Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

1. “Queen of the Silver Dollar” – Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show
There have been few songwriters or poets as sly, as clever, as subversive as the late Shel Silverstein, and all of those traits are on full display in the devastatingly cruel “Queen of the Silver Dollar.” Originally recorded by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show for their second album, the quavering, emotion-laden vocals start off borderline-distraught, but quickly become celebratory. Initially, the “Queen” comes across as a fading “It Girl,” trying to hang on to past glories in a smoky bar, fawned over by drunk patrons. But as the song progresses, her tattered, hopeless persona pierces the illusion of royalty, and it becomes clear the Queen is a prostitute, well-worn and reduced to eking out a living amongst the dregs of society. And then Silverstein delivers the coup de grâce: The singer isn’t some impartial bystander, observing the sad state of affairs, but rather the Queen’s pimp, bragging about finding her as an innocent country girl, corrupting and deceiving her to bring the girl to this low place. The buoyancy in his voice isn’t one of admiration or unrequited love, but rather pride of ownership. The Queen isn’t human, but merely an asset, and he’s not in the bar to admire her, but to ensure his own profit margins. In its own way, the friendly exuberance of the song mirrors that of so many pimps, who wear a friendly and caring veneer around women that only masks the dangerous predator lurking beneath. In this way, “Queen of the Silver Dollar” is perhaps the most true-to-life of any song on this list.

Interestingly, Emmylou Harris covered the song on her 1975 album, Pieces of the Sky. Harris singing the third person lyrics overlay a more neutral observational tone to the piece, until the final refrain, where she switches to the first person and admits to being the prostitute in question. Although it lacks the emotional devastation of the Dr. Hook version--Harris' prostitute has seemingly made peace with her lot in life, although she's is aware of its superficiality--it's still a pretty good song in its own right and regardless of anything else, was a daring song for her to record at the time.

Now, I have to close with quite possibly one of the most wrong-headed covers of any song, ever. Dave & Sugar released "Silver Dollar" as their debut single in 1975, scoring a minor hit with it on the country charts. But folks, everything about this version is wrong. They are so incredibly chirpy and upbeat throughout it makes my skin crawl. And Dave, when he sings that line about how he's responsible for her downfall? He's positively beaming! "Hey! I made this girl a queen! Isn't that great? Who else could make a girl a queen? Yay, me!" There is no menace, no guile, no possession in his vocals at all. Never have singers been so utterly oblivious to the actual content of their song since Gail Farrell and Dick Dale crooned "One Toke Over the Line" on the Lawrence Welk Show. The video below isn't quite as bad at the original linked above, but still. Some people simply have no awareness of the wider world.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... O.C. Smith.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Antonio Carlos Jobim Wave
Chicken Ranch Central

No comments:

Post a Comment