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Seriously, a serious list about a serious subject: domestic violence

Although there are plenty of complaints about misogynistic lyrics in music today, many of the songs that baby boomers grew up with are just as bad in denigrating women. Some of the biggest musical acts are among the worst offenders.

This week, a real rarity from me — a serious list about a serious subject.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as part of its observance, Greater Twin Cities United Way offers a sobering, new look at domestic violence results from the 2008 Minnesota Crime Victim Survey.

The United Way asks, for instance: “Did you know? While 57,000 women in Minnesota experience domestic violence in a year’s time, fewer than one in three instances are reported to police.”

Likewise, dating violence remains a serious national problem (PDF). Break the Cycle, a national advocacy group, reports that only a handful of states (including Minnesota, thankfully) allow young victims to obtain protection orders on equal terms with adults.

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Domestic violence and dating violence — and figuring out ways to prevent them — are complicated societal issues, and I don’t pretend to have the answers.

But as an ardent music fan, I did want to explore the potential impact of the music we hear in the course of a day in shaping our values and our views on all sorts of subjects, including attitudes toward women. I’m really not up to speed on all of today’s musical genres (and the messages they send) but critics and sociologists have long worried about the social impact of misogynist views of women contained in a wide array of derogatory lyrics.

What I do know well, though, is the music that I — and just about every other baby boomer — grew up with, and many of those disturbing attitudes showed up in some of those songs, too. It’s always tricky to try to impose retroactively the social consciousness and political correctness of today on “yesteryear,” but I did want to discuss several popular songs from my era that were over the line even back then.

See what you think.

When I mentioned that I was working on this list, my music-savvy daughter Laura reminded me of a disturbing 1962 song that she had run across: the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” It never charted (largely because of protests at the time that resulted in few radio stations even playing it) but it’s significant because of the influential powerhouse folks who put it together: then-husband/wife songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King and producer Phil Spector (currently serving a 19-year sentence for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson). The song was redone by the new-wave band the Motels in 1982.

Some claim “He Hit Me” was meant as a satiric protest song, but the lyrics and presentation don’t really support that view:

He hit me (da-da-da-ah) and it felt like a kiss (felt like a kiss)
He hit me (da-da-da-ah) and I knew he loved me
If he didn’t care for me,
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me (da-da-da-ah) and I was glad.

And that’s not the only song of my era that’s problematic in its view of women. Unfortunately, some of the biggest musical acts are among the worst offenders. Not surprisingly, the Rolling Stones, the original bad boys of rock, have a song on my “offenders” list. And the Beatles, who always seem to get a free pass as rock’s “good guys,” have two (both, incidentally, musical favorites of mine).

All but one of the songs below still get substantial airplay, and Beatles music in particular is everywhere again these days with the recent release of their remastered catalogue.

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For the record, I’m not suggesting “disappearing” any of these songs. What I am suggesting, though, is more awareness — and maybe some discussion — of the messages they send.

Here’s a look at four categories of baby-boomer songs (with sample lyrics) that seem to me to contribute to societal attitudes that can only make preventing domestic violence a tougher task. Tell me if you agree — or not — and the best way to deal with such musical messages.

The Macho ‘Player’

The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Rock’s bad boys make their view of women clear:

Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright.

The Stalker
Two examples here of some scary obsessions:

• The Police megahit “Every Breath You Take”:

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you.

•The Beatles’ “No Reply”:

I tried to telephone,
they said you were not home,
that’s a lie,
‘cos I know where you’ve been,
I saw you walk in your door,
I nearly died, I nearly died,
‘cos you walked hand in hand
with another man in my place.

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The Enabler
Here’s the lone song on the list from a woman — Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman,” with lyrics that can’t help but reinforce issues of poor self-esteem. Luckily, it’s been many years since I’ve heard this song on the radio:

It makes no difference if you’re rich or poor
Or if you’re smart or dumb
A woman’s place in this old world
Is under some man’s thumb
And if you’re born a woman
You’re born to be hurt
You’re born to be stepped on,
lied to, cheated on
And treated like dirt.

The Psycho
The Beatles’ Run for Your Life” is utterly blunt in its view, prompting the site to ask whether it should be dubbed the “Official Stalker Song.”

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won’t know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end little girl.