The Cherry Poppin' Daddies


The photo shows a group of 20-something young adults dressed to kill. The guys sport wide-lapeled zoot suits, suspenders and two-tone shoes. The girls wear flared skirts and bobby socks. Smoldering cigars and half-finished martinis are left on the table as the pairs move to the dance floor full of energy and ready to dance the Jitterbug. No, this isn't an old black and white memory from the pages of your grandmother's photo album. Rather, it's a full-color peek into the latest dance craze and popular music frenzy sweeping the world of today's youth culture. If the old saying "What goes around comes around" needs proof, the surprising revival of swing music on today's music charts serves as Exhibit A.


The new swing (or "neo-swing") movement is like a trip back in time. Fueled by the release of the 1993 film "Swing Kids" and the 1996 hit movie "Swingers," the big band sounds and styles of the ‘30s and ‘40s are locked in heavy rotation on radio stations and MTV. The Billboard album and single charts of the past few months have included hits by new swing bands including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Teenagers and young adults across North America are flocking to dance studios to learn how to do the Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, Suzy-Q and Trucking. During the past two years, New York's Dance Manhattan has seen a 400 percent increase in swing dance class enrollment. Even The Gap has gotten in on the act with a khaki's ad featuring swing dancers and a soundtrack from The Brian Setzer Orchestra.


Perhaps no band has led the new swing charge more than The Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Hailing from Eugene, Oregon, the band's been touring hard and playing their unique mix of swing and modern rock sounds since 1989. The eight members of the band describe their music as "jump jive." Listeners and fans experience a high-energy mix of ska and swing. Front man and lead singer Steve Perry says, "We're a hybrid. What we're trying to do is create, to marry the energy of punk rock to the beautiful swing sound and groove of swing."


The mix has caught on as the band's fourth album (a collection of songs from their first three efforts along with four new cuts), 1997's Zoot Suit Riot, is still high on the charts after going Platinum in the U.S. and Gold in several other countries around the world. They were a big hit during the summer of 1998's Warped concert tour. Because of their growing popularity as representatives of new swing, the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding has looked deeper into the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' history, music and message.


The lyrics tell the story


On the surface, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies seem like lots of fun. Ignore the lyrics and you're left with an album that will make you tap your feet if not get up and dance. But hints that the package includes more than just "fun" begins with the band's name—a direct reference to a slang term for men who, in the act of sexual intercourse, break a virgin girl's hymen.


The first cut on Zoot Suit Riot is the hit single release of the same name. The breakthrough video of the song earned the band a nomination for "Best New Artist in a Video" at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards. The song is an ode to the new swing scene including reference to romance ("Now you sailors know where your women come for love"), dancing ("A whipped up jitterbuggin' brown-eyed man"), swing music ("Cut me Sammy and you'll understand/in my veins hot music ran") and drinking ("Zoot Suit Riot/Throw back a bottle of beer").


Womanizing and polygamy are the topic of "Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line." The subject of the song has an uncontrollable "sensual soul." Listeners are told he "reaped a little more than he could sow/Of the pleasures the Mormons in Utah know/He could not restrain himself when he saw a nice caboose." References to sexual intercourse are thinly disguised in lines like, "Lonely women flocked to him and he loved them all/the train went in the tunnel/in the dark he proposed."


Straightforward sex talk continues in "When I Change Your Mind" ("I just want my jellies rolled…Don't you want my pleasure ride") and "Here Comes The Snake" ("Here comes the snake and he circles your leg/He's come to play and make your body parts shake/he comes swervin' down your hall/It'll feel so good when he gives it his all."). "Shake Your Lovemaker" is a title leaving little to the imagination.


In the Frank Sinatra-sounding "Come Back to Me," Perry pleads with a lost lover to return in any way possible ("catch a plane, catch a breeze, on your hands, on your knees" etc). Moral relativism gets a nod in the line, "break the law if you must/move the world/only just...come back to me."


Getting over a lost love is the subject of "No Mercy For Swine." The attempted solution offered here is drinking ("Drownin' your sorrows in a thousand beers") and casual sex ("Lonely sex with a desperate heart/Is the way to get over someone just to get under someone else?").


"Dr. Bones" is a bit confusing as to its subject but includes the lines, "He's only happy with your girlfriend's pie and his bony fingers up your a__...don't tell me you're my friend/just get the f___ out of my face."


Kids who are struggling with alcoholic dads and a history of being abused will readily identify with the powerful and heartbreaking lyrics of "Drunk Daddy." It's paradoxical to hear this downbeat lament (See lyrics below.) and pleas for mercy sung to upbeat and danceable swing music. On one of the album's few mentions of God, the singer asks, "Jesus why'd you curse my love?" Further on in the song, God is viewed as an angry punisher, not an unusual conclusion for kids who have had a horrible relationship with their earthly father.


All in all, the Zoot Suit Riot package is best explained by one piece of the album's cover art—a bright red human heart tightly bound by circles of barbed wire. The wire has trapped the heart's owner in while it keeps others out.


Our response


What can we learn and how should we respond to the rising popularity of The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and their new swing music peers? The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding offers the following analysis and conclusions.


First, there is a subtle danger in new swing music taking established popular music themes and amoral cultural attitudes and packaging them in "old" wrappings. The danger in using a musical style from what some might think is a more innocent time could easily lead to increased uncritical acceptance of hazardous lyrical messages. Because the lead singer's voice clearly stands out, even the most untrained popular music listener can't help but hear and understand new swing lyrics. In reality, while the music might make your wise-old grand-mother stand up and do the Jitterbug, many of the lyrics would give her the jitters!


Second, the new swing musical message of The Cherry Poppin' Daddies sounds amazingly like the lyrical messages of the mainstream heavy metal music of the "hair bands" popular during the mid- to late-1980s. Those male-oriented bands equated life to a "party." Sex, drugs and drinking were seen as the hedonistic escape route from a life riddled with adolescent angst and relational breakdown. In new swing, the tunes have changed, but the message sounds remarkably the same.


Sadly, this is one more example of pop culture using its high profile platform to steer impressionable young kids toward sexual immorality and substance abuse. But we need to go beyond just being critical. We must realize that for the band and its devotees, this may just be the most effective means they've found for dealing with their pain. The Body of Christ needs to open its eyes to a golden opportunity to pass on Good News. Are we willing to go out of our way to reach a spiritually hungry generation that's buying the lie that redemption comes through the hedonistic pursuit of escape through parties and sex?


Third, it is troubling to note that new swing music gets kids swinging and dancing to themes and stories that are often negative in nature. Imagine kids dancing to the beats of The Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Drunk Daddy." Perhaps dancing to such a song is an example of this generation's attempt to make the best of their all-too-often sad and sorry relational inheritance. It's no coincidence that swing dancing offers opportunities to come together and literally touch your partner. Here's another challenge to the church. Are we willing to answer this cry for relationships with long-term one-to-one "touch" and connections with young people who have never experienced the true definition of love?


Finally, parents, youth workers and educators should pay close attention if their kids are developing a fascination with new swing music. Younger more impressionable listeners will be drawn to new swing bands because of peer influence and heavy radio play. Talk to them about the lyrical component of the new swing musical package. Warn them of the dangers. Discuss lyrics that are immoral. By all means, exercise your God-given responsibility to protect your kids by removing those influences that will draw them away from Christ. In addition, realize that thematic content may play a greater role in drawing older listeners. In those cases, use the music as a tool to help uncover issues and problems that must be addressed.


No one knows how long the current fascination with new swing bands like The Cherry Poppin' Daddies is going to last. As always, we recommend that when it comes to your child's listening tastes and habits, be aware and involved.


"Drunk Daddy"

Momma married a big a__hole/Whiskey bottles on the floor/He just keeps on watchin' TV/Stepchild tired of being poor/kitchen smells like rotten garbage/I can't chew my food my face is sore/Momma didn't come home last evening/Neighbors say that she's a whore/Some folks never want for nothin'/I'm a worn out hand me down/Stupid rich kid gets me angry/Lord I'm gonna cut him down/Now I'm grown up same old story/At 21 I fell in love/She left me just like the others/Jesus why'd you curse my love?


Drunk daddy broke my fingers/Drunk daddy done kicked my head/Drunk daddy smashed my sister/Turned my whole world red (blood red)


I haul the burden for the high and mighty/But I'm the top hat Devil's son/I got the luck of the drunk, try an' nail me/I'm the bulls-eye—aim your gun/Yesterday they shook your hand boy/Now they're gonna stab your back/I can hear their sickening laughter/Sneakin' like a Siamese cat/Back stage in the club bathroom/A graven image on the wall/I'm about to get my vengeance/Lights go down in the hall/You gotta move fast to beat the devil/Your arm is too short to box with God/Big shadow in the doorway/He's not gonna spare the rod (so get out)


Drunk daddy broke my fingers/Drunk daddy done kicked my head/Drunk daddy smashed my sister/Turned my whole world red (blood red)




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For more information on resources to help you understand today's rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.


 ©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding