Take it all off

People have been dancing and taking their clothes off to entrance and entertain others probably for as long as humans have been wearing clothes. One of this most famous examples, Salomé, appears in the Bible, in the New Testament.

She is the young daughter of Herodias, and so the step-daughter of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas. Herod has imprisoned John the Baptist but really has no intentions of turning him into a martyr. However, in most versions of the story, Herodias is incensed over John’s comments calling out her husband for marrying his brother’s wife — i.e., Herodias.

Herodias also knows that her husband has the hots for his step-daughter, and so the girl is led into tricking the man. When he “greatly pleases him” by dancing for him, he offers her anything she wants. She requests, at her mother’s behest, “The head of John the Baptist in a charger.”

No, not that kind of charger. That was King James speak for a sort of platter — one that was big enough to carry other dishes, hence also the concept of “in” instead of “on.”

Herod had offered her up to half his kingdom, but now he’s stuck because he’s sworn to grant her request in front of all of his guests.

But he also knows the political consequences of executing the Baptist — making him a hero, stirring up violence among the people, and pissing off Rome. But Salomé won’t relent and little Herod ultimately wins out.

The Baptist loses his head, and an archetype is born. Traditionally, Salomé was said to have done the Dance of the Seven Veils (a term actually coined by Oscar Wilde in his play about her), and if you think about it, to this day most traditional strip acts involve removing about that many pieces of clothing, since that tends to be about as many as we wear at once.

But there are other stripping traditions and, at least when it comes to amateur stripping of the drunken party/truth or dare/online video gag variety, there have always been certain songs associated with the act, often to the extent that if said song starts playing, somebody is going to start stripping. At the very least, just hearing the song brings only one action to mind.

One of the earliest popular examples is called, in fact, The Stripper. Written by David Rose and recorded in 1958, it evokes the bump and grind aesthetic of the old burlesque acts of the 1920s and 30s, and it’s almost impossible to listen to without imagining some woman in lace and heels and draped in boas jiggling her hips around on a tiny stage in a smokey bar.

This was pretty much the standard for decades, but then the 1980s rolled along, and a new song took over as the “when it plays, you strip” anthem: You Can Leave Your Hat On. Interestingly enough, though, the song was originally recorded and released by its composer, Randy Newman, on his 1972 album Sail Away, and… crickets.

It wasn’t until Joe Crocker recorded his cover in 1986 and then was featured during a striptease scene in Adrian Lynn’s film 9 1/2 Weeks (the Fifty Shades of its day, though thankfully not a trilogy) at which point it exploded into public consciousness.

For a long time after that, this was the go-to stripping song, and then another cultural phenomenon came along and changed the tune again. It was February 25, 2001 in Season 2, Episode 2 of the MTV show Jackass that Party Boy and his theme song made their debut.

Performed by Chris Pontius, the idea was that the music would start playing in some public place and Chris would suddenly remove his tearaway outfit and dance in typical Chippendale’s cuffs, white collar with bow tie, and “tuxedo” G-string in order to stun and startle the crowd.

The song was actually written by a musician named Dave Roen, and its creation is an interesting story in itself. It’s completely different in tone and feeling from any of the others — think of it as maybe the rave version. And yet, for a long time after that, if someone was going to strip and dance, especially in a video online, this was the soundtrack.

It’s another song that’s impossible to listen to today without immediately visualizing a near-nude dancer, whether you were alive then or not.

Which brings me to the 2020s and Gen Z, and there’s still no successor to The Party Boy Song. Of course, we may not be due yet. The Stripper held on for 28 years, although You Can Leave Your Hat On fell after 15. Party Boy is just over 20, so who knows.

But, on the other hand, pop culture is a lot more fragmented and egalitarian now, and there are certainly subsets of songs associated with but not exclusive to stripping.

For example, while The Harlem Shake was a thing, during the winter and spring of 2013, videos depicting the dance were being uploaded to YouTube and other platforms at the rate of 4,000 per day.

The standard set up was that in the first half of the video, one person would be dancing among a group of disinterested friends, who were motionless and ignoring them. Then, in a jump-cut to the music change, suddenly everyone was dancing chaotically to the song.

A subset quickly sprang up in which everyone in the second half would be nude, or as nude as they could get away with on YouTube — e.g., lots of hand-crotches or backs toward the camera.

However, I don’t think that most people would associate the song now with stripping. But there’s something else involved, I think, and it’s generational.

It has to do with attitudes toward nudity and, oddly enough, I think we’ve moved steadily backwards. Say what you will about Boomers, but since most of them hit high school in the 1960s, they were also the next-to-last generation that grew up with things like communal showers after P.E. and, in a lot of cases, the last generation to experience nude swim classes, although those were never co-ed.

Needless to say, some Boomers also went on to become those naked hippies at Woodstock and other festivals.

Gen-X missed out on the hippie thing mostly, except via older siblings, who were all just kind of weird, although except for the youngest of us, born in the very late 70s, we still went through the P.E. communal shower thing.

The end result, though, was that Boomers and Gen-X were a lot more comfortable with their bodies. And then the Millennials came along and, through no fault of their own, had a curtain of shame tossed over them.

This happened because, in 1983, the mother of a two-year-old at a preschool in Manhattan Beach alleged that a male teacher had sodomized her son. This led to the McMartin Preschool Scandal, also known as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and the more it was investigated the less was found to be there. And note that her son is only a year shy of being among the first Millennials born.

Ultimately, no charges were filed, although the whole thing became a lesson in the power of investigators to implant memories in children, who came up with outrageous tales which, fortunately, were easily disprovable upon investigation of the premises where they had allegedly occurred.

Still… the reputation of the school, its founder Peggy McMartin, and her grandson Ray Buckey, were ruined forever. By the way, the kid involved in the original allegation against Buckey could not identify him from a bunch of photos, and physical exams showed no signs whatsoever of sodomy or abuse.

But… parents freaked out, and this was a huge part of why communal showers and the like went away. This was also the first generation brought up with the idea of Stranger Danger — probably not wrongfully, mind you. But still… I feel for Millennials, who were brought up with a bizarre combination of sex-positive but body negative-messages. In other words, huge mixed signals.

Again, I don’t want to generalize. Plenty of Boomers are still flaming naked hippies, and lots of us Gen-Xers are also comfortable with casual nudism. But plenty of both groups aren’t. Likewise, some Millennials grew up so warned about everyone else that they’re not even comfortable getting naked with their spouses, while others managed to get around that and be fine.

I also knew plenty of Millennials who will consider themselves “naked” if they’re merely shirtless, which just strikes me as totally weird, but whatever.

Then there’s Gen Z, a totally interesting case because they basically are growing up with no concept of privacy or, really, need for it. The oldest of them right now are anywhere between 20 and 23, and the top end of that cohort, the 18 to 23 group, are also the ones learning that if you’re young and beautiful, you have an exploitable commodity.

But… that only happens online. And it’s only explicit if it’s monetized in a venue that will allow it. Or, in other words, Instagram and TikTok get the teases. OnlyFans gets the money shots — and the money. And fuck Facebook.

So, they’re stripping for money and making it, but they don’t have one single theme song. They’re writing their own tune, but our media streams have become so diverse and fragmented that I don’t think we’ll ever have a single unifying stripper song ever again.

Probably a good thing. Go find your own niche and be weird in it. Remember the Internet Rule 41: Everything is somebody’s sexual fetish. Ergo, you cannot invent a fetish that at least one person out there doesn’t have.

Us Gen-Xers learned that back in the mid-90s. And there’s no reason that a song cannot become a fetish, too.

Image source: David Lytle from San Francisco, CA, USA, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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