I sometimes have difficulty when it comes to songs with controversial lyrics. I recently had a client request In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry. I didn’t know the song very well, just the hook, so I looked up the lyrics. Here’s the first verse:
In the summertime when the weather’s high
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather’s fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find
This song was released in 1970, and you can definitely get a sense of that from the lyrics. The line that gets me is “Have a drink, have a drive.” You couldn’t get away with that today. Sure, the late sixties/early seventies were all carefree, but are we really advocating drinking and driving? Even looking past that, there’s a lot of weird stuff in this song. Take the second verse:
If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor, just do as you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton, or a ton and twenty-five
When the sun goes down, you can make it
Make it good in a lay-by
OK. So first we’re advocating treating rich and poor women differently. Next we’re advocating driving 125 mph (or whatever a ton is…I’m assuming it’s pretty fast). And I’m assuming that by lay-by, they’re using British slang for a rest area, so I don’t even want to talk about that part.
So what do you do with this? I’m not big on censorship, but I guess I could change some of the lyrics. When Shaggy covered the song, he changed the line “Have a drink, have a drive” to “I’m going to drive and ride”. He also changed “do a ton or a ton and twenty-five” to “even though the speed limit is twenty-five”, and “make it good in a lay-by” to “make it with my cutie pie.” I’m not sure these are better options, but they at least make more sense.
Then again, my client didn’t choose this song because he was interested in the lyrics. It’s a summertime song, and he’s really looking forward to summertime. So do I leave the lyrics alone and focus on the music? We’ve been working on rewriting songs, so maybe he could change the lyrics to suit himself. But he doesn’t always enjoy that process, usually just preferring songs in their original form.
In the end, what I decided to do was just to sing the song with him, then talked a bit about the lyrics. Just as I thought, he was more interested in the feel of the song rather than the message. And I admit, it is a fun song. My problem is that I sometimes just think too much about the words. This is not a song I’d want to sing or listen to outside of sessions, but as long as my client is getting something out of it, that’s a good thing. Thanks for reading!
PS: Here’s the full video for the song in case you’re interested: