Five Insult Songs That Predate Getting "Dissed"
Some people find insults coarse, base and a sorry excuse for invective from the intellectually feeble. I call those people "bloggers who read the comments section."
Photo by K Rupp/Flickr Commons
But seriously, a good insult is a work of art. If you don't believe me, well, "I do desire we be better strangers," (Shakespeare). You're clearly "one of the numerous and varied legion of dullards, of half-animated abortions..." (Dostoevsky). Apparently, "If your brains were dynamite, there wouldn't be enough to blow your hat off" (Vonnegut).
In music, no one has mastered the insult better than the cunning linguists of rap. They've elevated the barb beyond art and into an all-new Webster's-approved synonym -- "diss." I'd pit today's best rap artists against Billy Shakes or MC Fyodor any day in an insult battle. If you disagree, well, go do something "with no Vaseline, just a match and a little bit of gasoline," (Ice Cube).
But, what about the hundreds of years between the Bard and Da Brat? Which songs from the pre-rap era serve the best crackbacks on some unwitting but probably deserving sap who never saw it coming? Are there any you could use for your own petty conflicts that don't sound too antiquated or too gangsta?
Why, yes, there are.
Big Mama Thornton, "Hound Dog"
Ironically, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton begins her version of the song by singing, "I want everybody to know that I was the one to say,...you ain't nothing but a hound dog!"
The blues belter's version precedes Elvis Presley's breakthrough by a few years, but is it better? That's a matter of opinion. But if you're judging solely on the number of insults in the song, Big Mama's got Elvis beat without question.
She tells her hound dog of a man "you can wag your tail, but I ain't gonna feed you no more." She professes she can see through his ruse of being high-classed and ultimately delivers the biggest burn: she says she's sending him home. As in, "I think you better call Tyrone" eviction.
Thornton was living and playing the blues in Houston for the Peacock label, which asked legendary rock and roll songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to write a song for her. So technically, they penned these open-handed slaps. But Big Mama delivered them flush to the droopy cheeks of her dog of a man.
Sex Pistols, "No Feelings"
Some people are gluttons for punishment. I call those people "bloggers who troll readers and then read the comments section." I'm no Freud, so I don't comprehend why anyone would subject themselves to verbal abuse, but it's a fact that some people are into it.
People like those are who Johnny Rotten is singing about here, when he's not singing about his "beautiful self." In this case, the insulted is reduced to nothing more than "a pretty pot of glue," whose "brains are locked away." This unfortunate individual is so barren of self-esteem that John Lydon figures he or she will still have his picture on their wall long after he's gone. Ouch.
Stevie Wonder, "You Haven't Done Nothin'"
Last year, I got fired from a job I had for ten years. In case y'all didn't know, they will do that to you if insult your boss too many times. Looking back, I've come to realize I was right to do what I did. I have no regrets at all.
I could have been less vocal about my boss's ineptitude, sure, but I was spurred by music, like this burn on authority by Stevie Wonder. The song was written with one man in mind -- Richard Nixon. But take it from me, it applies itself well to any other bald-faced, know-nothing abusers of authority. Meddling parents, trifling spouses, your kids in a sofa coma induced by marijuana and video games -- it applies to them, too.
Adding injury to insult, Wonder's words are amplified by na-na-boo-boos courtesy of the Jackson 5, making "You Haven't Done Nothin'" funkier than yo' mama's breath, which is so bad her toothbrush learned how to pray.
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