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Workin' for the Yankee dollah...
November 1, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

'Rum and Coca Cola' is a 1942 calypso song by Lord Invader about women on Trinidad prostituting themselves to American soldiers. In 1944, the song was performed in the US by the Andrews Sisters, with the verses altered but the underlying meaning of the song still intact; the song was banned from radio play, however, because of the reference to alcohol. Both versions of the song were enormously popular, and the ensuing plagiarism suits ran until 1950. The copious Rum and Coca Cola Reader has the full story, and over twenty versions of the song.

"Since the Yankees came to Trinidad
They have the young girls goin' mad.
The young girls say they treat 'em nice
And they give them a better price.

They buy rum and Coca-Cola,
Go down Point Cumana.
Both mother and daughter
Workin' for the Yankee dollar."
posted by kaibutsu (45 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
This made me laugh:

The Busters - 1997

Ok, this is a different song, but it shows the extent to which the term, “Rum and Coca Cola” is recognized all over the world as a shorthand description of tropical pleasures.

This clip features some very nice horn work from this German ska band at the E-Werk concert in Cologne.

When I’m depressed I listen to this version. Snaps me right out of it.

posted by mannequito at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2011


oh man, this must have been what it is like for my Mom when I told her Mack The Knife was not a song about a jolly sailor.
posted by The Whelk at 12:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I had pretty much forgotten about this song, though I heard it a lot growing up (my parents were old), and now it's going to be earworming around in my head for the rest of the night.
posted by Gator at 12:30 PM on November 1, 2011


The Arielle Dombasle version (included in the twenty versions link) but here's the direct link to YT) is the best.
posted by warbaby at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2011


Its a fact man! Its a fact!
posted by rongorongo at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2011


So, before he was the Human Joke Machine, Morey Amsterdam was the Human Plagiarism Machine?
posted by tommasz at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2011


I first heard this song in a dance mix* on sound cloud that a friend of mine made (starts about 3 minutes in), then I was searching the background of the song and remembered why I love the internet. The idea that there's a guy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a crazily comprehensive website on the history and controversy around the song erases some of my doubts about the human experiment.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


This seems to be the actual Arielle Combasle version.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:35 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What the hell is America's problem with alcohol? Seriously? What the fuck is up with that? You know those puritan assholes were a long time ago, right? And they were assholes?
posted by Decani at 12:55 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Decani, we have no problem with alcohol. We have other problems that are greater.
posted by stormpooper at 12:59 PM on November 1, 2011


You know those puritan assholes were a long time ago, right?

Someone hasn't been following the Republican primary campaigns.
posted by localroger at 1:04 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cuba Libre

1 oz Pusser’s Rum
4 oz real sugar Coca-Cola
Lime Wedge

Pour rum and cola over ice in a rocks glass.
Squeeze lime wedge over glass and drop in.
posted by notyou at 1:06 PM on November 1, 2011


Decani: Popular media in the U.S. has usually tended to the sensibilities of whichever most socially conservative markets it wants to sell advertising in. And since Prohibition's repeal was only a decade old at the time, and there were many, many regions of the country which were still dry, radio networks were going to bend over backwards to ensure it did not endanger the franchises of any of its affiliates.
posted by ardgedee at 1:06 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lord Invader, Mighty Terror, King Radio, Wilmoth Houdini, Growling Tiger, Small Island Pride, The Duke of Iron...the postwar Trinidadian calypso scene may have had the most concentrated pool of awesome stage names in the history of music.
posted by Iridic at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


This is some old school internet nerdery of a wonderful sort.
posted by benzenedream at 1:15 PM on November 1, 2011


Iridic, you forgot mighty sparrow, singer of my own personal favorite calypso song, "Castro Eating a Bannana" which is about a picture of a Cuban revolutionary, a nearsighted grandma and a comic misapprehension.

Also, is Rum & Coca Cola older than Brown Skin Girl? It's the same theme.
posted by Diablevert at 1:19 PM on November 1, 2011


The sequel to this song is King Sparrow's "Jean and Dinah", where the end of the war means that the Americans close their bases in Trinidad, and the tourism market plummets and Islanders can afford such pleasures once again.

Also, I always figured that the line from Pulp's Common People "She told me that her dad was loaded/I said 'in that case, I'll have rum and Coca-Cola'" was a nod to that song and the dynamic it describes.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


We had this on a cassette tape with all sorts of old melodies - the Andrews sisters' version. In a matter of hours, our sweet little daughter, then four, was enchantingly humming "rum and co-caa-cola" to herself while doing her little daughtery innocent things (like tying old ends of wool all across the staircase so nobody could walk there any more). We didn't explain to her what the song was about.
posted by Namlit at 1:30 PM on November 1, 2011


Sorry, Mighty Sparrow, not King Sparrow. Getting my honorifics mixed up...
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:37 PM on November 1, 2011


It's a recurring theme in many calypso songs of the time (like Brown Skin Girl and Jean and Dinah mentioned above). I also very much like Mighty Sparrow's Don't go, Joe which is also related. I once read a really nice piece about the difficulty for Trinidad with the American soldiers & oil companies which one one hand provided good income, but brought with it various societal problems, I wish I remember where so I could link to it.

Anyway, I've loved calypso since I discovered WFMU's Muriel's Treasure (named after a song, you can guess what it's about). The show has stopped airing, but the archives are still there for your streaming pleasure.
posted by bjrn at 1:37 PM on November 1, 2011


A brief version of the history of this song is included in Wayne Curtis's excellent book and a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, which I just finished and which I recommend strongly.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:37 PM on November 1, 2011


I think Mighty Sparrow was known as King Sparrow in the beginning.
posted by bjrn at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2011


He was, apparently, crowned 'Calyso Monarch' on eleven separate occasions. So 'King' Sparrow isn't all that inappropriate... But 'Mighty Sparrow' is just an awesome name.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:43 PM on November 1, 2011


Wonderful site.

My favourite Lord Invader song is My Experience on the Reeperbahn, in which our Lord hooks up with a transvestite in a Hamburg nightclub.
posted by jack_mo at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2011


I was familiar with some of this from having read Louis Nizer's "My Life In Court". A fascinating chapter in a fascinating book.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that line from Pulp's Common People, that's kinda witty:

She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge,
she studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College,
that's where I,
caught her eye.
She told me that her Dad was loaded,
I said "In that case I'll have a rum and coca-cola."
She said "Fine."
and in thirty seconds time she said,

"I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people,
like you."

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. Always loved this song, learned it on guitar, sing it in the car (love that slide on dollaaaaaaaah). I always referred to the Andrews sister's version, but I am abandoning that in favor of the King's, one reason being is that he actually attempts to be grammatical and say that they WENT down Pt. Cumana, instead of the AS's pidgin-style GO down etc.
posted by telstar at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2011


And now I see someone else pointed that out.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2011


> My favourite Lord Invader song is My Experience on the Reeperbahn, in which our Lord hooks up with a transvestite in a Hamburg nightclub.

And for everyone who hasn't heard it, you can listen to it here. If the link doesn't work, you should be able to get a stream going from this page and skip forward to 28:25.
posted by bjrn at 2:04 PM on November 1, 2011


Picked up some good Calypso CDs last year. Great music, some of the Calypso battles between MCs such as Mighty Sparrow vs. Lord Melody are amazing - pure fire.

A good start is Calypso Awakening, recorded by Emory Cook and released on Smithsonian Folkways.

London is the place for me = a great set of Calypso releases on the Honest Jons label. There are 4 volumes.
posted by nikoniko at 2:04 PM on November 1, 2011


The lyric "Money in the hand is the Yankee dollar bill" in the Merrymen's Big Bamboo makes a lot more sense now!

(The rest of the song has some great double entendres, by the way.)
posted by Paragon at 2:12 PM on November 1, 2011


Wanda Jackson did a pretty decent cover of it on her most recent album.
posted by chococat at 2:55 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chococat, that is great.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:27 PM on November 1, 2011


the song was banned from radio play, however, because of the reference to alcohol

And yet there's never been a shortage of songs about drinking! For anyone interested in this particular sub-genre, I humbly submit my own collection of booze ballads, which, coincidentally, includes the Lord Invader original of Rum and Coca Cola.

Great post, Kaibutsu!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:43 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Loosely related:

I used to make a living, man
Pickin' the banana...
Hooray for The USA!

posted by ovvl at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2011


Awesome post! I always remember this song playing in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!), easily my favorite movie as a child. Sad that it's still only available on VHS.
I used to make a living, man
Pickin' the banana
Heh. Here I was reading the thread with "Rum and Coca Cola" solidly playing in my head and figured it was there to stay a while. Nope, now it's "Havana Affair" and nothing in this world can get that song out of my head for days on end. Also, as worthless as Youtube comments usually are, the current Top Comments on "Havana Affair" did amuse.
Red Hot Chili Peppers brought me here. And it's awesome.
THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS CAN'T BRING YOU HERE.
posted by ndfine at 5:56 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Up in the Old Hotel had a great piece on the calypso scene of that era.
posted by dr_dank at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2011


Leonard also quotes it on the Field Commander Cohen tour album. In case the song needed any other claim to greatness.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now I have Snoopy and Leonard Cohen intertwined in my mind. I can envision Leonard atop a doghouse Sopwith... "Ah, curse the fates, which bind me to this alien land..."
posted by ovvl at 7:25 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


oh.my.golly. flapjax at midnight - SONGS THAT SPELL IT OUT - i have a very similar mix and i am seriously gonna have to poach a couple of your ideas! (nice to see a fellow weebly user, too)
posted by lapolla at 8:48 PM on November 1, 2011


Am I missing a point again? Is being paid for sex suddenly a shameful thing? Not legitimate and legal work? Or is it something that the naive and stupid, but beautiful natives would be exploited for?

Because all of those tones would REALLY bother my feminist sensibilities. Really.
posted by taff at 8:48 PM on November 1, 2011


flapjax, how can you have a weebly about drinking songs with out Webley's Drinking Song?
posted by mannequito at 9:35 PM on November 1, 2011


taff: As I read it, the introduction of USians into the Trinidad economy and the boom of tourism made a lot of things - like, say, spending a day at the beach - too expensive or otherwise unavailable to local people, and simultaneously, prostitution became far more profitable than it had previously been. Which upset existing cultural norms, regardless of how you might feel about sex work...
posted by kaibutsu at 10:00 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because all of those tones would REALLY bother my feminist sensibilities. Really.

Man, you're really going to hate my forthcoming house of the rising sun thread.
posted by Diablevert at 10:24 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Day late and a dollar short on this thread, but thought some might be interested in knowing about this Columbia Color Rhapsody short from 1944 The Disillusioned Bluebird-IMDb (also at Big Cartoon Database but without much info). A lamenting cartoon bluebird sings about life love Americans his island and the foolishness of war. The bird is voiced by Sir Lancelot an early Calypso singer. I saw this on Antenna tv (one of the added channels you get with digital tv) a couple of months ago on their "Totally Tuned In" show. I was floored by it, totally awesome! Sadly it does not appear to be online anywhere. Irwin on WFMU didn't play it when he was on his "Muriel's Treasure" Calypso kick a few years ago, though both he and Doug Schulkind have played other Sir Lancelot songs.
posted by Akaky at 6:17 PM on November 2, 2011


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