In the early 1950s, a highly successful doo wop group recorded a track so filthy that if Mike Pence heard it—if his wife would let him—he’d self-destruct. The song wasn’t released. Well, not officially, anyway. Years later, a certain mother (no, not Pence’s wife) performed a version of the obscure tune for amused audiences the world over.
The Clovers were one of the most popular doo wop acts of the 1950s. From 1951-1956, they scored nineteen R&B hits for Atlantic Records, including “Fool, Fool, Fool” and “One Mint Julep”. In 1957, the risqué “Down in the Alley” was released, but didn’t chart. Their final hit Leiber & Stoller’s “Love Potion No. 9,” came in 1959.
In his 2011 book, Filthy English: the How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing, author Peter Silverton wrote about an usual Clovers recording session:
In 1953, doo wop group the Clovers turned up for a session at their record label Atlantic’s central Manhattan studio. They told their label boss and producer, Ahmet Ertegun, that they wanted to record something of their own this time. This was something of a surprise to [Ertegun]. Like most R&B acts of the day, the Clovers sang songs that were given to them to sing. Still, they were one of Atlantic’s biggest acts. So, he decided to humor their request to record one of their own songs. They stepped up to the mikes. The engineer set the tape rolling.
Singing acapella, the group laid down a track that surely shocked Ertegun with its over-the-top raunchiness. The name of the song? “Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball.”
What the Clovers recorded was a parody of the jazz standard “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” which written in 1917. Here’s a version sung by Ella Fitzgerald from 1936:
The term “Darktown” was a reference to a Chicago neighborhood. “Darktown” is outdated language and surely offensive to most in 2017, but there wasn’t any racist intent by the composer, Shelton Brooks, who was black. Read an interesting, in-depth analysis of the song here.
If you’re an American and at all wondering about the use of the term “cock” in “Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball,” you’re not alone. In the north, “cock” is slang for penis, but in the south, for hundreds of years “cock” referred to female genitalia. That’s largely changed in the past couple of decades, but was still in vogue when the Clovers recorded the song. So, we can surmise how the members of the group—who hailed from Washington D.C., which is below the Mason-Dixon line—used the word.
As you may have guessed, the Clovers’ X-rated send-up wasn’t meant for public consumption, but it did eventually make it out into the world, obviously. It appears it was first bootlegged on record in the early 1970s. The version embedded here is taken from the compilation, Copulatin’ Blues, Volume 2.
Frank Zappa was a Clovers fan, and his love of doo wop, in general, is well documented, with the genre proving to be an influence throughout his career. You can hear it on such FZ records as Freak Out! (1966), the first Mothers of Invention full-length, and Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968), Frank’s homage to doo wop and early R&B. The Mothers 1970 album Burnt Weenie Sandwich opens with a cover of a doo wop song by the Four Deuces, “WPLJ.”
Zappa had a fondness for lyrics that the general public would consider “off color,” and for his 1984 world tour he worked up his own version of “Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball.”
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