Friday Song: Eddie Cantor, HUNGRY WOMEN (Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, 1928)
Should there be a trigger warning for listeners of this week’d Friday Song?
It makes gender assumptions that some might find offensive. Its premise is based on the patronising assumption that, on a date, men will pay for dinner. And was it really acceptable to make a joke about hunger when the Great Depression was but a year away?
No, it’s undeniable. This is a song which has low- to mid-grade inappropriateness on almost every line.
But, what the hell, for me ‘Hungry Women’ is still an innocent and gloriously funny song.
‘Broke again, gentlemen
I am ruined now.
Wall Street’s not to blame
Nor the racing game.
I have spent every cent,
Let me tell you how.
Listen one and all
To the cause of my downfall…’
The song dates from the golden year in the history of Tin Pan Alley, 1928, and was written Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, who were the Leiber and Stoller of the time. Ain’t She Sweet’ was one of theirs, as was ‘Happy Days are Here Again’, ‘Happy Feet’ (performed by The Rhythm Boys with Bing Crosby and Paul Whitehouse in this mad clip from The King of Jazz) and a personal favourite of mine ‘Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now)’.
Although their sound – and their crazed, pie-eyed optimism – is very much of its time, the fact that these songs are still played and enjoyed today suggest that the spirit, wit and musicality of their songs is timeless.
Yellen and Ager were a perfect combination. Yellen’s lyrics were light and funny while Ager’s tunes fitted their mood perfectly. As ‘Hungry Women’ shows, it’s not enough for a song to have clever words. The music has to do more than complement the joke; it has to be part of it.
‘Hungry Women’ was released on the B-side of Eddie Cantor’s original version of Makin Whoopee’, putting it in the ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields Forever’ class of double-sided hits.
It catches a new strain of 1920s songwriting – one which reflects the change in women’s roles at the time, and ranges from the jaundiced (‘Makin’ Whoopee’) to the jaunty (‘Masculine Women! Feminine Men!’, ‘No Wonder She’s a Blushing Bride’).
Here, though, the jokes are what matter. A mildly funny concept is ramped up with every verse, with an absolute zinger of joke/rhyme in the last verse. It’s not a musical masterpiece but it makes me laugh every time I hear it.