Friday, July 19, 2013

The Vandals' "I Saw Her In A Mustang" Cracking the Code!


My dad was a teenager during the Second World War. He told me a story about catching a WWII action flick at a theater in Brooklyn, soon after the war ended. Aerial war movies were popular—think Fighter Squadron, Twelve O'clock High, et al—and my dad watched one set in the Pacific Theater. He doesn't remember the name of the movie, but vividly remembers something that happened in the theater. Onscreen, the brave pilots had just returned to the carrier after a bombing raid; in the debriefing room, the pilots were asked about the mission. One replied, "It was tough—those Zeroes were flying right up our rib cages." The audience—maybe it was a matinee full of teenagers like my dad—snickered behind their hands. Everyone knew that what the pilot really said was assholes, not rib cages. Everyone knew it, everyone got it, and—as my dad remembers it—the impact was that much stronger because the profanity was implied, not directly uttered. I think he recounted this story to me after watching Eddie Murphy Raw on TV the night before—so many f-bombs were dropped that they were rendered powerless.

I think of this story whenever I listen to The Vandals' remarkable 1965 single, "I Saw Her In A Mustang." I know little about the band: they hailed from Florida, the single was written by someone with the last name Bucci, and was released on Tiara Records and manufactured in Hollywood, Florida. The song's great, a rocking, gang-sung Farfisa-driven number that recounts a one-night stand. In amateur glory, the band lays out the narrative:
I saw her in a mustang
A whole lot of poontang
Her name was Alisa
And, oh, what a piece-a

I followed her to her place
And, man, it was such a race
And by the time that we got there
I had my hand in her hair

She asked me to spend the night
I didn't put up any fight
I didn't have my toothbrush
She said, "Now honey, hush-hush"

And by the time we got to bed
There wasn't much I hadn't said
I put a ribbon in her hair
She said, "Now honey, leave it there"
There's a long tradition of smutty lyrics in popular music, from the blues to Hip Hop, with a lot of naughtiness in between. "I Saw Her In A Mustang" is winking, too. What I love about tracks like this from this era is the alertness with which teenagers/twenty-somethings had to balance on the rope of disclosure: be too demure, and the song lacks teeth; go too far, and you'll get the song banned, and we want airplay, darn it! "Bucci" straddles the line very cleverly, although rhyming Mustang with poontang is hardly subtle, and was an hilariously risky move for a rock and roll band in the south in the mid-sixties. (I've read online that the band cut a cleaner version with that particular couplet changed.) And rhyming Alisa with piece-a, though indelicate, is pretty smart, and equally nervy.

Things get a bit more oblique in the second verse. Without much apparent foreplay, the couple head to her place (a fact that's also hot)—racing there, in fact, the pumping pistons of the engines a nice stand-in for surging hormones—and having arrived there the singer has his hand in her hair. Here's where lyrics such as these have to shine light in two directions at once. The hair where his hands are may be the sprayed bee-hive atop her head, or the hair may be further south. In the third verse, she magnanimously shrugs-off the fact that he doesn't have his toothbrush—a nice gesture of carnal intimacy on her part, but if the "toothbrush" is really a "condom," then she's a different kind of gal and this night could have long-lasting consequences. By the last verse, with that word "bed" so sexily announced again, there wasn't much he hadn't said to her: to woo her, or does "wasn't much" refer to the plummeting levels of decorum in his filthy talk to her, talk that she presumably wanted? And liked. And that ribbon in her hair, the one she wants him to leave there? Is that a pretty ribbon of hers that he grabbed off of her dresser or the floor? A sexy image. Or is it, well, a ribbon of a different kind?

I know. Sometimes a cigar, etc.. But the vivid smuttiness of the opening verse suggests all kinds of fun in that chick's apartment. The Vandals want us to go there. The rollicking, reckless tune sures wants us to, also, with its go-go-cage twist beat and sloppy guitar solo that tells us the story.

Good clean dirty fun in FLA. Don't play it when Mom and Dad are around.

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