NSRC: National Sexuality Resource Center

Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar  

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In a little honky-tonky village in Texas
There’s a guy who plays the best piano by far …
The rhythm he beats puts the cats in a trance.
Nobody there bothers to dance
But when he plays with the bass and guitar
They holler out, “Beat me, Daddy, eight to the bar”

(Multimedia Video: Hit Me Baby)

What could be more alluring in 1940 than the Andrews Sisters, America’s wartime sweethearts, cooing “Beat me, daddy, eight to the bar”? Much of popular music, either directly or referentially, concerns sex. Not infrequently, in seriousness and in jest, free sexual expression brings up sadomasochism, as evidenced in popular music. Consider songs like “Sex Dwarf,” “…Baby One More Time,” “Master and Servant,” and of course “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar.” There are also songs, like “Whipping Post,” which use masochism in nonsexual situations.

George de Coulteray, in the groundbreaking 1965 “medical” study Sadism in the Movies, concluded that sadomasochism is shown on the big screen because people want to see it. So it is with popular music. Sadomasochism touches upon social control, sexuality, fantasy, humor, and is a basic interest that, while often not understood if presented directly, is easily understood when couched in song. What pop music has to say about SM or BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) summarizes youthful and popular attitudes. These range from humor and mockery to darkness and transgression.

The double entendre in “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” is a musical instruction to the pianist to play in a boogie-woogie style, with eight beats to a 4/4 bar. In 1940s boogie-woogie these would be swung eighth notes, hammering out a I – IV – I – IV riff, a precursor to 1950s rock and roll. Boogie-woogie was a simple but popular style, which came out of the blues. Given the musical context of the day and the beauty and charm of the three sisters, this was sexy stuff. It is also fun, lighthearted, and playful.

Humor and Mockery

The Andrews Sisters’ use of a musical, masochistic, imperative refrain is reprised by Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and also by Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” Dury expands on this theme in the verses as well.

In the deserts of Sudan
And the gardens of Japan
From Milan to Yucatan
Every woman, every man
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me, hit me
Je t’adore, ich leibe dich
Hit me, hit me, hit me
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me slowly, hit me quick
Hit me, hit me, hit me

Notwithstanding the humorous delivery, Dury emphasizes “le vice anglais” is in fact universal and enjoyed throughout the world. While being funny, Dury lends credibility to SM fetishism by celebrating its cross-cultural appeal.

Green Day mocks SM enthusiasts with their puerile yet knowing “Dominated Love Slave.” The hardcore punk band pops out an unlikely, upbeat, country two-step. The music itself is a sign this is a comic number: you don’t expect a punk band to play a cheery country two-step, or a country song to glorify BDSM.

I want to be your dominated love slave
I want to be the one that takes the pain
You can spank me when I do not behave
Mack me in the forehead with a chain
’Cause I love feelin’ dirty
And I love feelin’ cheap
And I love it when you hurt me
So drive them staples deep

The exaggeration of the “scene” and the inappropriate use of street slang “mack” make it clear this is a joke. The feelings “dirty” and “cheap” are a presumption of how BDSM players love to feel, not an accurate generalization. Some people might enjoy feeling dirty and cheap and get there through BDSM, but for most practitioners that’s not the motivation.

A very different kind of humor operates in Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf.” It is more of an inside joke than the simplistic outsider mockery of “Dominated Love Slave.” The differences are subtle but evident. The music of “Sex Dwarf” is not out of character for Soft Cell or their genre. The lyrics of “Sex Dwarf,” although funny, are consistent with the band’s image, a carefully constructed, exaggerated, fashionable nightclub persona of tawdriness and debauchery.

We could make an outfit
For my little sex dwarf
To match the gold Rolls
And my dumb chauffeur
We’ll all look so good
We’ll knock ’em cold
Knocking ’em cold
In black and gold

“Sex Dwarf” touches on voyeurism, exhibitionism, bondage, video, puppy play, fetishism, and nightclubbing, and suggests a hedonistic enjoyment of all these things. The humor is in the exaggeration of things admired or desired. It is a comic expansion of fantasy, not mockery or derision. “We can have playtime in my little playroom” further indicates knowledge of insider language and hence an insider perspective.

Pain, Metaphor, and Imagery

Masochistic imagery creates powerful lyrics even if the context is not sexual. The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” uses such imagery to convey feelings of pain and entrapment.

I been run down, I been lied to
I don’t know why I let that mean woman make me a fool
She took all my money, wrecked my new car
Now she’s with one of my goodtime buddies
They’re drinkin’ in some crosstown bar
Sometimes I feel
Like I been tied to the whipping post…
Good Lord, I feel like I'm dyin’

The Allman Brothers were at the forefront of 1970s Southern rock. Their language (“goodtime buddies”, “whipping post”) and grammar (“Like I been tied”, “make me a fool”) show this but even more intensely Southern is their choice of metaphor. Mark Kemp in Dixie Lullaby discusses how bands like the Allmans reclaimed Southern experience and identity for white kids with a new liberal mindset and an attitude of discovery and acceptance of their heritage. This attitude allowed the Allmans to use imagery right out of antebellum slavery. The effect is not to create an offensive racist tableau; rather it drives up the intensity of the song. The Allmans’ particular use of this masochistic image would likely not occur to a songwriter from another background. “Whipping Post” employs sadomasochism not derived from BDSM sex play, but from historical inhumane abuse.

The Rolling Stones, influenced by early American blues, use a similar metaphor in “When the Whip Comes Down” in a more urban setting.

I’m going down fifty-third street
And they’re spitting in my face
I’m learning the ropes
Yeah I’m learning a trade
The east river truckers
Are churning with trash
I make so much money
That I’m spending so fast
When the whip comes down

This song is about hustling in New York, not about SM. Jagger plays a character like he does in “Cocksucker Blues.” Using SM imagery makes the song darker and grittier. The double entendre (it could be an SM scene with a trucker john) is only icing on the cake. This song represents an attempt to keep up with young punk rockers. (The Ramones’ similar hustler song “ 53rd and 3rd” came out the previous year.) The Stones were also trying to differentiate themselves from the polished “disco” sound prevalent then, as well as pay homage to the underbelly of New York City.

Insider Perspective

A few songwriters address SM head on with striking clarity. Martin Gore of Depeche Mode offers lucid explanations of BDSM interest in “Master and Servant.”

There’s a new game
We like to play you see
A game with added reality
You treat me like a dog
Get me down on my knees
We call it master and servant

Depeche Mode characterizes BDSM as a “game” and refers to it as “play”, as is common in the BDSM community, where BDSM is considered to be an adult form of play. Such people feel BDSM transcends “vanilla sex”, a colloquialism for intercourse geared toward procreation. Although the poppy happiness of “Master and Servant” suggests innocence, Gore’s use of insider terminology and psychological rationale reveals an insider’s perspective.

It’s a lot like life
This play between the sheets
With you on top and me underneath
Forget all about equality
Let’s play master and servant

Dave Gahan singing “you on top and me underneath” in a baritone growl makes it clear this is about role reversal or “power exchange”, two basic concepts of BDSM. Players frequently feel BDSM offers greater opportunities for emotional catharsis and psychological fulfillment than does “vanilla sex”, and Depeche Mode expounds upon this.

Domination’s the name of the game
In bed or in life
They’re both just the same
Except in one you’re fulfilled
At the end of the day

Rationale for masochistic pleasure has long been a paradox. How could one enjoy being subjected to pain and degradation? In one theory BDSM allows people to reenact situations or dramas from life, often from childhood, but this time under their own control. This is similar to documented schoolyard play of children who reenact tragedies they have witnessed. Children can play dead but come back to life when the game is over. Control is returned to them through play. BDSM can be a form of “play therapy” for adults. Depeche Mode further examines BDSM in “Strangelove.”

Strangelove
Strange highs and strange lows
Strangelove
That’s how my love goes
Strangelove
Will you give it to me?
Will you take the pain
I will give to you
Again and again
And will you return it?

“Strangelove” alludes to sin, forgiveness, and negotiation within a love relationship. Emphasis on “pain” and “strangelove” become a code with which to decipher ambiguous lyrics. Once this code is understood the listener sees another topic: power exchange and versatility within a BDSM relationship.

I give in to sin
Because I like to practice what I preach
I’m not trying to say
I’ll have it all my way
I’m always willing to learn
When you’ve got something to teach
And I’ll make it all worthwhile
I’ll make your heart smile

Your face might not smile during the pain scene, but your heart will. The concepts of practicing what one preaches and willingness to learn from others point to reciprocity, a reciprocity that has larger meaning in a BDSM relationship than it does in a “vanilla” one. The lyrics remain open to interpretation; the vagueness invites listeners to project their own ideas upon them. This gives the listener the notion they are sharing an intimate secret with the songwriter.

In “Whip in My Valise” Adam Ant describes a BDSM scene in detail. Although there is a tinge of humor similar to “Dominated Love Slave,” the detail corresponds to an accurate realism rather than the dopey comedy of “Mack me in the head with a chain.”

Describe the special punishment room
Over my garage
There’s a whipping post, a vertical beam
You have to be in charge
I paid a packet for a new straight jacket
There’s a whip in my valise

Like Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf,” the music fits the performer’s genre. Even if Ant has fun with the subject, the exaggeration is not mockery as much as pride in the ability to handle physical pain.

You put my head into the stocks
And then you went to choose a cane
But hey your cat has got nine tails
You like to leave me lame
I can't thank her, my Sunday Spanker
There’s a whip in my valise
Who taught you to torture?
Who taught ya?

The Cockney homonym “torture / taught ya” is the kind of wordplay Ant is known for. His own name, “Adam Ant”, is a deconstruction of the word “adamant”.

In “(I Love It) When You Call Me Names” Joan Armatrading describes several scenes. She moves between first and third person, seemingly to give a broader perspective on different interests. This song again shows the motivation of the submissive partner.

I can’t wait to see you again
I know you’re gonna slap my face
You beat me up, then beat me again
And over and over and over and over
And over and over
I love it when you call me names

Armatrading shows women in both dominant and submissive roles. In doing so she suggests “switches” between those who can play either dominant or submissive roles.

Big woman
And a short, short man
And he loves it
When she beats his brains out
He’s pecked to death
But he loves the pain
And he loves it
When she calls him names

Armatrading further describes leather, lace, and cowboy outfits the players wear and describes punishment play as “their way of loving.” This distinguishes SM from actual abuse and shows SM as an expression of love.

Clichés and Conventions

Dogs, whips, and darkness are some common BDSM clichés widely presented in pop music. Iggy Pop’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” distills escapism and desire into “puppy play” with a raw, driving groove and a poetic economy of language.

So messed up, I want you here
In my room I want you here
Now we’re gonna be face-to-face
And I’ll lay right down in my favorite place
And now I wanna be your dog

Puppy play casually appears in many songs about BDSM, from “Run little doggie” in “Sex Dwarf” to “You treat me like a dog, get me down on my knees” in “Master and Servant.” Dogs represent both the abused and the loved. Dogs, as domesticated animals, are sheltered, protected, and cared for. Puppy play is a strong example of how people derive feelings of love from being debased.

Many pop songs feature a whip crack. There is even a standard orchestral percussion instrument called the whip, made of two boards, which makes an effective whip sound. It is used prominently in Leroy Anderson’s holiday tune “Sleigh Ride.” Whip sounds appear in “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,” Bauhaus’ “Lagartija Nick,” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s playful appreciation of the female form, “Baby Got Back.” Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” not only has a whip sound but also screams and grunts as well.

Sadomasochistic imagery effectively portrays a sinister side to life. Nine Inch Nails’ “Head like a Hole” paints money as a deity in lyrics about possessiveness, control, power, and corruption. The refrain, “Bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what you deserve” is sexual in innuendo, as well as dark and mysterious in the context of expressionistic lyrics.

The Dead Boys’ “I Need Lunch” uses sadism to further its angry, aggressive, and abusive tone. The singer is interested in only a sexual relationship and doesn’t want his girl to cling to him.

You want we’re just more than friends
You cry and cry
You know I’ll prick ya’ in the end
Look at me that way, bitch
Your face is gonna get a punch
I said I don’t need no cook girl
I need lunch

The abject sadism of this domestic abuse is unusually dark and, if intended as humor, fails awkwardly as a lyric today. However, “Your face is gonna get a punch” is delivered as it were the climax of the song and shows how sadism can be used to create darkness and intensity.

 

Alternative Sexuality and Mainstream Culture

Mainstream popular culture documents alternative sexuality, which indicates that such sexuality, or at very least an awareness of it, is commonplace. Sadomasochism, bondage, and discipline are at times mocked, celebrated, and explained in popular music. They are used as metaphor, imagery, or color for artistic effect.

Young audiences will be exposed to songs like these at the same time they begin to experience and discover their own sexuality. Popular music informs them of contemporary attitudes about sexuality. With time, self-discovery, and exposure to the world, audiences can evaluate these songs as to their truthfulness and accuracy. The songs can be further deconstructed as listeners gain maturity.

These songs carry a reputation of being outré or edgy. It is expected that more commonplace expressions of sexuality, kissing for instance, are more frequently related in pop music. Alternative sexuality is a difficult topic for mainstream culture to broach. Poetic license granted to songwriters facilitates the presentation of BDSM. Thus, many perspectives on BDSM can be found in song. The language and subtleties can reveal the sensibility of the songwriter, as well as popular attitudes.

Jack Curtis Dubowsky is a composer in San Francisco. He received his master’s degree in composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and studied communication at UCLA. His music graces films, television, and concert performances. He has also produced, arranged, and engineered many pop albums. He writes about popular culture and critical theory.

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