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June 28, 2013

Jeremiah Tucker: Stones show rap has no misogyny exclusivity

JOPLIN, Mo. — Complaints about the rampant misogyny in rap music are finally gaining some traction.

In April, Rick Ross lost a sponsorship with Reebok after he sparked a wave of negative backlash with a lyric bragging about date rape. Most recently the critical and commercial success of Kanye West's "Yeezus" was diluted by objections to the album's rampant sexual objectification of women.

This is promising. Misogyny in popular music is a thorny problem that's long overdue for a correction. But it's also a problem that predates hip-hop.

The swaggering masculine braggadocio that treats women alternately as playthings, trophies and trifling shrews in need of a stern reprimand so prevalent in rap music is just as central to the myth of the rock star. Perhaps no band embodied this more than The Rolling Stones.

Now, I love The Rolling Stones. I find their boozy, grimy reworking of American musical traditions more re-playable than the immaculate pop constructions of their Liverpool counterparts.

But if you are a woman, one of the last places you'd want to wind up is as the subject of a Rolling Stones song.

Answering a question in 2010 about the Stones "anti-women" songs on the NPR program "Fresh Air," the group's guitarist Keith Richards gave a rambling, ultimately hilarious response. Here's the last half of it: "ÉYou know, and these are all sort of relationships and stuff. And I wouldn't take it as any sexist, I can't even go there, you know, cause I don't think about it. I just think we know what some people are like and then those things happen. And anyway, I didn't write the lyrics."

Perfect. Here are the Stones 10 most anti "anti-women" songs.

1. "Stupid Girl" ("Aftermath," 1966). Here Mick Jagger lays into an ex-girlfriend with hyperbolic vitriol: "She's the worst thing in the world/Look at that stupid girl." The lyrics are a series of petty teenage insults and a bridge of repeated "shut-up"s. Clearly, Jagger is not interested in entertaining the girl's point of view.

2. "Under My Thumb" ("Aftermath," 1966). As one of the Stones' most popular songs, this may be the band's most notorious celebration of misogyny. Part of this is because of Jagger's performance; he just sounds so damn gleeful as he crows about breaking the spirit of a girlfriend who dared defy him. He compares her to a "squirmin' dog" and brags about how he controls her to such a degree that he decides what she wears.

3. "Backstreet Girl" ("Flowers," 1967). Unlike some of the other songs here where the separation between narrator, Jagger and some Jagger-esque projection of the ultimate rock Ôn' roll cock-of-the-walk feels thin, this song hews closer to a literary exercise. The narrator, an unrepentant upper-class snob insulting his lower-class mistress, is too deliberately prissy to be Jagger.

4. "Yesterday's Papers" ("Between the Buttons," 1967). This song could just be retitled "Slut Shaming," as Jagger once again enacts revenge on an ex. The relevant lyric here is the refrain "Who wants yesterday's papers, who wants yesterday's girls?" Textbook emotional abuse.

5. "Parachute Woman" ("Beggars Banquet," 1968). The groupie-love song is a common trope in rap. The Stones demonstrate a thorough understanding of the form in this honky-tonk dedication to a woman who's willing to "parachute" in anytime she's beckoned. It ends in a barely-veiled entendre: "Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Well, my heavy throbbers itchin' just to lay a solid rhythm down."

6. "Stray Cat Blues" ("Beggars Banquet," 1968). A leering Jagger finds a runaway on his doorstep remarking, "I can see that you're 15 years old." Then he muses that "it's not a capital crime," which is the kind of poor reasoning that lands you on the sexual offender's registry.

Oh, and the song closes with Jagger cooing, "I bet your mama don't know you can bite like that; I'll bet she never saw you scratch my back." Eww.

Also, in the live recording on "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out" the girl's age is lowered to 13. Double eww. (I interpret this as the reappearance of Satan from the album's opening track "Sympathy for the Devil.")

7. "Brown Sugar" ("Sticky Fingers," 1971). "Brown Sugar" is the sound of a guitar lick tearing open a moral black hole at the center of the universe. This thing is raw. It's pretty amazing that a song that includes a lyric about a white plantation owner raping an underage slave girl hit No. 1. What a world!

8. "Star Star" ("Goats Head Soup," 1973). "Star Star"'s original title was a pejorative phrase for a woman who enjoys sleeping with famous people, and its notoriously graphic sexual content and profanity guaranteed it would never be played on the radio.

9. "Some Girls" ("Some Girls," 1978). Arguably the clunkiest line on "Yeezus" concerned Kanye West describing what he'd do with sweet and sour sauce while seducing a Chinese girl. Here Jagger generalizes what all girls are like according to their ethnicity. It's needlessly crass and cynical with a particularly regrettable line about what "black girls want."

10. "Little T&A" ("Tattoo You," 1981). Keith Richards sings this one, and in the scheme of things it isn't too bad. He refers to his girl as the acronym of the song's title, but notes that she "has soul," which is more than many of the women in a Stones' song are granted.

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