NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hey, Cuz! Welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs. And today, we’re visiting with some musical prostitutes.
Hi there! I’m Claude Call. Let’s do some trivia, right after this.
And since we’re doing a show about the prostitutes, let me give ye a question inspired by Paul Kondo over at Podcast Gumbo. Wait, that didn’t come out right, let me try that again. Paul Kondo over at the amazing Podcast Gumbo wrote to me and asked me to do a show about this song, but I didn’t have enough for a full show, so I’ll use what I’ve got here: What one-hit wonder wrote and released a song in 1978 about child prostitution that took 21 weeks to reach Number One on the Billboard Hot 100? I’ll have that answer and what little bits I have left, near the end of the show.
So as I’ve noted a couple of times already, we’re looking at a few songs about prostitution today. And the one thing that most of these songs seem to have in common is that someone goes to the West Side of New York City, or to the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, or even the seedier neighborhoods of Paris, France, and they’re shocked—shocked, I say, to discover that there is illicit activity going on there. Which means that, for the most part, I’m not going to dwell too much on the origins of these songs, since they’re so similar.
Having said that, I will begin with Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” which was a hit for the Queen of Disco in the summer of 1979. Because this one started a little bit differently. In 1977, Summer was working at the offices of Casablanca Records, which was her label, when she sent her secretary out on an errand. As it happens, the secretary’s route took her down Sunset Boulevard. While she was out there, she was stopped by the police and given a little bit of a hassle, because they assumed that she was one of the working girls walking the area. When the secretary got back, she related to Summer what happened. Of course Summer was upset about what happened, but it also got her to thinking. Now, at the time she was working with a group called Brooklyn Dreams, which included Eddie Hokenson, Joe Esposito and Bruce Sudano, who later became Mister Summer. Joe Esposito is also known for the song “You’re the Best” from the original Karate Kid movie, but because of this, we’ll let him slide. As far as Eddie Hokenson, he did a bunch of stuff with Brooklyn Dreams, but this is his biggest credit. So she and Brooklyn Dreams worked out a demo track for the song and she played it for Neil Bogart, who was the head of Casablanca at the time. Now, while the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack hadn’t come out yet, disco was still making big moves to the forefront, and this was in the immediate wake of Summer’s songs “I Feel Love” and “I Love You”. So when he heard a song that he considered to be rock rather than disco, Bogart suggested that she offer it to Labelle or Cher instead. Summer didn’t like that idea, so she simply put it away.
It wasn’t until two years later that an engineer by the name of Steve Smith was going through tapes. Depending on the story, he was either looking for a blank spot to make a recording or he was looking for a tape he could safely erase, when he came across the demo. He brought it up to Donna Summer, who’d forgotten about it, but the other thing he did was to bring it to Summer’s frequent collaborator, the producer Giorgio Moroder. You might remember that it was Moroder, along with Pete Bellotte, who produced her breakout hit “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love”. The two of them produced a new version of “Bad Girls,” and that’s the one that became a hit.
Now, when Summer originally recorded it for the Bad Girls album, that whole “toot toot, beep beep” thing wasn’t on the track. In fact, the song was pretty much considered done. But Summer thought it sounded kinda empty in a few places. Summer drew her inspiration from this track:
This is a song called “Bang Bang”, from 1966 and an artist named Joe Cuba. Now, this wasn’t a huge hit in its day but it did get some airplay and was on the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B charts for a while, so some people did make the connection. Anyway, Summer thought that something like it would make for a filler in the track, giving us the sounds of the cars beeping their horns to call the prostitutes over.
Okay, let’s move on to…The Police. Their breakout hit was, of course, “Roxanne,” which is clearly about a prostitute, but in this case it’s about the guy who falls in love with her and tries to talk her out of the profession. Sting has said that when he saw the prostitutes, he wondered what that might be like, thinking that some of them must have had boyfriends. The name “Roxanne,” incidentally, comes from the character in the play Cyrano de Bergerac, which was on a poster in the foyer of the Parisian hotel in which the band was staying at the time.
There are a couple of things going on musically with “Roxanne” that you may not have noticed right away. When Sting first wrote it, it had a kind of Bossa Nova beat to it, but Sting once told The Independent that Stuart Copeland suggested that Sting play the bass on the off-beats rather than right on top of them, which changed the verses into more of a tango. And because Sting was still really into Bob Marley at the time, he was still doing that reggae lilt as he sang. But now, take a listen to Copeland’s drumming. You’ll notice that he has a typical rock hi-hat pattern, but on the bass drum he’s doing this “and two” thing going on, which underline’s Sting’s reggae sound. So you wind up with a rather unusual groove that carries the verses perfectly until they ramp up to a straight up rock and roll sound on the chorus.
And finally, of course, we get to the happy accident. I actually talked about it way, WAY back in Episode 11, the one called “Failing Upward”. Listen back to the beginning of the song. We hear a weird piano chord, and then an off-mic Sting laughing…
…so what happened there, you say? I’m glad you asked. The music tracks were laid down, and now Sting needed to record his lead vocals. As the tape started rolling, Sting leaned back and sat on the keys of a piano nearby, which he didn’t realize had its lid open. So we get this weirdly dissonant chord, which Sting found funny, so he began to laugh. They could have easily erased it later on without sacrificing the whole song, but they liked the way it sounded, so they kept it in. Supposedly if you look at the liner notes for the album, Sting gets a credit for playing “butt piano,” but I haven’t been able to find an image to corroborate this.
Now, when they recorded the song, Sting kind of liked it but didn’t think it would be a hit. So when they played it for Miles Copeland, their manager and Stuart Copeland’s brother, they were all a little embarrassed to play it for him, especially because Miles was a huge fand of fast and furious punk music. But Miles thought it was a genuine knockout and he took it to A&M records to release as a single.
Because of the subject matter, the song had a tough time getting airplay anywhere, go figure. According to most sources, it was a single disc jockey in Austin, Texas who kept hammering away at playing the record that it began to get traction. I have to say, I grew up on Long Island and the only time I heard that song when it was first released, was when I’d hear it on the stations coming across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut. I don’t think I ever heard it on a New York metro station. It wasn’t until a year later that the song was re-released and it enjoyed a little more success. By which time I was all “knew it before it was cool,” not that it helped me get the women or anything.
Now it’s time to answer the trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you to identify the one-hit wonder from 1978 which dealt with child prostitution.
Well, that would be Nick Gilder, who released his song “Hot Child in the City” on June 12, 1978. It entered the Billboard chart right away at Number 88, and from that point it was 21 weeks to make it to the Number One slot, which it held for just that one week of October 28, before dropping to Number Six. It hung around the Top Ten for another week or two before finally making its descent and finally dropping off the charts altogether just after the New Year, after 31 weeks total. At the time that was Billboard’s record for the song that took the longest amount of time to reach the top. Nowadays it wouldn’t even be in the top ten of that list. For what it’s worth, the clear winner in that category for the last couple of years would be Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You”, which was released in the year 2000 but didn’t reach Number One until 2019. At any rate, Gilder wrote the song when he saw a lot of underage girls walking Hollywood Boulevard with their pimps. He didn’t like the idea of writing about a girl leaving a bad situation only to get into a worse one, so he wrote it from the point of view of some guy staring at the girls with lust in his eyes. In fact, one of the best retrospective reviews I’ve seen for the song comes from Tom Breihan at Stereogum Dot Com, who wrote, it’s “quite plainly, not about how sad it is to see teenage sex workers out walking the Sunset Strip. Instead, ‘Hot Child in the City’ Is a Tex Avery cartoon-wolf song, a downright filthy awooga about both being wildly horny and being excited to be wildly horny.” (unquote) And for what it’s worth, Gilder did have another Number One song, but it was in Canada.
When he was the leader of the band Sweeney Todd a couple of years earlier, that band’s single “Roxy Roller” spent three weeks at the top of the Canadian charts. Now, it’s possible that you did hear the song in America a little while after that, but that was likely a re-recording of the song with a 16-year-old Bryan Adams handling vocal duties.
And that, my friend, is a full lid on another edition of How Good It Is. If you’re enjoying the show, please take the time to share it with someone, and maybe even leave a rating somewhere, and now you can support the show over at Patreon dot com, slash (ow) How Good It Is.
If you want to get in touch with the show, you can email me at HowGoodPodcast@gmail.com,
Or you can follow the show on Twitter or Instagram at How Good It Is.
You can also visit, like and follow the show’s Facebook page, at facebook dot com, slash How Good It Is Pod.
Or, you can check out the show’s website, How Good It Is Dot Com, where you may find a few extra bits.
Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we take a bite of some Rock Lobster.
Thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.