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Politically Correct Rock 'n' Roll

Humorous suggestions for making classic rock lyrics politically correct

I taught psychology for more than 25 years, and I loved it. But one thing I do not miss since becoming an emeritus is the obsession on campus with political correctness. When I heard a male professor once say, "When the baby is a woman....," since he was so fearful of inadvertently using the word "girl" inappropriately, I realized that the time had come to hang up the chalk.

One of the things I recall from my teaching years was that not only was it politically incorrect to use the word "girl" to describe any female above the age of 11, but that it was also not PC to say that there were any innate sex differences. In fact, to be safe, you should never assume that anything about us was innate; what we became as adults was due almost entirely to what we learned growing up, also known as "social conditioning." I distinctly remember arguments being made that the male sex drive was, to a large degree, a product of our sex-obsessed culture; in other words, if it were not for the media, men would barely think about sex at all.

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Outside the academy -- in what is often called the real world -- such arguments rarely took place. One particular aspect of the world which helped us stay in touch with our true selves was what was originally called "rock and roll" music, then "rock 'n' roll," now simply "rock." Early critics of rock predicted that it would destroy the fabric of society, and they were right. All I can say to that is, "Rock on!"

But suppose, I wonder, the PC police got to rock lyrics and changed them to make them suitable for the college classroom. One song that they would immediately have to work on is the Allman Brothers' 1973 classic, "Ramblin' Man." The song opens with the line, "Lord, I was born a ramblin' man." But, of course, by the 1990s, research had shown that no one is born to be anything, so that line would have to be, "I was socially conditioned to be a ramblin' man." ("Lord" would have to go mainly for rhythmic purposes, but also because references to God are not typically considered PC either.)

Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" would also have to go - replaced by "Socially Conditioned to be Wild." And, in a slightly different vein, "You are so beautiful to me" (made famous by Joe Cocker) would have to become something like "Your face fits the cultural ideals of beauty to which I've been conditioned." Of course, this would not really be satisfactory either, not only because the meter is completely thrown off, but also because, as a concept, physical attractiveness is very far from politically correct. So a really good solution would be "You are so intelligent to me."

Then there's the whole "girl" issue. The Beatles, who broke up in 1970, when the PC movement had barely started, used this word in many of their songs, and these will have to be completely revamped. I'll just give a few examples here of what the new lines would look like: "For I have got another woman," "You're going to lose that woman," and "All I have to do is thank you, woman, thank you, woman."

Of course, when you look at Beatles' lyrics, things get even darker. One of the early Beatles hits was "I Saw Her Standing There," which opens with the line, "Well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean/And the way she looked was way beyond compare." The focus on looks is bad enough, but "she was just seventeen"? Yes, I know what you mean, and what you mean isn't legal in a number of states (including California, our most populous one).

But some songwriters have gone even further over the line. Consider "You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful, and You're Mine")" by Richard and Robert Sherman (no relation!). Now we're talking illegal in even more states, and there's that beauty thing again, not to mention the "mine" business, where a young woman appears to be "owned" by a guy. This song would be fine if it were changed to, "You're Eighteen (You're Intelligent and You're Your Own Person)." Just sing it to yourself: "You come on like a dream/Peaches and cream/Lips like strawberry wine/You're eighteen, you're intelligent and you're your own person."

Okay, the rhythm of the song is thrown off. But how can anyone dance to a song when they're thinking about its insensitive lyrics? And besides, just as Bruce Springsteen was "socially conditioned to run," we were socially conditioned to dance.

 

 

Mark Sherman, Ph.D., is a psychologist and humor writer.

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