Friday, 4 May 2012

Casual Racism in Country Music

Finding new bad music for you each week is no easy challenge: mind you, as the blog is called The World’s Worst Records I could just post a Coldplay track every day for the rest of my life and fulfil my remit. However to day I bring you a track which I’ve been promising myself I would post for several months now, but something else always seemed to crop up. Today we revisit the world of casual racism; specifically casual racism is country music.



George Jones released his version of The Poor Chinee in 1968, first on the album If My Heart Had Windows and then as the B-side to the top 10 country hit Say It’s Not You. Still going strong at the grand old age of 81, Jones has frequently been referred to as the greatest living country singer. Throughout his long career he has made headlines for his drinking, his occasionally stormy relationships with women and for his violent rages as much as for his prolific recording career – he has around 120 albums to his name and has had over 150 chart hits as a solo performer or duetting with other artists. His wild lifestyle led to Jones missing many performances, earning him the nickname "No Show Jones" although, thanks to the efforts of his fourth wife, Nancy, he has been sober for over 10 years.


The Poor Chinee was co-written by Eddie Noack (1930-1978) who, in the same year, recorded the classic Psycho which has been covered by, amongst others, Elvis Costello. But the song is based – well, pretty much stolen wholesale - from a much earlier music hall song called Ching Ching. Have a look at the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean:


My name is Ching Ching, come from China,
In a big large a shipa come along here,
Wind blow very hard, kick up bublee,
Make a poor Chinaman a feel very queer;


And now the Noack/Jones version:


My namee Sin‑sin, me come from China,
Biggie‑low ship, me come along here
Wind blow hard, it kicky‑up bubble‑y,
Ship make‑a China boy feel very queer



Inspired; that must have taken seconds to re-write.



Now the 60s were a difficult period for the good ol’ US of A, it was a decade that had already been scarred by Kennedy, King, the civil rights movement, the summer of love and the Vietnam war by the time that Jones recorded this. I guess it was only 25 years after Pearl Harbour, and that just about the only oriental faces your average American saw on a regular basis were Sulu or Hop Sing. Even so you’d think that George Jones would have thought twice before committing this atrocity to vinyl. Maybe it was okay to poke fun at the funny little foreigners. Maybe it was the war that inspired him? After all, one yellow skin is pretty much the same as the other, right? Or maybe he’d taken his eye off the ball with regards to the quality of the material he was recording – after all at the time he recorded this he was divorcing wife number two and shacking up with Tammy Wynette.



Just an aside, but the pair christened their poor daughter Tamala Georgette Jones. School for her must have been hell. Also, Tammy’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E was a huge hit in the UK in 1975, the same year that she and George split –although it has been recorded back in 1968, the same year that George recorded Poor Chinee, when she was splitting from husband number two to marry George. Weird, huh?

Enjoy!





24 comments:

  1. The only *positive* comment i could come up for this one is at least it's under 02:00!!!

    (actually the backing band plays well--the drummer's accenting on the bell of the ride cymbal (ping, ping) on the *breaks* was a nice, cutesy touch too.)

    Luckily no sign of the cliche 'chinese melody' heard so frequently, ala The Vapors' Turning Japanese and a million other instances neither, pardner! ;-)

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  2. 5/5/12
    RobGems.ca wrote:
    Let's not forget that country/pop singer Jim Lowe had a Chinese stereotype song on the flip of his #1 hit "The Green Door" (in the U.S.)single on Dot records, titled "The Story Of The Little Man In Chinatown" (it's joke-worthy(but today painfully P-I lyrics went with the main chorus "He was a little man indeed".)Also, the hated (to you) Bobby Goldsboro had a Top-60 hit in 1964 titled "Me Little Japanese Boy, I Love You", composed by Burt Bacharach & Hal David of all people.(speaking of which, I always thought Mr. Goldsboro was an Asian/Hawiian-American in looks due to his swarthy features, even though he was originally from the Dotham,Alabama/Greenville, Florida areas....but that's beside the point.)There's also the late Hank Locklin (who died in 2009) with his 1958 hit "Geisha Girl", which describes a U.S. Soldier on leave in China who decides to marry a Chinese "Geisha", and bore her child. Webb Pierce and Burl Ives both recorded song composed by Mel Tillis about an unfortunate man who was shanghied in "old Hong Kong", and returned to the States on an old "Dutch Tub." The song was titled "Shanghied" and appeared on the flip side of Pierce's "I Ain't Never" single from 1959,and also on the flip side of Ives' " Call Me Mr. In-Between" single from 1962.Also,don't forget those handful of comedy records by Harry Stewart from the 1940's-50's who used two infamous ethnic caricatures languaged in fake Japanese & fake Swedish, "Hari Kari" and "Yogi Yorgessen" for Capitol Records. The most infamous of these is Hari Kari's/Stewart's 1952 record "Yokahama Mama". The first official Asian to have a hit in the U.S. was the late Kyu Sakomoto with "Sukiyaki"in 1963, and the first Asian-American female to be signed to a major label was Pat Suzuki who was signed to RCA Victor in 1955. Even then, the Asian stereotyping on records didn't stop there. Who can forget Randy Newman's "Yellow Man", issued as late as 1970?

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  3. The melody is exactly the same as Roger Miller's hit record "England Swings".

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  4. And the confusion between Japanese and Chinese cultures is a stereotype in itself. The mentioned "Chinese melody" has been used and abused as Japanese, as well as the "L" sound substituting for the "R". For instance, Spike Jones has a satire on the Japanese who has them singing "Tom Dooley" as "hang down your head and 'cly'" - it would be much more correct (and funnier) to sing "Tom Doory". It's the Chinese who replace Rs with Ls; the Japanese do the opposite (and replace Vs by Bs as well). Notice, for example, Yoko Ono singing "don't bori, don't bori" in her "Don't Worry Kyoko".

    Owarimashita,

    Ayrton

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  5. Aside from the words, are you hearing elements of the Des O'Connor tune "Dick A Dum Dum" here, jumbled up with England Swings (like a pendulum do)?

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  6. 6/12/12
    RobGems.ca wrote:
    A correction notice: "Shanghied's" A-side by Burl Ives wa "A Little Bitty Tear." The record was issued by MCA/Decca in 1961.

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  7. Johnny Wright, "My Pretty Little Vietnamese" on Decca (U.S.), I think from his HELLO VIETNAM album.

    Harry Stewart, aka, Yogi Yorgesson/Hari Kari & His Six Saki Sippers. Capitol compiled a Starline singles' comp about 1961 of all that stuff.

    Shoji Tabuchi's ABC/Dot Lp, COUNTRY MUSIC MY WAY, c. 1975. H*** of a fiddle player, David Houston's band. His vocals are a hard listening experience on that album.

    Windbag

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  8. This is considered "Bad Music"? Its better than anything The Beatles ever did!

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  9. ^^^^Randy, sorry to learn about your hearing problems ;-)

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    Replies
    1. No, actually I just have good taste. The Beatles were talentless. George Jones was a great singer.

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    2. Thanks for your thoughts Meade. Always good to hear from you

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    3. @Randy The only thing that's talentless are your comments. Tasteless, too.

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  10. Google "Racist Rap" and you'll hear much worse than quaint little decades-old references to Orientals in country music.

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  11. Sure it's "racist" but also pretty funny, clever and well played. You should hear what the "Chinee" say about us gwei lo. LOL....

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  12. It's all a load of "Catter Wallin'", none of them can really sing, most of them are reactionary morons. And is the "Music" of racism" !

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  13. David Seville (A-A-AL-V-I-IN!!) was guilty of this too, with a cut on one of his 50's LPS singing "I Can't Giv-a You Anything But Ruv, Baby" that rivaled Harry Stewart's Hari Kari records.

    While not on records as far as I know, you also had Benny Hill's Asian movie tycoon Mr. Chow Mein; though the joke was somewhat turned around on straight-man Henry McGee for not grasping what Chow Mein was saying, as the audience understood him better than McGee did. And as Hill himself said, "How many of us can speak Chinese even a tenth as well as he speaks English?"

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  14. Perhaps you can say this is racist but in reverse. The Chinaman is mae to sound funny and pitiful but the real message is the white man's shameless exploitation of the poor, hapless immigrants.

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  15. Re: "The Poor Chinee" - as usual, Jones' singing and band are excellent; too bad about the lyrics and concept. With a better helping of both, this would have been a great shitkickin' country song for its era. (Oh, right - Roger Miller already did it with "England Swings." Never mind.)

    For a really bad racist riff on Asians - yes, it could be worse - the black doo-wop group The Quinns sorta takes the cake with "Hong Kong," which was actually an r&b hit in the northeast. If the body of the record wasn't bad enough, the talk-out at the end will curl your hair! (Dishonorable mention to the Five Keys' "Ling Ting Tong" which got a country cover by Buddy Knox! Both were sizable hits.) And a double-home-run goes to The Rocketones' "Mexico" (lyric: "[Mexico} is my home town" - must've flunked geography, eh?) which stereotypes Hispanics as well as searching for a woman "who'll cook my food and make my bed." Like the Quinns, this racist-sexist-ignorant affair was also an r%b hit in the northeast.

    You can probably find all these tracks on YouTube. Really, folks, you can't make this stuff up!

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  16. Having lived in Boca Raton for several years, listening to the 103.1 WIRK has become a daily ritual for me. I start my day with a cup of coffee and a side of the WIRK ‘Morning Show’. WIRK is a stay at home mom’s best source for great entertainment. Tune in today or stream online at http://www.wirk.com!

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  17. Randy,you're on crack(or,being a dumb good ol' boy,more likely meth.) The Beatles are STILL relevant,a half-century after the Liverpool Lads validated "Beatlemania" on their first Ed Sullivan Show guest appearance,Feb.9,1964,which I,then a ten-year-old,viewed with my parents and two sisters.George Jones,while DAMN good,compared to John,
    Paul,George (Harrison) and Ringo,is a mere footnote in music history.

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  18. Sharda Bacchus26 June 2014 19:41

    When I’m looking for the latest country music, I always end up in one spot – 103.1 WIRK. I was even lucky enough to catch up with Keith Van Allen in the streets and got free ‘Rib Round Up’ tickets. Just one of the many events that keep me tuned into www.wirk.com

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  19. God, but the warm feeling of sanctimony in your deep innards is better than drugs. This is actually a really sweet little song. I've never heard it before, so thank you for turning me on to it.

    But exactly what is "racist" about this song, really? You could take it, at worst, as maybe the least bit making fun of Asian accents. Really, does this constitute demeaning Chinese? Do you think that this song indicates or encourages de-humanization of Asians?

    Or do you just really, really like that warm feeling of moral superiority so much that you will reach for any kind of half assed shit and bad mouth anyone to get your fix?

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    Replies
    1. It's just a bit of fun, Al...

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    2. It was a deferent time back then that was common, And rap has a lot of racism in it, but you never hear of people talking about that and sounds I lot better then todays music say a couple verses and repeat one word for 30 seconds number one hit. Way to go!!!!!!!!!!!! yea that works.

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