From 1925: Masculine Women, Feminine Men

Jim Burroway

September 12th, 2008

In the early part of the 20th century before radio was king and phonographs were still a novelty in American parlors, every decent middle-class home had an upright piano. And because people in those days had to make their own entertainment, a popular activity was to gather around a piano and sing the latest hit songs from sheet music purchased at the local department store. In those days, the hit parade was not determined by the popularity of records or radio airplay, but by sheet music sales. Hot sheet music titles were snapped up as quickly then as the latest Amy Winehouse track is downloaded from iTunes today.

I don’t think this one was a best seller, but our friends from Russia came across an interesting example from 1925: Masculine Women! Feminine Men! (Music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Edgar Leslie).

The lyrics provide a good view of the Roaring Twenties, an interesting era which has as much of a right to brag about the invention of the sexual revolution as the 1960’s. These lyrics describe the novelty of blurred gender roles — but without the allusion to homosexuality, which was still very much unseen in those days.

Songwriter James Monaco didn’t score a big hit with this one, but it was recorded several times in England. Monaco was more famous for “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It!),” which was a huge hit for Al Jolson on the Vaudeville circuit in 1913. Four of Monaco’s songs received academy award nominations for Best Song between 1940 and 1945, the last one being a posthumous nomination very shortly after his death.

Lyricist Edgar Leslie had quite a number of Tin Pan Alley hits, including “Lonesome,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “For Me and My Gal.” He also wrote a number of novelty tunes, including “All the Quakers Are Shoulder Shakers,” “Oogie Oogie Wa Wa,” and “Tain’t No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin, and Dance Around in Your Bones).”

This is what the song sounded like in a recording by the Savoy Havana Band from 1927:

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Here are the full lyrics. Not all of them were used for the recording.

Masculine Women! Feminine Men!

Hey! Hey! Women are going mad, today!
Hey! Hey! Fellers are just as bad, I’ll say!
Go anywhere, just stand and stare,
You’ll say they’re bugs when you look at the clothes they wear.

Masculine Women, Feminine Men,
which is the rooster which is the hen?
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
And SAY…
Sister is busy learning to shave,
Brother just loves his permanent wave,
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
HEY! HEY!
Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,
Now we don’t know who is who or even what’s what.
Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,
Nobody knows who’s walking inside.
Those Masculine Women, Feminine Men

Masculine Women. Feminine Men
which is the rooster which is the hen?
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
And SAY…
Auntie is smoking, rolling her own,
Uncle is always buying cologne.
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
HEY! HEY!
You go and give your girl a kiss in the hall,
But instead you find you’re kissing her brother Paul.
Mama’s got a sweater up to her chin,
Papa’s got a girtle holding him in.
Those Masculine Women, Feminine Men

Stop, Look, Listen and you’ll agree… with me.
Things are not what they used to be… you’ll see.
You say hello to Uncle Joe,
Then look again and you find it’s your Aunti Flo.

Masculine Women, Feminine Men
which is the rooster which is the hen?
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
And SAY…
Wifey is playing billiards and pool,
Hubby is dressing kiddies for school.
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today.
HEY! HEY!
Ever since the Prince of Wales in dresses was seen,
What does he intend to be the King or the Queen?
Grandmother buys those tailor-made clothes,
Grandfather tries to smell like a rose.
Those Masculine Women, Feminine Men

Terry Jensen

September 12th, 2008

Those who are fans of “Are You Being Served” know this song well. It’s the closing of one of the episodes and is one of the few times that Mr. Grace actually makes a jab at Mr. Humphrey’s sexuality.

Emily K

September 12th, 2008

My great-grandmother, whom I’m named after, was a piano player and a flapper in this era. She partied with the boys who went to Penn State and apparently could just sit down and play anything. She brought up her kids and grandkids with the ideal that music is important and everyone should know how to play an instrument. Growing up there was always a piano in my mom’s and grandmom’s houses (just like Grandma Emily wanted). Today I’m a piano player and I hope I inherited some of her skill.

Jim Burroway

September 12th, 2008

My great-grandmother was a flapper too. She didn’t play the piano though. That was her sister’s talent.

Bryce Green

March 23rd, 2009

That song is so mean but I think it is true. Kissing a girl in the hall just o find out you are kissing your brother paul. HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!

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