The Real “History of Wooing Women” in Music

Slate's Culture Blog
July 25 2012 6:18 PM

The Real “History of Wooing Women”

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Still from "History of Wooing Women" from YouTube.

A collective of singers and musicians called CDZA has gained viral success in recent weeks with their “music video experiments,” which include such medleys as “An Abridged History of Western Music in 16 Genres” and a “History of Lyrics That Aren’t Really Lyrics.” Now, they’ve created a video that claims to be the “History of Wooing Women” through pop songs, featuring one male singer and a backing band transitioning rapidly through a wide variety of love songs. While the idea itself is great (and it’s been yet another success for the group, attracting write-ups from sites like Gawker, Popdust, and the Huffington Post), the execution is disappointing: By cherry-picking their song selection, the group reduces the revue to a cheap and misleading joke about the death of romance and the crassness of contemporary pop.

Allow me to explain. The video runs through a number of tame, sweetly tender proclamations of adoration for women—“My Girl,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” to name a few—until they get to 1994’s “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails (sample lyrics: “I wanna fuck you like an animal”). From that point on, they digress into frank, raunchy songs that aren’t so gentlemanly as the others. “Men just don’t romance ladies the way they used to…” the caption reads underneath their YouTube video.

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What’s missing from this story is that male vocalists have always used tunes laced with sex to get women to notice them. A perfect example is the blues, in which artists like Robert Johnson long ago used double entendres that were transparently sexual. Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” recorded in the 1930s, features the lyrics: “You can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice run down my legs.” These same lyrics would later be found in Led Zeppelin’s equally suggestive “The Lemon Song,” from 1969. And apparently the group has not heard Wilson Pickett’s 1965 Billboard hit “In the Midnight Hour” (“I’m gonna take you girl and hold you/ And do all the things I told you”), or even the notoriousAfternoon Delight” (“Rubbing sticks and stones together make the sparks ignite/ And the thought of loving you is getting so exciting”).

What CDZA misses (or perhaps chooses to ignore) is the fact that wistful swooners and bawdy come-ons have long co-existed in pop. Marvin Gaye could croon about “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You” and then tell you to “please turn yourself around/ oh baby so I can love you so good” (1974’s “You Sure Love to Ball”); Rod Stewart could ask you if you think he’s sexy and then bare his soul on “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” a song by Cat Stevens. And while we do have our share of  party songs from artists like Lil Wayne and Buckcherry, we also have artists like John Mayer and Jason Mraz taking their own more subtle approach to seduction. CDZA’s video may be cute, but it’s not exactly history.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

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