FlourishAnyway believes there is a playlist for just about any situation and is on a mission to unite and entertain the world through song.
A Profession in the Shadows
The world of prostitution may seem worlds apart from that of high-flying popular musicians, but the topic is a curiously popular one. Unlike Pretty Woman, prostitutes can lead a dangerous life typically marred by violence, abuse, crime, exploitation, and drugs.
Popular songwriters tap into the sexual nature of the job, the tragedy of their life stories, and the grit required to survive. With so many pop, rock, and country songs about prostitution, how many of the following do you know?
1. "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa and Pink
This risqué song has topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart not once but twice. In 1974, it was released by R&B group Labelle (with Patti LaBelle singing lead vocals) and then again in 2001, as a part of the soundtrack for the major motion picture, Moulin Rouge! Known for the French chorus, "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?" meaning, "Do you want to sleep (make love) with me tonight?" the song is about a prostitute named Lady Marmalade.
While the original song was set in New Orleans, the cover version focuses on a Creole sex worker in Paris with cafe au lait skin who is good at her job. She entices a businessman off the street into "giving it a go" with her, and now that he is back in his world he cannot forget her, even while sleeping. LaBelle's version has been named to both the Grammy Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
2. "Fancy" by Reba McEntire
In this 1990 country ditty, the protagonist turns to prostitution to escape crushing poverty, and she uses her name to inspire her onward:
I might have been born just plain white trash
But Fancy was my name.
Fancy grew up in a one-room, rickety shack on the outskirts of New Orleans, the daughter of a single welfare mother with an infant. Poverty forced her mother to cast her out of the meager family home when Fancy turned 18. Her terminally ill mother scraped together what little money she had to buy her a seductive red dancing dress.
Out of options, Fancy's mother saw prostitution as the only chance for her daughter's survival. As a result, Fancy's mother fixed her hair and makeup and gave her a gold locket with the truism, "To thine own self be true" as she advised, "just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy. They'll be nice to you."
Fancy vowed to herself that she would be a lady somehow, whatever it took. She didn't stay on the streets as a common hooker for long. Soon a benevolent man whisked her to his luxury hotel room. Fancy subsequently built her wealth through relationships with well-placed society men, and after 15 years she was living in her own Georgia mansion. She had moved uptown.
3. "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" by David Lee Roth
In this case, the hired help is male. Rocker David Lee Roth professes to be a well-known gigolo, hired for his youthful good looks. A gigolo is a younger man who is financially supported or paid by a wealthy older woman in exchange for sex or social companionship.
This 1985 song medley describes how people know the role he is playing. In particular, it features his insecurity that there is an expiration date on his career choice and lifestyle. Having thrown himself into his work for years, he has become sad and lonely that no one genuinely cares for him. Roth attempts to convince the listener that he's not that bad, and he worries what others will think when he's a has-been.
Read More From Spinditty
4. "Island Girl" by Elton John
This 1975 rock tune hit the top spot, and by today's standards it's cringe-worthy, as it's about a big-boned girl from the Jamaican Islands who stands about 6' 3" and turns tricks in New York City. A Jamaican man who wants to return her home repeated asks her, "What you wanting with the white man's world?"
5. "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran
After Ed Sheeran visited a homeless shelter, he wrote this 2011 folk song with jazz influences regarding a drug-addicted call girl. This breakout hit was such a deceptively mellow tune. Even though it was about such a dark topicmade Sheeran a worldwide star.
The sad song describes the demise of a woman who had been hoping for a better life but is trapped in a cycle of poverty, addiction to Class A drugs (e.g., crack cocaine, heroin), and selling her body to afford her drug of choice. Desperate times require desperate choices. Eventually her struggle ends in her death as she fades away in the cold.
6. "Hot Child in the City" by Nick Gilder
This is a song that wouldn't fly today for good reason, as it's insinuated that the girl is underage. Nick Gilder was saddened when he saw all of the young teenagers in Los Angeles who were working there as sex workers on Hollywood Boulevard. He thus co-wrote this chart-topping 1978 song about them from the perspective of a dirty old man who is cruising for one. How creepy is that? (The creepier thing is I recall singing along to this song on the radio as a kid, not understanding the lyrics!)
The single describes the girl he has his eye on as dressed in black, "kind of dangerous," "so young to be loose," and "runnin' wild and lookin' pretty." The narrator makes it clear what he has on his mind. Gilder became a one-hit-wonder with the song.
7. "Smooth Operator" by Sade
The cold-hearted, jet-setting guy who is the subject of this 1984 global pop hit sees love as a business transaction. He uses seduction to support his expensive way of life:
Coast to coast, LA to Chicago, western male
Across the north and south, to Key Largo, love for sale.
Whether you call him a "con artist" or a "gigolo," this guy is a smooth operator as he "melts all your memories and change into gold." He has an arrangement so that the people he sleeps with finance his lifestyle.
8. "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" by Cage the Elephant
What motivates people to make the life choices that they do? As the narrator walks down a city street, the protagonist of this 2008 alternative rock track tries to answer that question as he is confronted by a prostitute who tries to drum up business. Then he becomes the victim of a violent armed robber. Safely at home a short time later, he turns on the television and watches the police arrest a corrupt preacher who had embezzed church funds.
The prostitute, robber, and preacher each explain their behavior in the same terms:
Money don't grow on trees
I got bills to pay
I got mouths to feed
There ain't nothing in this world for free
I know I can't slow down
I can't hold back
Though you know
I wish I could
Oh, no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good.
The narrator's encounter with the prostitute symbolizes the search for love in a lust-filled world, while his encounter with the mugger represents temptation for drugs and alcohol vs. self-control. Finally, the preacher epitomizes the use or abuse of power and authority.
9. "Call Me" by Blondie
The 1980 theme song from the major motion picture American Gigolo is presented from the point of view of a male escort, even though it's female lead singer Debbie Harry of Blondie who suggestively purrs for the listener to call her anytime. The narrator issues an open invitation to call "day or night" because "I'll never get enough."
Although this sexy rock song isn't overly vivid about their arrangement for paid services, it's unquestionably old school escort services stuff. The chart-topper was a worldwide hit and was named to the Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
10. "Three Wooden Crosses" by Randy Travis
A hooker turns her life around after a tragic bus accident claims the lives of other passengers, according to this poignant 2002 country song. A tour bus ventures towards Mexico, carrying passengers that include a vacationing farmer, a teacher seeking higher education, and both a preacher and a hooker who are each "searching for lost souls" in each their own ways.
When the bus blows through a stop sign and collides with a semi-truck, a horrific accident results in several passenger fatalities. As the preacher lays on the side of the road dying, he places his blood-stained Bible in the hooker's hand. Fast forward many years and her son is himself a man of the cloth who recounts to his own congregation the story of how his mother had a second chance at life that day and found faith in unthinkable tragedy.
11. "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'N Roses
Full of vice, the danger of the city, and Axl Rose's stutter-filled wailing, this legendary 1987 hair metal song highlights the realities of life on the mean streets. This sinister world of "fun and games" includes "whatever you may need" — drugs, paid sex, and rock n' roll — although threats of violence may also be involved. The risqué song is part of Rolling Stone's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list and is often used today as a sports anthem to rile up the crowds.
12. "53rd & 3rd" by Ramones
A gay hustler stands lonesome on the 53rd & 3rd streets in New York City trying to earn some cash by turning tricks, but he has few takers. When a Vietnam Green Beret challenges him, the hustler kills him with a razor blade. Now the police are after the perpetrator. The song references what was once a popular hangout for male prostitution.
13. "Roxanne" by The Police
Even prostitutes can have genuine admirers and loved ones who cherish them. They are human, too. This 1978 rock song of unrequited love features a man who is in love with a streetwalker, Roxanne. The narrator attempts to persuade her to give up her lifestyle in the red light district where she sells her body to the night. In loving terms, he asks Roxanne to stop debasing herself because he can offer her a more promising life.
Sting was inspired to write this ditty by witnessing working girls outside of his hotel in Paris. This international hit was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, recognized by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll," and named to Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
14. "Sweet Georgia Brown" by Brother Bones and His Shadows
Say what? The Harlem Globetrotters' theme song (1949) that they use for their Magic Circle is instrumental only and features whistling and bone-cracking. It doesn't even have words! An earlier version, however, written in 1925, was about a black prostitute, and it's been covered by artists that include Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and The Grateful Dead.
15. "Ticket to Ride" by Beatles
Prostitution is an explanation for this chart-topping 1965 pop song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. While it's obviously about a woman leaving her boyfriend, Lennon said it alludes to health cards issued to Hamburg prostitutes to carry in the 1960s. The cards certifed that they had a clean bill of health and could go about their work. The Beatles performed in Hamburg during their early career.
16. "Carmen" by Lana Del Rey
In this haunting retro pop song from 2012, Carmen is a troubled 17-year-old street prostitute on Coney Island who has a substance abuse problem. The young beauty is known for her irresistible charm and is in denial about how her addiction and lifestyle are slowly killing her.
17. "Family Man" by Hall & Oates
Do you know where your husband is? In this 1983 pop song, a married man has a chance encounter with a lady of the night who names her price. Initially, he turns the woman down, replying, "Leave me alone, I'm a family man, but if you push me too far I just might." (What a flimsy rejection.)
The prostitute in turn drops her price, and although he wants to accept the lower offer, he hesitates too long. When the family man looks around, the working girl is off looking to score her next trick elsewhere.
18. "Bristol Hotel" by LL Cool J
In this 1987 hip hop classic, the narrator describes a fat hooker in an orange skirt who stays at the derelict Bristol Hotel, Room 515. There she solicits customers at the red light offering a "pay to play" arrangement because she is financially down on her luck. Other ladies of the night work at the hotel too, and if customers fall asleep the johns get robbed.
19. "Private Dancer" by Tina Turner
The dancer in this 1984 international pop hit forces her mind to go numb so she can do her work, taking off her clothes and dancing seductively for men. She'll do anything extra they want her to do, but she won't look them in the face or think of them as human. The woman keeps her mind on the money, eager to earn a million dollars and make her own dreams of a house and family come true. Sadly, this isn't the way to see that happen.
20. "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer
"Hey, hey, mister, got a dime?"
In this #1 disco favorite from 1979, the narrator advocates that streetwalkers want to be a star like everyone else. They spend their weekend nights picking up strangers to score if the price is right.
Grammy Award-winning artist Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco and a gay icon, however during the height of her fame in 1979, she became a born-again Christian. Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Even More Songs About Prostitutes
21. House of the Rising Sun
22. Walk on the Wild Side
Kings of Leon
24. Charlotte the Harlot
25. Perfect Gentleman
26. Killer Queen
27. Back in the Saddle Again
28. Black Sabbath
29. Honky Tonk Women
30. Lori Meyers
31. Trick of the Light
32. X Offender
33. Sweet Painted Lady
34. Piccadilly Palare
35. Love for Sale
37. Candy's Room
38. Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves
39. None of Your Business
40. 22 Acacia Avenue
41. My Michelle
Guns N' Roses
42. There She Goes Again
43. On Broadway
44. All the Young Girls Love Alice
45. When the Sun Goes Down
© 2021 FlourishAnyway