Friday Five: Songs About Venereal Disease

Juli Thanki | August 16th, 2013

Who doesn’t love a good country song about Saturday night shenanigans? Unfortunately, some of those wild nights have consequences that a Sunday morning can’t cure.

5. Paul Craft – “VD Ain’t Nothin’ to Clap About”

But it is something to sing about. And you could dance along to this one, too, which seems appropriate given the etymology of “boogie woogie.”

 

4. Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, and Yim Yames – “VD City”

In the late 1940s, Woody Guthrie wrote a number of songs about venereal disease for the U.S. Public Health Service including “VD Seaman’s Letter,” “VD Avenue,” “A Case of VD,” “A Child of VD,” and “VD Gunner’s Blues.” This roots supergroup recorded “VD City” for last year’s New Multitudes. The lyrics are as vivid as any photo in a medical textbook, with the neurosyphilitic reduced to “a whirlpool of raving insane.”

 

3. Reba McEntire – “She Thinks His Name Was John”

Reba took this song (penned by Sandy Knox and Steve Rosen) about a woman who contracted HIV from a one night stand to No. 15 in 1994.

 

2. Hank Williams — “Stars in Her Eyes”

This 13-minute PSA tells the cautionary tale of Lena, a woman who, one drunken night, cheats on her new husband with one of his friends. But secrets and syphilis can’t stay hidden forever.

 

1. A.L. Lloyd & Alf Edwards –“The Unfortunate Rake”

This traditional song is about a young man who’s slowly dying due to an encounter with a  beautiful woman. If he’d been informed of the disease in time, he could have gotten “salts of mercury,” (which would bring about its own collection of miserable symptoms). This song–whose history you can trace with this compilation–would eventually become “Streets of Laredo,” its lyrics altered so that the young man in the song would die from the slightly more romantic cause of a bullet to the chest.

 

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  1. Barry Mazor
    August 16, 2013 at 9:44 am

    The song more people know as “One Night With You” from Elvis was originally “One Night of Sin” from Smiley Lewis; they cleaned up the hit Elvis version, though he’d recorded Smiley’s original VD lyric too, heard here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3MDlRHgHlc

  2. Andy
    August 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Also “Don’t Give A Dose To The One You Love Most” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show.

  3. Rick
    August 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    I had no idea that “Streets of Laredo” was a cowboy-ized version of an older folk tune, and especially one about VD! Crikey mate!

    I do have to say that this is one of the most unusual country song list topics I’ve ever encountered! (lol)

  4. Paul W Dennis
    August 16, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I have some doubts about the Streets of Laredo story – the song exists in both Irish (“The Bard of Armagh”: and Australian (“The Dying Stockman” versions and probably other cultures as well

    • Juli Thanki
      August 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Kenneth Lodewick traces “Rake” to circa 1790, several decades before the “Armagh” broadsides. “Rake,” “Stockman,” and “Laredo” have more in common with one another than “Armagh;” despite the similar melodies, the first three all tell the story of young men who die in their prime, while “Armagh” is about an elderly man. Of course, we’ll never have definitive answers since the folk process is like a centuries-old, globe-spanning game of Telephone, but it’s fun to see how certain songs evolve and the variations that develop over the years.

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