Music: Naughty Spell |

Music: Naughty Spell

Craven Lovelace
Free Press Music Columnist
Craven Lovelace
Staff Photo |

Last week, in this space, we considered some of the many popular songs which have incorporated spelling into their lyrics. This week, we follow up with a look at the particular subset of those songs which have spelled so-called “bad words,” the kind George Carlin knew you can never say on television. (Of course, nowadays those words are all over television, thanks to the advent of cable television, a technological development which effectively made obsolete Carlin’s most famous routine, but which rejuvenated his then moribund career by way of his award-winning HBO comedy specials — specials in which Carlin routinely used all seven of the “filthy words” he had claimed could never be uttered on TV!)

When I say “bad words,” I don’t mean words with naughty meanings, like “slut,” which Todd Rundgren spelled out in 1972 in the song by that name. Nor do I mean mild profanities like “damnation,” which the Squirrel Nut Zippers spelled in the song, “Hell,” in 1996. (While words like “hell” and “damnation” were very taboo in an earlier era, today they would hardly raise a censor’s eyebrow. For a fascinating discussion of how “bad words” have morphed from religious profanities to sexual and scatological obscenities, see Steven Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” [Penguin, 2007].)

No, we’re talking about genuine etymological no-nos like the F-bomb, which is repeatedly spelled in that Woodstock-era song that is the bane of all naive college deejays, Country Joe McDonald and the Fish’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.” The same word was also worked into a song’s title and chorus by pop metal band, April Wine, in 1982. That Canadian band had been around for 13 years already when they worked their spelled smut onto Billboard’s Hot 100 by employing a clever bit of wordplay concerning laying eyes on a girl named Kay. And 24 years later, the Irish hip-hop group, the Script, titillated teens and annoyed parents in the English-speaking world by releasing a (very different) song by the same title as April Wine’s.

Just four months after the Script released their song, Britney Spears issued a number with a very similar “hidden spelling” of the F-word; this time, the song’s title regarded being in search of a girl named Amy, but the phonetic result was the same.

Andy Partridge spelled the same four-letter word in his bitter “Your Dictionary” on XTC’s 1999 album, “Apple Venus,” a song written in the wake of his divorce from his first wife, and one which also upped the naughty ante by spelling the words “kick,” “hate,” “slap,” “cold” and another four-letter word that can’t be written here and that no one wants to step in. While Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” spells only the innocuous “bananas,” it still had to have a record number of edits to be played on commercial radio, as it uses the latter-mentioned obscenity 38 times!

As long as there has been pop music, it has been a medium of rebellion, so there will probably be more spelled naughtiness to come in the future. Whether you find spelling in song lyrics A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E or A-N-N-O-Y-I-N-G, there will always be some which are N-S-F-W.

Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: You may find him on Facebook as well.

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