Sunday, April 28, 2013

Song Spot: Island Girl


I was driving to work when Elton John’s Island Girl came on. Not paying much attention to the lyrics, I started to become interested when I wondered how someone wraps themself around someone else “like a well worn tyre”. No matter how I tried to make that image work, it didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t. Cest la vie.  It also started me wondering about the rest of the lyrics. Have you ever heard a particular song for years, not paying that much attention to the lyrics, and then found out that the lyrics and subject matter are actually quite startling? A previous post on the Stones’ Brown Sugar looked at that particular aspect: 

Island Girl is another example. Some notes and facts: 

Lyrics: 

I see your teeth flash, Jamaican honey so sweet
Down where Lexington cross 47th Street
She's a big girl, she's standing six foot three
Turning tricks for the dudes in the big city  
Island girl
What you wanting with the white man's world
Island girl
Black boy want you in his island world
He want to take you from the racket boss
He want to save you but the cause is lost
Island girl, island girl, island girl
Tell me what you wanting with the white man's world  
She's black as coal but she burn like a fire
And she wrap herself around you like a well worn tire
You feel her nail scratch your back just like a rake
He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake 

  • The music is by Elton John, aka Captain Fantastic, the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, aka The Brown Dirt Cowboy. 

  • 1975 production, the first single taken from the album Rock of the Westies, reached No 1 in the US and No 14 in the UK. The single’s B side was Sugar on the Floor written by Kiki Dee, who would partner Elton in 1976 with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

  • John’s and Taupin’s 1975 album Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy was the first album ever to debut at #1 on the Billboard music chart. Their next album, Rock Of The Westies, also broke in at #1. Island Girl was the only hit from the record. 

  • The lyrics suggest that the Island Girl is a Jamaican woman who has found that the only way to make a living is via prostitution. The singer says that there are a lot of men in Jamaica who would have liked to have had her as a wife, but it’s too late now, the “cause is lost”, she is stuck in the life of a prostitute. 

  • There is also a suggestion that maybe she kills her Johns: “He one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake”. 

  • According to Wikipedia

The lyrics are about a prostitute in New York City and a man who wants to take that prostitute back to Jamaica. Arguably the "Island Girl" is a male prostitute, given that John sings, "She's a big girl/she's standin' six-foot-three/turning tricks for the dudes in the big city."  
As chronicled in the documentary Gay Sex in the 70’s, New York City at that time provided an unprecedented sexual freedom for gay men, with ample opportunities for anonymous sex. Gay men also may occasionally refer to a gay peer as "she" rather than "he".  
At the time the song was released, Elton John had not yet publicly come out. The following year, in a Rolling Stone article, he said he was bisexual. In 1988, he confirmed he was gay and went public with his relationship with another man.  

  • The term Island can mean Jamaica, Manhattan Island or both in the context of the song. 

  • The lyrics have been denounced as sexist and racist. 

So there you have it. No doubt it will never be the same for you, whenever you hear the song again and start singing along, you will recall that it could be about a 6 foot 3 inch male prostitute from Jamaica. 


Next time: 

Whether The Rolling Stones’ Angie was written for David Bowie's wife Angela Bowie, who claimed that she found Mick Jagger and David Bowie in bed together.

Cher, Elton John and Diana Ross, 1975


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