Before his untimely death, Bill “The Fox” Foster presided over Comedy Central’s notorious “The Man Show” as its mascot and inspiration.
A grinning, wrinkled man in a blue military jacket and bright red bandleader’s cap, Foster stood behind an upright piano holding two mugs of beer in his hands. With a cry of “Ziggy socky ziggy socky, hoy! Hoy! Hoy!” Foster would dump both mugs down his throat with an aplomb that explains why he held the title of The World’s Fastest Beer Drinker for 25 consecutive years. Then Foster would sit at his piano and play, calling out sing-along-style parodies of popular standard with crass lyrics and crasser choruses.
If The Man Show can be criticized for its returning to winking, leering male chauvinism (the closing credits feature scantily clad women jumping on trampolines), it must also be recognized for reclaiming a lost, grand drinking tradition: the bawdy song. Bill “The Fox” Foster offered a way home to a lost form of pub entertainment that amounts to getting really smashed with your friends, gathering around the piano and hoarsely singing the sorts of songs that would make a whore blush.
Records of bawdy songs date back to Shakespeare, and many of the most famous come from the British Isles. The poet Robert Burns was famous for his love of off-color ballads; one of his most famous compositions is called Nine Inches Will Please a Lady, and included choice lines such as “Come rede me, dame, come tell me, dame. My dame come tell me truly, What length o’ graith, when weel ca’d hame, Will sair a woman duly?”
In the ensuing years, bawdy songs have become more understandable (graith? Sair?) and reached their heyday during World War II, when American G.I.s spent their furloughs drinking in European brothels while singing songs with titles like Cemetery Sue. (“They say a hard man is always good to find. If he’s three days dead then Sue don’t mind. Ask her what she wants and she’ll say she’ll have a dose of rigor mortis from a fresh cadaver.”)
Unfortunately, as jukeboxes became common in the 1950s, they edged out the piano that had always stood in the corner of a saloon, bringing an end to the long tradition of hammering out filthy melodies with your mates on a Saturday night. We at the Drunkard would like to invite loyal drinkers to return to this lost tradition. It will take some diligent research at the local V.F.W., but eventually you should be able to corner some decrepit veteran who can teach you a dozen or so bawdy songs. Foraging through thrift stores should also help, as the record bins occasionally produce lost treasures like Oscar Brand and David Sear’s Bawdy Hootenanny or Sid “Hardrock” Gunther’s Songs They Censored in the Hills. Additionally, most fraternities keep a steady supply of blue lyrics on hand in the back of their new pledge books, although rarely will you find a fraternity brother who can sing any of the songs. As a last resort, consider joining a secret society; groups such as the Freemasons were notorious for the breadth of their collections of wicked lyrics, which they would sing in close, four-part harmony.
Then there is the Internet. A simple search on google using keywords like “hash song” and “bawdy ballad” turns up a veritable cornucopia of melodic licentiousness, from the index of American songs at http://metalab.unc.edu/bawdy/ballads to the smutty songs found at http://members.aol.com /llewtrah/index.htm. If you are looking for songs with titles like “Big Breasted Kate” and “My Penis Has Gone Down the Plughole,” you are not likely to do better than these starting places.
So practice your piano scales until you can make chords simply by banging your fists down on the keyboard, start memorizing the lyrics to Small Boys Are Cheap Today, and begin lugging your Casio portable synthesizer to the bar with you on weekends. If you do not take responsibility for the revival of this glorious drinking tradition, it will die with this generation, and then who will teach our grandchildren the verses to The Rajah of Astrakhan, which begins:
There was a Rajah of Astrakhan,
A most licentious lout of a man,
Of wives he a hundred and nine,
Including his favorite concubine.
One day when there was no-one at hand,
He called his warrior, one of his band,
“Go down to my harem, you lazy swine,
And fetch my favorite concubine.”