Popular music is social history. Drop the needle (figuratively) on an old “race record,” there’s no telling what you’ll discover about black American life in the 1920s and ’30s.
Take the once-famous comedy duo of Butterbeans and Susie. Evidently black folks thought it was funny to sing about spousal abuse and domestic homicide.
Now, I assume that Jackie Gleason’s “One of these days, Alice. Pow! Right in the kisser” shtick had some kind of roots in vaudeville. But is there a white comic tradition to compare with this?:
Papa, papa, you better stop bustin’ up my jaw.
Mama, mama, I’m gonna hit you every time you call the law.
I got myself a razor and a forty-one. Cut you if you stand still, and shoot you if you run.
Click here to listen to Butterbeans and Susie’s “Better Stop Knockin’ Me Around.”
The thing that strikes me is… this could only be funny if this kind of violence was commonplace. Which puts the modern-day listener in the weird position of appreciating the song’s entertainment value – the artful phrasing, the expert timing – while realizing that the people who laughed the hardest were laughing from experience.