I don’t cuss very often in real life, but I like to hear other people cuss sometimes, especially in songs. If somebody cusses in front of me in a song, chances are they don’t know me. That said, I almost never cuss in front of people I know unless they’re my girlfriend or my brother or my best friend. Or my parents if I’m with my girlfriend or any of my childhood friends and I’m wanting to shock-and-awe. I usually blush after I cuss, unless I really pull it off. But actually I blush no matter what, if it was a good cuss or a bad cuss, because I’m not able to do it casually, not really. For similar reasons, I try to avoid playing songs with cusses in them when I’m in a public place, like for my college radio show or in my coffee shop. Which doesn’t stop me from sometimes hearing a cuss that isn’t there, like when Billy Butler of Billy Butler & the Enchanters says in “Gotta Get Away,” from 1964, “A long, long time now, we’ve been good friends / but now little girl, this shit’s gotta end.” But it turns out it’s a friendship that’s gotta end. Curtis Mayfield wrote that song. I don’t know how many cusses Curtis Mayfield wrote in his lifetime, probably not too many. I began to wonder about the “first song to swear” in the history of recorded music and so did this guy DarRRva on the straightdope message board way back in 2002. (click to zoom)
The straight consensus is that the oldest swearin’ song is Lucille Bogan’s “Shave ‘Em Dry,” from 1934, which features this cuss:
A big sow gets fat from eatin’ corn,
And a pig gets fat from suckin’,
Reason you see this whore, fat like I am,
Great God, I got fat from fuckin’.
My favorite singer, back before he was Bonnie Prince Billy, in “A Sucker’s Evening,” from 1996, used fuck as a verb and a noun in the very same breath:
Fuck him with something
The fuck, he deserves it
There are cuss words other than fuck and shit that I know, but I’m not saying. The first song with cusses that I bought with my own money was Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice,” and in the talky beginning if you listen closely you can hear somebody say, “Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, get some bubblegum in this motherfucker.” There are some other cusses in there. I remember playing that song to myself in my headphones in the parking lot of the Spaghetti Warehouse in Columbus, OH, and not too long after that I remember playing it out loud for my dad and proudly watching his face while he took in the cusses and both of us blushing. On a side note, something sweet about the teenage me– but actually I didn’t find out the real lyrics until I was 23– is that a line in the chorus of “Gin and Juice” goes:
Rollin down the street, smokin ENDO, sippin on gin and juice
but I thought it was, “Rolling down the street smoking AND/OR sipping on gin and juice,” because I was a very responsible young man. I still am. There are probably some songs with cusses that I’m forgetting. I’m supposed to highlight one song, and after all this fussin’ I decided to go with a song with almost no cussing at all. It’s “Petrified Forest” by Cass McCombs, and it’s such a beautiful song, unmarred by my blushing. I never heard or understood any of the lyrics until I listened to it very carefully for the purpose of this piece. Well, none of the lyrics except for the part where he says:
Dag gummit….god dangit….dag nabbit…..darn tootin’…..
Which I think is so beautiful and touching, he sounds like he’s just stubbed his toe, and it’s pretty much the level of cussing that I’m comfortable with at the end of the day! But also my girlfriend just walked in on me listening to this song and asked, “Did he just say fuck forest?” So there ya go!
Jacob Otting lives in Louisville, KY.