What we need, so Blue Mink tell us, is one great big melting pot. And do you know – I agree with them.
I’m sure if I’d been around in 1969 I’d have agreed with what was meant by the song all the way through, but I can’t say I’d stick their lyrics up on a banner now, in 2012.
For the purposes of analysis I shall share with you a sample of those lyrics:
Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of Red Indian boy
Curly Latin kinkies
Mixed with yellow Chinkees
If you lump it all together
Well, you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh, what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know
What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough to take the world and all it’s got
And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee colored people by the score
The message goes slowly off-colour, but how do we reconcile this with what was clearly a well-meaning song about mixing race in harmony?
Another song that might fit here is Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. Though this doesn’t deal with any political themes necessarily, one wonders whether the lack of controversy around the use of the word “coloured” is because the song is so good.
That said, if this was the case then why is there so much controversy surrounding Dire Straits’ song Money for Nothing which contains the now unacceptable word “faggot”, as does Fairy-tale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
Is it just that some songs are not subject to censorship and others are forgotten?
A Canadian radio station successfully managed to ban playing Dire Straits earlier this year, and on several occasions the BBC have tried to ban Fairy-Tale of New York, but the fuss kicked up was so high that they continue to play it today – and even go as far as saying they no longer censor songs.
Myself, I think where it is well-meaning or harmless, we’ve little choice but to live and let live. Taking out the word/s might seem crass, and certainly not good for artistic form.
In the case of the Blue Mink song, I’m afraid I can’t simply say live and let live. It is well-meaning, yes, but there are so many words in the song that don’t sit well with our modern palate that it’s hard to have it any other way.
Also I think if nostalgia is positive, then songs can stay. The way in which Lou Reed delivers his line, we are transported back to a time where black girls danced in sync providing backing vocals – particularly so in soul music.
Unfortnately, this isn’t so in Blue Mink. References to “chinkees” and “coffee coloured people” only remind me of negative instances, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
So as for what we do when songs become slightly offensive over time, there’s not one single answer. What’s often the case is that we just know when something doesn’t quite sound right anymore, and there are few better examples where that is the case than with the above two songs.