This Valentine’s holiday, remember to take special care for the thoughts and feelings of your spouse or significant other. And also be careful to ensure that your words, actions and gestures can’t be taken as backhanded compliments, mixed signals, or even veiled threats. Many a promising affair has been aborted too soon by an unseemly, often unintended, insult.
This list of derogatory love songs isn’t necessarily about couples fighting, arguing, exploiting, cheating, breaking up, breaking hearts, or falling out of love. Each of those topics do cross over, of course, but could fill entire lists of their own. I believe I read some statistic somewhere that something like 152% of all songs written are love songs, so there was bound to be ample evidence of disparaging or downright offensive lyrics, whether intentional or not.
For the sake of brevity, I haven’t included any hip-hop songs, though their declarations of love are storied with unfortunate metaphor and sexist symbolism.
- It’s All Right With Me
Ella Fitzgerald’s song about ‘the other man’ is sort of about cheating, but she’s not addressing her devoted partner, but that secret lover that one would find so tempting.
There’s someone I’m trying so hard to forget
Don’t you want to forget someone too?
As someone who has been ‘the other man’ before, it is pretty disrespectful to be told that you are playing second-fiddle, or perhaps the rebound, or the distraction, for the head honcho who’s officially claimed your lover’s heart. Whether or not the subject in the song is aware of his role in this infidelity makes some small difference, but the insinuation is hurtful either way.
And hey, what do you mean by strangely attracted!?
- A Fine Romance
Surely an example of one of the first sarcastic love songs, this 1936 Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields song was used in the Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers film Swing Time.
These two are essentially discussing the difficulties of their “relationship”, but we all know how much Fred and Ginger (in-character) are really head-over-heels for one another. The sniping would’ve been pretty cute, if it didn’t reveal some tawdry innuendos about their lackluster love life.
A fine romance, with no kisses
So far, it has all the passion of a Rodney Dangerfield one-liner…
…you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes
A fine romance, you won’t nestle
A fine romance, you won’t wrestle
I– never mind.
I might as well play bridge
With my old maid aunt
Damn, dude. Just– damn.
A fine romance, my good fellow
You take romance, I’ll take Jell-o
You’re calmer than the seals
In the Arctic Ocean
At least they flap their fins
To express emotion
Hey, maybe she’s into that. Ew.
In the film version, their ‘fine romance’ also has the complication of previous engagements, compulsive gambling, lies, a love quadrangle, missed connections and procrastinations. Who would ask for any other convoluted love story to tell the grandkids?
- I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good
It’s all in the title.
Songs about negligent and/or abusive loves who don’t treat you ‘sweet and gentle the way they should’ could fill an entire catalogue of their own. But when you’re so deeply in love, and yet somehow still lucid enough to realize that it’s a bad situation to be in, you need to accept some outside help.
And when she says:
He don’t love me like I love him, nobody could…
Does she mean that no one else has the potential for a love as monumental as hers (including him), or that she’s the only one foolish enough to fall for such a loser?
- Use Me
So while I actually do find this Bill Withers song pretty endearing (not to mention steamy), in which a man fends off the criticisms of his friends and family about his lady love, the underlying theme is one of masochism, and possibly a dangerously co-dependent relationship (see also: any Annette Hanshaw song).
…my answer yeah to all that ‘use me’ stuff
Is I want to spread the news that if it feels this good getting used
Oh you just keep on using me until you use me up
Eeew. Listen, if I’m your brother, I do not want to hear about how your girlfriend *ahem* used you.
He doesn’t even defend his special lady from these allegations, because he doesn’t disagree with their shit-talk at all. He just happens to enjoy the things that others, in their misguided wisdom, see as twisted and wrong.
It would be one thing if the context of hot, hard use were relegated to kinky bedroom activities, but he seems to allow and even get off on being treated ill in every-day social settings:
Oh sometimes yeah it’s true you really do abuse me
You get in a crowd of high class people and then you act real rude to me
But oh baby baby baby baby when you love me I can’t get enough
Notice that he doesn’t put up with her abuse because she has an otherwise effervescent personality, or a brilliant mind, or she’s a misunderstood monster, or even rude to him in particular but kind to children, animals and waitstaff… no, it’s specifically her naughty nighttime skills that make all this pain and suffering worth it.
…but it all depends on what you do
It ain’t too bad the way you’re using me
Could it be sexy Stockholm syndrome? Sounds like somebody needs to read 50 Shades of Grey instead.
- Love the One You’re With
Proving that the progressive movements of the nineteen-sixties were not without their own forms of misogyny, Stephen Stills belted out this free love anthem to hundreds of thousands of mud-covered fellow travelers, many of whom had trekked to Woodstock without getting a ticket for their freaky mama or man.
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Like, woah, man, I wonder why that might be?
…your baby is so far away
This is what’s known as “rationalization.”
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
Well, heck, any old person will do! That’s what love is all about, right, Charlie Brown? Just reach out and touch someone! The next lines at least establish the parameters of consensual love:
…a girl right next to you. And she’s just waiting for something to do…
‘I’m bored, wanna fuck?’ Now, the song doesn’t necessarily advocate cheating, per se. The ‘one you love’ in question may just be an unrequited crush, or imaginary ideal, or even Jodie Foster. But that means that the ‘one you’re with’ is simply a hole for your temporary amusement. Well, she may even be fine with this arrangement, but to frame her as a consolation prize… I mean, I don’t know any woman who is turned on by the words ‘Eh, you’ll do.’
Turn your heartache right into joy
Cause she’s a girl and you’re a boy
Yep. That’s all it takes. Unless you’re in the LGBT community. Or also, y’know, have standards.
By the way, I don’t even want to know what “rose in the fisted glove” means. Yeesh.
- Run for Your Life
Old blues and country standards are known for men professing their love for a woman with such romantic gestures as threatening to fucking kill her. You’d think that by the ’60s and ’70s we might have overcome our baser urges. And though this Beatles song from Rubber Soul was most likely a tongue-in-cheek tribute to that trope, I feel as though most people enjoy the jaunty ditty without ever acknowledging the horrifying lyrics.
Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man…
Personally, I’d rather see her happy than dead, but what do I know?
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl
At least the potential homicidal maniac is self-aware of his little foibles:
Well you know that I’m a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can’t spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line
Because if you can’t make your woman toe the line, she’s broken and must be murdered.
And in case you had any question to the sincerity of his words (they are, after all, a little hyperbolic):
Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I’ve said
Baby, I’m determined
And I’d rather see you dead
- You’re The One For Me, Fatty
Not only does he belittle his beloved repeatedly in the song with his economical lyrics, in typical Morrisey fashion he also makes the issue about himself by getting all needy and self-doubtful:
Promise you’ll say
If I’m in your way
You’re the one for me, fatty
I didn’t include ‘Fat Bottom Girls‘ because a) he’s not idolizing any one fatty, but all the fatties of the world, b) I’m pretty sure that no girl, fat or not, would have been Freddie Mercury’s cup-o-tea, and c) that song is clearly a genuine and sincere appreciation of big-bodied women. They do indeed make the rockin’ world go ’round.
I can see why you think you belong to me
I never tried to make you think
Or let you see one thing for yourself
So here’s a guy who has given mixed messages to his girl, both putting down her ability to think on her own and admitting that he was controlling her in some way. That is Pure Prairie League, man.
But now you’re off with someone else and I’m alone
You see I thought that I might keep you for my own
Oh, now I get it. Now that she’s with somebody else, our protagonist realizes what life is like without her. He just wants what he can’t have! It’s not even about her at all! He doesn’t spend one second of the song praising her personage, intellect, humor, or even her beauty (which is what most love songs go for).
Amie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer if I do
I mean, Iunno. Whatevs. Leave that other guy for me and I promise you that I will commit to sort of liking you sometimes and showing up at your place at my convenience. There’s nothing a woman finds more attractive than wishy-washiness in a man. It doesn’t help that they end the song with the repeated refrain of:
I’d keep fallin’ in and out of love with you
Gee, what a lucky goil.
Ruby, don’t take your love to town
I can’t think of anything more special than immediately insinuating that your special someone is a whore.
So, right of the bat, I do feel bad for this guy. He just came back from that ‘old crazy Asian war’, or more accurately ‘atrocity-filled and unnecessary Vietnam police action.’ He tells this girl, who may or may not have been waiting for him, it seems, that he’s “not the man I used to be.” And with all the PTSD and ‘Nam flashbacks, I don’t think this is the best sweet talk. He grouses and moans about nobody wanting a mutilated amputee veteran, and pathetically opines that he just “needs some company”.
It’s hard to love a man
Whose legs are bent and paralysed
And the wants and the needs of a woman your age
Ruby, I realize,
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Jeez, okay, we get it. You’re not exactly Casanova right now. Do you think it might not be your handicap, but your attitude? I missed the part where pity was supposed to be foreplay. And while I feel awful that society and the wretched U.S. government leaves its veterans out to dry, just because he’s done his “patriotic chore”, that doesn’t mean that Ruby’s “patriotic chore” is to pleasure or service your demanding ass. And if you really did realize the ‘wants and needs of a woman her age’ (shades of the chauvinistic assumption that weak-willed women are slaves to their hormones), then you’d step– *erm* –roll aside and let her live her own life!
This– this is where the song takes a sudden turn.
And if I could move I’d get my gun
And put her in the ground
Don’t take your love to town
Oh, country music. You old reprobate, you! How I wish that The Gambler or perhaps even The Coward of the County would show up and teach this old horny toad a lesson or two in the mannerly way to treat a Lady.
- Until the Real Thing Comes Along
So, Dean. What have you got for us?
‘d wait for you
Good so far…
I’d slave for you
That’s a tad extreme, but fine…
I’d be a beggar or a knave for you
Um, not really sure that’s necessary, but okay…
If that isn’t love, it’ll have to do
Aww, kind of sweetly modest…
Until the real thing comes along!
Wait– What? So… you’ll do anything for this woman, literally anything… unless a woman to be determined later comes along that you end up liking more? That is… fucked up, Deano. Is she just, like, your place-holder, or something? What about all the other words? Were those all lies??
I’d lie for you
Did those words mean NOTHING?
With all the words, dear, at my command
I just can’t make you understand
At this point it just sounds like a lot of empty promises and sweet nothings, in an overcompensating attempt to convince some woman that he is committed.
My heart is yours
What more can I say?
- If You Wanna Be Happy
This one speaks for itself:
If you wanna be happy
For the rest of your life,
Never make a pretty woman your wife,
So from my personal point of view,
Get an ugly girl to marry you.
A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall.
As soon as he marries her
Then she starts to do
The things that will break his heart.
But if you make an ugly woman your wife,
You’ll be happy for the rest of your life,
An ugly woman cooks her meals on time,
She’ll always give you peace of mind.
Don’t let your friends say
You have no taste,
Go ahead and marry anyway,
Though her face is ugly,
Her eyes don’t match,
Take it from me she’s a better catch.
Now look. If this song were about accepting and loving somebody regardless of their appearance, or appreciating them for their inner beauty, it might still be a little insulting, but still a well-meaning message overall. Instead, this song manages to be superficial and shallow to both attractive and unattractive women. Pretty girls will hurt you, and ugly girls have no hope of finding better, so they’ll stay at home and cook for you. As if it would be impossible for an “ugly” girl to commit adultery, or have a bad personality. As though there are no “pretty” women who are kind, generous, witty, caring, or faithful.
Saw your wife the other day.
Yeah, she’s ugly.
Yeah, she’s ugly but she sure can cook.
And what makes you so great, asshole? You don’t really seem like the most self-secure man on the planet.
- Different Drum
I respect any consenting adult’s decision to explore open relationships, to honestly play the field, or just be a generally ethical slut. But this classic Linda Ronstadt tune from 1967 reads more like an excuse to blow off some pushy sycophant.
Oh don’t get me wrong
It’s not that I knock it
It’s just that I am not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me
I’m more into guys who are… you know… kind of… whores.
Yes, and I ain’t saying you ain’t pretty
All I’m saying is I’m not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me
Hey, it’s not you, it’s me! Really! I’d be no good for you! I just can’t be tied down right now! I don’t need some needy little pissant trying to get with me. Get it?
So good-bye I’ll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We’ll both live a lot longer
If you live without me
So, go on now. Scoot. Go find a girl that will put up with you. Because you can’t handle this.
- Better Man
I hesitated to add this song, of course, because it’s so tragic and beautiful. But the implication of not being able to find a better man is pretty psychotic, when you think about it. She’s most definitely denigrating her own prowess (she really can’t do any better?), but it’s not a great vote of confidence for the man, either, that she thinks he couldn’t handle the truth about her nagging doubts and feelings.
She lies and says she’s in love with him… can’t find a better man
That’s a pretty horrible secret to keep from your boyfriend. And it doesn’t say much for either of your relationship or communication skills. He can’t intimate her emotions at all, and she’s more content living a lie than upsetting his fragile confidence.
She loved him, yeah, she don’t want to leave this way
She feeds him, yeah, that’s why she’ll be back again
This might be why she can’t find a better man. Most people wouldn’t put up with that shit.
- My Funny Valentine
I wouldn’t actually find this sort of thing that insulting, really. I mean, if you appreciate somebody for their weaknesses, quirks, or eccentricities, that’s much more meaningful than simply having an unrealistic ideal of your loved one (which is what most songs, poetry, and romance fiction is interested in). If you have a deeper understanding of that person, you’ll appreciate them every day, for every wrinkle, freckle and dimple. You want to find someone who doesn’t want to change you, but loves you just as you are.
In the above clip, however, Ole Blue Eyes just lays it on so thick as this poor, hapless girl just sits there and takes it. And what can she do? He’s the Chairman-of-the-freaking-Board! Even if she did muster the guts to find fault with, say, his drinking, or his family matters, or his portrayal of Pvt. Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity, he’d probably have just hauled off and slapped her.
Some people, you see, are not capable of love.
So the next time you’re putting together a playlist for your sweetheart, don’t just simply compliment their eyes and breasts. Tell them how much you deeply, sincerely, genuinely, truly, honestly appreciate their eyes and breasts.
Happy V.D., y’all!