Some Boomer Music Delivered Backhanded Compliments

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Unlike other celebratory days, however, there aren’t many songs recorded that extol its virtues. One that crops up each year is, My Funny Valentine. It’s not a boomer-era song, appearing for the first time in the 1937 Broadway musical, Babes In Arms. It went on to become a jazz standard. Mister Boomer recalls it in particular because his parents called it “their song.”

Evidently they embraced the song during their courtship; by then dozens of entertainers had recorded it. The lyrics, however, have always troubled Mister B:

Your looks are laughable

And then further in the song:

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

Despite the singer finishing by saying, don’t change a thing for me, Mister Boomer, hearing the song year after year, wondered as a teen if that was his father’s view of his mother. It didn’t seem to bother them.

Well, decades have passed, and in the current light, Mister Boomer sees it wasn’t the only song that expressed, shall we say, backhanded compliments toward a significant other. The boomer years added fuel of their own.

Take, for example, If You Wanna Be Happy by Jimmy Soul (1963):

If you want to be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So for my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

Can you imagine what might happen in social media these days if a song was released that had two male voices speaking in the middle:

First male: I saw your wife the other day … Yeah, and she’s ugly!
Second male: Yeah, she’s ugly, but she sure can cook …

In 1966, The Rolling Stones took the compliment out of the backhand, and went straight for the jugular with Stupid Girl. The song, and Aftermath, the entire album on which it was featured, caused controversy then, and still generates conversations today:

It doesn’t matter if she dyes her hair
Or the color of the shoes she wears
She’s the worst thing in this world
Well, look at that stupid girl

A half-decade later, Todd Rundgren sang in We Gotta Get You a Woman (1970):

They may be stupid but they sure are fun

Mr. Rundgren faced immediate pushback that reverberates to this day. He penned an explanation and apology in the liner notes of his next album, and in subsequent interviews though the years. Despite it being his biggest hit, Rundgren refused to play the song live in his concerts.

Now, we all can agree that ugly and stupid people exist in the world, but more than likely, it’s other people’s kids, not ours, and certainly not ourselves. And if we were fond of living, we wouldn’t categorize our spouses in such a manner, either. So what societal mechanisms were in play in the 1960s and ’70s that shrugged off these statements as matter-of-fact for a large segment of the population?

Do you remember these songs, boomers? If so, what did you think then, and has that opinion changed? What are we to make of these backhanded compliments in our boomer-era music?

One thought on “Some Boomer Music Delivered Backhanded Compliments”

  1. The other day I heard another song on Sirius Radio 60’s Gold delivering a backhanded compliment. In 1967 the Dave Clark Five released “You Got What it Takes”. Some of the lyrics go:
    You don’t live in a beautiful place, no
    You don’t dress in the best of taste
    And nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face
    But baby, you got what it takes
    Yeah, yeah, yeah
    In any event this song delivered a backhanded compliment and it travelled from the US to England and returned during the ‘British Invasion’. One of my favorites from one of my favorite bands.

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