Friday, June 27, 2014

"Skin songs": Controversial sexy country music in the 1970s

Tanya Tucker in 1978

Country music is sometimes seen as traditional and moralistic, but it got sexy in the 1970s. So sexy, in fact, that moralists decried country music itself for polluting the airwaves and American minds. 

These sexy "skin songs," as they were called, "ventured into the area of eroticism with a greater suggestiveness and openness than at any previous time in country music history," Bill Malone wrote in Country Music USA. The songs, he said, "were cited as evidence of the harm that had come from country music's flirtation with other musical cultures." 

Grandpa Jones says no to "skin songs."
 (Headline from Tuscaloosa News, April 10, 1974)

Bill Anderson says yes to "skin songs."
 (Headline from Times Daily, July 17, 1976)

Polluting the minds of listeners wasn't really a new thing for country music. The cheating songs of the 1950s, for example, were very suggestive for their time. Not many pop singers were singing about illicit affairs back then, but country singers were all over it.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at some of the sexiest hits of 1970s country. Sometimes sexy, sometimes crude, these songs were simultaneously popular and scorned.

Jerry Lee Lewis – "Meat Man"

This outrageous song was written by a relative of mine, Mack Vickery. I never met Vickery, but my mother did. Sample lyric: "I ate the fuzz off a Georgia peach."

Tanya Tucker – "Would You Lay with Me in a Field of Stone?"

Tanya Tucker was 15 years old when she recorded this song about strong needs and laying and midnight hours and giving herself, etc. The song became a #1 hit after Tucker appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Conway Twitty – "You've Never Been This Far Before"

When Conway Twitty sang about touching forbidden places, squeamish listeners frantically touched the "off" buttons on their radios. 

Mel Street – "Borrowed Angel"

Street loves his borrowed angel—he just can't help himself. The inability to resist temptation and continue, in the face of it, to care about what's right and wrong will be recurring themes throughout these songs.

Statler Brothers – "Bed of Roses" 

An older woman teaches a younger boy about the ways of love: "She took me in and wiped away my childhood." Same story as Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls," more or less.

Jerry Reed – "Plastic Saddle" 

I included Jerry Reed's 1970 version of this 1968 Nat Stuckey hit because Reed's version is way better. "Don't give me no plastic saddle," Reed sings. "I like to feel the leather when I ride." If you don't think that this song has sexual connotations, then read some of the comments that people leave on the videos. Yikes.

David Allan Coe – "Divers Do It Deeper"

"Plastic Saddle" isn't the only country song that compares ridin' a saddle to gettin' it on. David Allan Coe's "Divers Do It Deeper" praises the longevity of cowboys, because they can "stay in the saddle just a little bit longer." This song was a minor hit in 1978.

Barbara Mandrell – "Midnight Oil"

Another cheatin' song, "Midnight Oil" refers to the literal or figurative residue of forbidden love that covers Barbara when she gets home from her illicit rendezvous. "Tomorrow I'll be sorry," she sings, "And I'll feel kinda dirty, because I'll have the midnight oil all over me."

Loretta Lynn – "Rated 'X'" and "The Pill"

Loretta Lynn didn't care what anyone thought. "Rated 'X'" criticizes what we now call "slut shaming" even as it revels in sexy imagery, and "The Pill" celebrates birth control as women's ticket to sexual freedom. Kurt Wolff's book Country Music: The Rough Guide says that, with "The Pill," Lynn "once again showed fearlessness toward controversial and up-to-now forbidden material."


Connie Cato – "Super Kitten"

The predatory woman: "There she goes out into the night, a-waggin' her body.... Searching out a victim...." 


Bob Luman – "Lonely Women Make Good Lovers" 

The predatory man.


Charlie Rich – "Behind Closed Doors"

Rich's first #1 hit. 


Freddie Hart – "Easy Lovin'"

"Easy lovin'. So sexy lookin'."

The Kendalls – "Heaven's Just a Sin Away"

Sinful to begin with, this song is extra weird because it's a father-daughter duet. Great song and great group, though.

Melba Montgomery – "Angel of the Morning" 

"If morning's echo says we've sinned, well, it was what I wanted now." This song was reportedly offered to Connie Francis, but she turned it down because she thought it was too risque. It was first a pop hit for Merrilee Rush in 1968. Melba Montgomery hit the country Top 40 with her version in 1978.

Bellamy Brothers – "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)"



Kris Kristofferson – "Help Me Make It Through the Night"

"I don't care what's right or wrong—I don't try to understand." 

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