just beautiful. I'm sure there are so many songs out there that speak to this same issue. Thank you for introducing me to a new one.
Great line-up of tunes. Not many men writing songs on this topic. Bruce wrote a good one, Spare Parts, on Tunnel of Love:

Bobby said he'd pull out Bobby stayed in
Janey had a baby it wasn't any sin
They were set to marry on a summer day
Bobby got scared and he ran away
Jane moved in with her ma out on Shawnee Lake
She sighed Ma sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake
She settled in in a back room time passed on
Later that winter a son came along.
greenheron, see, that's what I'm talking about! I'm really glad people are adding to the list. I don't think I have that Springsteen CD, so I'm not familiar with that one. God bless Bruce.
It's an incredibly powerful song. Janey almost drowns the baby, then at the last minute doesn't, and goes on in typical Springsteenian fashion to live a tough brave life. The Tunnel of Love version is electric with the band, but there's a nice solo 12 string acoustic slide version on You Tube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quDkCHDvLLk
The music and the post are priceless.
•.•♥╔╗╦╦╗▄║╔╗╔╗ & ╗╔╗╔╔╗╔╗•(¯ `v´¯ )◦•*✿
•.•♥╚╗║║║╦║╠╝╚╗ & ╠╣║║║╦╚╗(¯` ❤ .¯ )✿
•.•♥╚╝──╚╩╚╚╝╚╝ & ╝╚╚╝╚╝╚╝◦.(_.^._)•*¨✫
❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´  ¨`*•.¸❊¸.•*´¨`*•.¸❊
Have a beautiful new week with love and happiness❤¸.•*¨✫
ha, well done..you are onto a metaphysical truth here,
re. music. I suggest you dip your head into
Schopenhauer, to whom music
connected us with the All, the One,
you know what i mean.


he said, off-context sorry:

"A man's delight in looking forward to and hoping for some particular satisfaction is a part of the pleasure flowing out of it, enjoyed in advance. But this is afterward deducted, for the more we look forward to anything the less we enjoy it when it comes."
Arthur Schopenhauer
madonna kinda overcame catholicism while remaining true
to its core.
This perky little girl with her "Italians Do It Better" t-shirt and her Catholic school uniform, and her hunky mechanic boyfriend
greenheron, thanks for the link! I'm going to try to add a few of the links that you and others have suggested at the end of my post.

Algis, thanks so much! Smiles and hugs to you too!

James, that Schopenhauer quote is magnificent. And I think you're right about Madonna. I think she's Catholic through and through. I remember the big kerfuffle when the "Like a Prayer" video came out. Puhleeze. I grew up reading the stories of the martyrs. People getting beheaded, shot full of arrows, boiled in oil, flayed alive, stabbed to death, and thrown to the lions. Madonna was tame compared to all that. But she sure was brilliant back in the day.
Hey Jeanette, your post inspired me to write my own about birth control. Thanks for making me think about what could have happened and didn't.
This post rocks and I love what you have done here.
❤.•*`*•(¯`••´¯)
(¯`••´¯)°•.¸.•°❤•(¯`´¯)
.°•.¸.•°❤ PEACE ❤°•.¸.•° •.¸¸.•*`*•❤
I had to come back to hear that BG song again.
What a great collection of tunes reflecting realities the majority of people must live with regardless of what Catholic dogma says. "Every Sperm Is Sacred" from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life would fit in here too maybe, at least as a footnote. There's also a song by James McMurtry called "We Can't Make it Here" that includes the lines:

High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do?
Forget the career, forget about school?
Can she live on faith? Live on hope?
High on Jesus and hooked on dope?
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore
Between your words and these songs you convey the human, emotional reality hidden by all the political mischief.

I was always too busy digging the arrangement of "Love Child" to bother with the words. Now I hear them.

And thanks for Ben Folds - that's a nice song.

(Papa Don't Preach needs no more words.)
If you want birth control, buy it. No one is stopping you. Just don't make ME buy it for you.

And if you can't afford it, HELLO???????????? Planned Parenthood is still around.
Barbara, I haven't asked anyone to buy anything for anyone in this post. But thanks for stopping by.