Lady Marmelade – LaBelle with Patti LaBelle – 1974
The chorus of “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir” is French for “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” When (the) Labelle (group) performed this on television, broadcast standards of the day prohibited them from singing the chorus as written. It was changed to “Voulez-vous danser avec moi ce soir” (do you want to dance with me).
‘Coucher’ does not mean ‘bed’ in French (that is ‘lit’). It means ‘lying down’. ‘Se coucher’ means ‘going to bed’ or ‘going to sleep’. ‘Coucher avec’ means to sleep with or to go to bed with, with the same sexual connotation as in English.
The créole line “gitchi gitchi ya ya da da” means “get your pleasure here daddy” (cf. “get your ya yas out” by the Rolling Stones). The French Quarter in New Orleans was never really a red light district; there was an experiment with legal prostitution in an area known as Storyville, adjacent to the French Quarter, ending in 1917 and the beginning of World War I and a prohibition on brothels within 5 miles of U.S. Navy yards.
Louisiana créole consists of elements of standard French, Native American, Spanish, and even some Central and West African languages.
FYI: The Louisiana Cajun are descendants of deported Acadian (French Canadian) exiles.
While in the U.S. Army I served with many men, mostly draftees, from all parts of the country. At one point I myself could clearly distinguish between someone from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, California; even Indiana, etc.; but my favorite encounter was between a heavily accented Arcadian from Maine and a Cajun from Louisiana. It was a strange type of linguistic kinship. It didn’t matter what they were talking about; their dialectal exchanges were extremely entertaining, not only to each other but to everyone within range of hearing.
But Louisiana créole is not what this is about. This is about public broadcasting. Broadcasting was originally an agricultural term that described the method used in the sowing of seeds. While some crops like corn fare better and are easier to harvest when planted well-spaced and in neat rows, others, like wheat, are just scattered loosely and left to grow wherever the seeds landed. The capitalist mass media make no distinctions between adult and children’s fare insofar as their target audience is concerned.
The above song was a hit in its day and has now become a familiar standard tune on many a playlist. Some people use such a playlist piped in as background music in their business establishments to either mask unwanted noise or avoid prolonged periods of silence or for any number of other psychological business considerations. The music comes from many sources: a scientifically engineered and pre-programed playlist such as MUSAK or audio architecture as they say, (Sometimes disparagingly referred to as Elevator Music), or Satellite Radio, or, more cheaply, a local commercial radio station, or sometimes a sound system and playlist of their own devising.
Whatever the source, this is in fact, a song about prostitution, entertaining perhaps, but more appropriate to a smoke-filled nightclub rather than a public venue where children are present.
Most modern songs represent confusion about love, a sort of generalized mass serenade, most often sexual desire euphemistically disguised or described as love, with sexual imagery, innuendo, and lyrics that, if you really thought about them, you wouldn’t want to hear coming out of the mouths of babes – especially your babes.
This is Mass Media Pop Culture, the broadcasting of seeds, casually falling on everyone’s ear – even the littlest of children.
I like this song, perhaps just because it references the truly dark underbelly of American life, history and culture.
For a lifetime I have been confused and deeply troubled by the opening sequence of the old 1950’s Superman television program. It (the voice-over) said he stood (proudly) for “Truth”, “Justice”, and “The American Way”. Truth I understand. Justice maybe; but in conjunction with such songs as these and American Pop (Mass Media) culture generally, it really begs the question:
“Just what is The American Way?”