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View Full Version : Elton John's "Island Girl" - or, Songs You See Differently Now


Wheelz
03-30-2016, 10:05 AM
I heard "Island Girl" recently after not hearing or even thinking about this song in many years. I was 12 when it came out, and had never really listened to the lyrics or understood what it's really about: A girl from Jamaica has became a New York street hooker, to the lament of a certain "Black Boy" who wants her to come back home and be part of his "Island World."

I used to find this song happy and peppy, but now I realize it's a whole lot darker than the bouncy faux-Caribbean style would suggest.

And one line puzzles me: He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake. Whoa. Is the Island Girl killing her clients? Is her Black Boy following her around and offing the dudes who hire her? That would be quite a bizarre twist ending to the song. I don't think its anything that violent; more likely she's the one who gets farther gone with each encounter. But then, why is it the John who made the mistake? I'm sure I'm overthinking it.

What other songs from long ago have taken on a new meaning for you after you've discovered what they were really about?

kayaker
03-30-2016, 10:43 AM
She's 6'3". I remember wondering if she was definitely a woman.

Finagle
03-30-2016, 11:00 AM
.
And one line puzzles me: He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake. Whoa. Is the Island Girl killing her clients?

Maybe it's more like "Once you go Island Girl, you never go back.". The song came out in '75, so it's a bit early for the Aids epidemic.

Anyway, thanks for ruining part of my childhood; I'd never read the lyrics before.

kunilou
03-30-2016, 11:02 AM
I remember a rock critic commenting that almost all of Carol King's songs were peppy and upbeat, even when Gerry Goffin's lyrics were not.

He just a-let it all hang loose;
He didn't think about the noose
He couldn't take no more abuse
So he shot down the congregation

Though I know you're the kind of boy
Who only wants to run around
I'll keep waiting and someday darling
You'll come to me when you want to settle down, oh!

He's not happy working, he's got no use for school
Never feels the least bit sorry when he treats me cruel
He's a bad boy
But I'm a fool

He couldn't stand to hear me say
That I had been with someone new
And when I told him I had been untrue
He hit me and it felt like a kiss
He hit me and I knew he loved me
'Cause if he didn't care for me
I could have never made him mad
And he hit me and I was glad

Athough it's probably impossible to write a melody as dark as those lyrics.

Living Well Is Best Revenge
03-30-2016, 11:14 AM
I remember a rock critic commenting that almost all of Carol King's songs were peppy and upbeat, even when Gerry Goffin's lyrics were not.









Athough it's probably impossible to write a melody as dark as those lyrics.

I love Hole's version of He Hit Me (https://youtube.com/watch?v=FITNb__0J80). Courtney's growling voice was perfect for those lyrics.

RealityChuck
03-30-2016, 11:19 AM
"Smackwater Jack" was intended to be funny -- and it clearly is. Sort of Goffin and King channeling Tom Lehrer.

OTOH, Flanders and Swann's "Madeira M'Dear," while still brilliant in a technical sense, is a bit too dark to be funny these days.

WordMan
03-30-2016, 11:46 AM
Isn't Goodbye Yellow Brick Road basically Midnight Cowboy. Guy hits the Yellow Brick Road of the city, ends up a rent boy of some sort and dreams of being back home?

Or All the Young Girls Love Alice?

Bernie Taupin has some dark corners.

CarnalK
03-30-2016, 12:23 PM
I don't see how Smackwater Jack was intended to be funny nor how you could interpret it wrong. The opening lyric is very clearly delivered and says he went and bought a shotgun. Did you originally think it was a happy duck hunting song?

terentii
03-30-2016, 12:33 PM
He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake. Whoa. Is the Island Girl killing her clients?

She's either fucking their brains out, or she's infecting them with some gawdawful tropical STD.

WOOKINPANUB
03-30-2016, 01:32 PM
I never really cared for this song for some reason and being back before you could easily find the lyrics, I never understood most of what Sir Elton is saying. All I could make out was "she's a big girl,she stands 6'3" and "she's black as coal". As to the chorus, all I heard was something like "tell me that you want me watch you walk and swirl" :smack:.
So in my mind the girl in question looked something like this (http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/austinpowers/images/4/46/Foxy_3.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120510135041) and the singer is sitting in a bar watching her dance under the disco lights and flirting with all the men. Very interesting to understand the lyrics and the true meaning now.
As into lyrics as I am, I surprisingly can't come up with an example of my own but I'm interested to see what anyone else has to contribute.

salinqmind
03-30-2016, 04:13 PM
"Island Girl" was, is, and always will be, a 6'3" transvestite to me. I never for a moment thought she was a hard-working 'working GIRL' from Tha Islands.

Just Asking Questions
03-30-2016, 04:32 PM
When the song was new, I thought she might be killing her Johns, so it's not an interpretation due to time passing or something.

Thought I never thought she was a man, baby!

NDP
03-30-2016, 06:00 PM
"Smackwater Jack" was intended to be funny -- and it clearly is. Sort of Goffin and King channeling Tom Lehrer.

By way of "I Fought the Law" and numerous outlaw/murder ballads.

astorian
03-30-2016, 06:31 PM
BTW, Lexington and 47th was NEVER a place you'd go in New York to look for hookers!!!!!

installLSC
03-30-2016, 07:44 PM
I remember a rock critic commenting that almost all of Carol King's songs were peppy and upbeat, even when Gerry Goffin's lyrics were not.

You think those songs have gloomy lyrics? Check out this Carole King tune (https://youtube.com/watch?v=n60EO4WBeGQ), as sung by Helen Reddy(!). BTW, Gerry Goffin didn't cowrite this one so maybe Carole was the dark one to begin with.
Back to the OP, I loved as a kid "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be". I mean it's got "will you marry me" as its refain, so it's got to be a romantic song right?
Oh no it isn't. Oh lord no it isn't. (https://youtube.com/watch?v=WHBoWTNGsU4)

Exapno Mapcase
03-30-2016, 08:29 PM
I never knew the lyrics outside the chorus until I looked them up today. Weird stuff, even for Taupin.

While I was looking I ran across this essay about Elton and its album, Rock of the Westies, by Robert Christgau (http://robertchristgau.com/xg/rock/john-75.php). Everything I despise about rock criticism neatly laid out on a single page. Well, not everything. It could be written like Lester Banks.

Guest-starring: Id!
03-30-2016, 09:19 PM
Always thought ELP's "Still, You Turn Me On", was some romantic confection when I was a kid, but there's necrophilia involved, so.......

Someone said "Radar Love" is a gay pick-up song, but I checked out the lyrics and couldn't see it.

Didn't find out till much, much, much later that the eggman in "I Am the Walrus" is a nod to Eric Burdon's penchant for coating his groupies in raw eggs.

AllShookDown
03-31-2016, 10:47 AM
Originally Posted by Smackwater Jack
He just a-let it all hang loose;
He didn't think about the noose
He couldn't take no more abuse
So he shot down the congregation

I was just listening to this last week and thinking about often this actually happens today. I don't remember a lot of mass shootings in the 70's.

california jobcase
03-31-2016, 10:52 AM
"Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones has some really dark lyrics. I would have understood them when I was a kid, but they're darn near unintelligible. The only reason I looked them up was because they were mentioned in an episode of The Wire on HBO.

Corporal Clegg
03-31-2016, 11:03 AM
I'm not big on lyrics. I just hear music and if I like it or love it, it's more likely to disappoint me than to make me like it even more to analyse lyrics. XTC is my favorite band throughout my life and philosophically I see eye to eye with Andy Partridge, the main musical force of the group. His lyrics often say what I feel--like the song "Dear God". He nailed it perfectly.

tullsterx
03-31-2016, 01:52 PM
It's about a transvestite jamaican hooker.

jayjay
03-31-2016, 03:17 PM
I always end up seeing Grace Jones in my head when I hear this song. (Very tall, very dark, Jamaican, attitude)

PunditLisa
03-31-2016, 04:21 PM
I used to think "Father Figure" by George Michael was about a reverse May/December romance. A decade passed and I really listened to the lyrics. Well, look at that, it's a song about pedophiia. :smack:

WOOKINPANUB
04-01-2016, 01:57 PM
I used to think "Father Figure" by George Michael was about a reverse May/December romance. A decade passed and I really listened to the lyrics. Well, look at that, it's a song about pedophiia. :smack:

What makes you think that?I mean, I can see it as either one so just wondering what made you look at it differently.

NDP
04-01-2016, 02:39 PM
I used to think "Father Figure" by George Michael was about a reverse May/December romance. A decade passed and I really listened to the lyrics. Well, look at that, it's a song about pedophiia.
What makes you think that?I mean, I can see it as either one so just wondering what made you look at it differently.

I have always thought "Father Figure" was a creepy song (and the only one by George Michael I like but that's another thread) even without the pedophilia angle. It is about a May/December relationship but it's an exploitive one with the singer being an obsessive Svengali type or (worse) a pimp. I remember the video for the song making this even more clear (but that could be a case of YMMV).

WOOKINPANUB
04-01-2016, 02:55 PM
I have always thought "Father Figure" was a creepy song (and the only one by George Michael I like but that's another thread) even without the pedophilia angle. It is about a May/December relationship but it's an exploitive one with the singer being an obsessive Svengali type or (worse) a pimp. I remember the video for the song making this even more clear (but that could be a case of YMMV).

Yes, I've always felt the same way (and I like it also, despite it creeper factor). Guess I was just wondering which specific part made PunditLisa thinks it's sung from the viewpoint of a pedo. I don't remember the video; had GM come out as gay at that point?

G0sp3l
04-01-2016, 03:38 PM
She Works Hard For The Money - Donna Summer

Now in my defense I was a kid and had NO idea what a hooker was. The upbeat tempo completely obscures the lyrics.


Pretty sad second verse.

Onetta there in the corner stands
And she wonders where she is.
And the rain still hurts,
Some people seem to have everything.
Nine a.m. on the hour hand
And she's waiting for the bell.
And she's looking real pretty.
She's waiting for her clientele.

NDP
04-01-2016, 04:35 PM
Yes, I've always felt the same way (and I like it also, despite it creeper factor). Guess I was just wondering which specific part made PunditLisa thinks it's sung from the viewpoint of a pedo. I don't remember the video; had GM come out as gay at that point?

No, Michael came out years later after an embarrassing arrest in a public park restroom.

PunditLisa
04-10-2016, 07:07 PM
Yes, I've always felt the same way (and I like it also, despite it creeper factor). Guess I was just wondering which specific part made PunditLisa thinks it's sung from the viewpoint of a pedo. I don't remember the video; had GM come out as gay at that point?

No, I don't think he'd come out as gay, but that's irrelevant because, while the gender isn't specifically mentioned, it could very well be an adult male lusting after a female child.

How do I get to this conclusion?

Well, first, we have the constant "father" and "child" theme, including the title and chorus, with its constant, deliberate use of the word "baby":

"(Baby)
I will be your father figure
(Oh baby)
Put your tiny hand in mine
(I'd love to)
I will be your preacher teacher
(Be your daddy)"

Then we have these lyrics: "Greet me with the eyes of a child"and "Put your tiny hand in mine." combined with not one, but two references of it being a crime: "I have had enough of crime." then "Sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime."

It's not against the law to have sex with a younger person, or a married person, so what else could he be referring to here? It could be just a minor a la "If I Could Fly," but I think it's pretty clear he's talking about a child.

http://lyricsfreak.com/g/george+michael/father+figure_20059259.html

Creeper!

Abner Ravenwood
04-11-2016, 10:59 AM
I didn’t know Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind was about doing crystal meth until a few years ago.

Don’t You Want Me Baby by the Human League is very creepy.

Lucky 13
04-12-2016, 10:56 PM
I liked Your Love (https://youtube.com/watch?v=4N1iwQxiHrs) by The Outfield when it first came out, but didn't pay attention to the lyrics:

Josie's on a vacation far away
Come around and talk it over [talk what over? the fact that Josie's on vacation?]
So many things that I wanna say
You know I like my girls a little bit older [ew]
I just wanna use your love tonight [eeeeeew]

Somehow life was easier when I didn't listen to the lyrics of songs. Now I have to keep my hand near the station button when listening to the radio, because there are songs I can't listen to anymore without cringing internally, and this is one of them.

Lorne Armstrong
04-13-2016, 01:19 AM
When I realized that Jailhouse Rock is about homosexuality.

Horatio Hellpop
04-13-2016, 05:32 AM
I always assumed "Smackwater Jack" was Carole King trying to one-up Jim Croce's "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," but it turns out hers was recorded two years earlier.

"Island Girl": I had a girlfriend who was 6'3" (she played basketball), so...

RealityChuck
04-13-2016, 07:32 AM
Don’t You Want Me Baby by the Human League is very creepy.Really? It sounds to me like a tiff between an artist and her manager. He (thinks) he was the reason for her success, but now she's going elsewhere. She (thinks) she would have succeeded without him, and now it's time to move on.

I certainly can't find anything hinting at a sexual relationship other that the line "I still love you." That can possibly hint that the relationship wasn't entirely professional, but that's not exactly creepy; they woman seems to be an adult and there's not indication he's that much older than she is.

Mixolydian
04-15-2016, 09:29 AM
When I realized that Jailhouse Rock is about homosexuality.

Yeah, but it's not easy getting it on with a wooden chair.

Gyrate
04-15-2016, 10:00 AM
And one line puzzles me: He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake. Whoa. Is the Island Girl killing her clients? Is her Black Boy following her around and offing the dudes who hire her? That would be quite a bizarre twist ending to the song. I don't think its anything that violent; more likely she's the one who gets farther gone with each encounter. But then, why is it the John who made the mistake? I'm sure I'm overthinking it. I always thought it meant that she was so…let’s say “alluring” … that once a client had had sex with her he would be obsessed with her. So he would be “gone” in that he would be unable to stop thinking about her.

But perhaps I’m just being overly romantic about it.

Lochdale
04-15-2016, 10:16 AM
When I realized that Jailhouse Rock is about homosexuality.

It's more about words that rhyme unless Lieber & Stoller had a hidden gay subtext intended (they didn't).

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