Readers recommend playlist: songs about taboos

A regular reader tests your boundaries with a playlist that includes Frank Zappa, Skunk Anansie and a taboo-breaker by Tom Robinson

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of suggestions on last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

My dog hates this playlist. There are taboos, it appears, that disturb man and beast alike – but I hope that while some songs below about certain ideas might not be palatable to all, there’ll be something worth listening to.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube

Incest, for one, is a no-no across species. Serge Gainsbourg and his then 12-year-old daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg take it on anyways in the song Lemon Incest, making a joke of the topic with a play on the words “lemon zest” and “lemon incest”. You start to see where my dog is coming from ...

Taboos can be taught – or violated – at the family dinner table. The little ones in Skunk Anansie’s Little Baby Swastikkka are taught early to violate social norms, while parents worry about appearances more than realities. The adolescent in XTC’s No Thugs in This House doesn’t fare any better.

Frank Zappa’s Porn Wars tells us more about the intersection of familial and societal taboos, bringing us back to the 1985 US Senate hearings on “porn rock”. Out of the hearings came parental advisory labels on albums deemed explicit, a killer Zappa song, and not much else.

In the Lecuona Cuban Boys’ Tabu, an interpretation of FW Murnau’s 1931 film Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, likewise demonstrates the futility of so many societal taboos. As does Love for Sale, a song considered shocking when, in 1930, the white singer Kathryn Crawford took on the role of a prostitute advertising her services. The song was promptly relegated to black performers, one of whom was Shirley Horn.

Enduring sexual taboos can make for enduring music, demonstrated also by Mozart’s Leck Mich im Arsch. Cyndi Lauper’s She Bop, a song referred to in those 1985 Senate hearings, has stuck around and probably become less shocking over time, much like Howlin’ Wolf’s Back Door Man a song about the seventh sin in the Anglican church.

Can musicians, then, singlehandedly remove taboos? Probably not, but the Tom Robinson Band did its damnedest with Glad to Be Gay, written in the 1970s when the taboo against homosexuality was the rule and not the exception.

At any rate, there are two things this playlist does make clear: that taboos are malleable, and that some dogs can’t handle punk rock.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (BST) on Thursday 28 September. You have until 11pm on Monday 2 October to submit nominations.

Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for readers recommend:

Samantha Birchard

The GuardianTramp

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