Sexual innuendo has been part ’n’ parcel of popular music since before we started recording it, particularly in the blues. Robert Johnson wasn't talking about citrus when he sang “squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg,” and when Willie Dixon wrote “Back Door Man” you can bet he wasn't only talking about sneaking out of the house.
Since then, AC/DC has built a long career on bluesy hard rock riffs and the thinnest of sexual metaphors (e.g. “Big Balls” “Giving the Dog a Bone” and “Hard as a Rock”), and much of modern hip-hop channels hold a similar carnal braggadocio. But 25 years ago, one Canadian bluesman showed us how it's done with a song called “Layin’ Pipe.” David Wilcox has been a staple of Can-con blues-rock scene since the ’60s, and when his video for the song, from Breakfast at the Circus, hit MuchMusic in 1987, it was a big, raunchy bomb amidst the more polite Canuck video hits of that year from the likes of Corey Hart, Blue Rodeo and Robbie Robertson.
Let me describe the effect it had on a boy on the verge of puberty. That big, nasty, George Thorogood-like opening riff was an immediate attention grabber. Strangely, though, it was unleashed by a guy in a plain collared shirt and corduroy pants who basically looked like your dad. This was a workin' man, and the footage of Wilcox and his band inter-cut with heavy industry stock footage was a far cry from the videos of hair bands in leather pants surrounded by seductive bleach blondes. The opening lines of the song laid it all out:
“My daddy worked construction
My brother too
He got me in the union
I'm payin' my dues.”
Of course, the chorus is the big tip-off that the song isn't just an ode to a blue collar occupation:
“I'm layin' pipe
All night long
To satisfy that woman."
Yet, for this kid, growing up in Edmonton – in the heart of oil country where working on a pipeline was (and is) a common occupation – the double entendre wasn't immediately obvious. Rather, I figured that if he's working “eight shifts a week,” “all night long,” he's making serious oil company overtime coin, so he must be living way beyond his means.
And maybe Wilcox’s real problem was that he needed to work smarter, not harder, as he says, “I put the pipe in, I pull it out again.” Why not just do it right the first time, Wilcox?
Even worse: “Underground cable in my way.” Didn't he see all those “call before you dig” commercials? Surely this guy would be fired, if he didn't kill himself first.
Eventually I clued in to the metaphor, and suddenly so many other songs (well, mostly AC/DC songs, let's be honest) took on a whole new meaning. Regardless, though, the fist-pumping hooks in “Layin' Pipe” were enough to have 11-year-old me playing air guitar, pretending to be a guy who looked like my own father, hollering about layin’ pipe all night long, probably to my parents’ amusement. Or possibly shame.
Wilcox, now in his 60s, hasn't become any less randy with age, either. His last album, Boy in the Boat (surely you've heard that anatomical slang before – snicker, snicker), features the track “I Am a Natural Born Lover” and this official T-shirt also spells it out, literally.
So here's to the King of Canadian Sexual Innuendo on the 25th anniversary of “Layin’ Pipe,” a song that taught a boy the real meaning of rock ’n’ roll.
Blues goes to pot
Saturday Night Blues
on Mar 05, 2012