11. Fats’ doubles entendres

Posted on 18/01/2017

Fats Waller was a brilliant lyricist songwriter and pianist. Its worth emphasising this, because most people nowadays are unlikely to have listened to his stuff. His most famous song is ‘I’m going to sit right down and  write myself a letter’ the idea being he would do this due to missing his absent wife/girlfriend, signing off ‘with love, the way you do’.

He was given many sentimental songs to sing but managed to turn them into a riot of fun (for instance ‘I wish you were twins’ (so I could love you twice as much as I do) which ends with a wonderful sort of rap yell. About 10 words in 3 seconds!

He was a master of the double entendre. ‘Shortnin bread’ is a fine example which in fact refers to what Americans now call the ‘booty’ we call the bum or bottom. It ends with his voice over saying ‘it must be good bread’ but of course the listener knows that its not quite that!

In his splendid version of ‘Christopher Columbus’ (‘he used the rhythm as a compass’) and would have soon sunk if that were literally true, there is a couplet which says: 

the crew were making merry

Mary got up and went home’


I checked an online source for the lyrics, and my version is correct. In other words the first line refers to sailors having a good time, and the second refers to a gang bang from which the now specified Mary withdrew.

Nobody at the time (in the media at least) understood the joke. The true meaning would have prevented the song being broadcast on the BBC in the 1930’s to 1950’s if not later. Yet I recall hearing it in the 1950’s when I was equally innocent and did not get the joke.

This is a straight song, insofar as Fats ever did one, but he does make eyes at the girls draped on his piano: ‘where have you been all my life’ and so forth.

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