David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 321: Ellen Foley (Stupid Girl)

January 26, 2024

Frankly, one of the more disturbing songs in rock and roll is The Rolling Stones' "Stupid Girl," which should have been offensive enough in 1966, when they put it on Aftermath, but seemed even more offensive when Ellen Foley released it as part of Night Out in 1979. Any song that Mick Jagger admits is nastier than "Under My Thumb" is pretty nasty. At least in the hands of a woman, the song comes out a little more as catty than misogynistic.  Foley's version at least exaggerates the cattiness of most of the lyrics: 

"I'm not talking about the clothes she wears/

Look at that stupid girl/

I'm not taking about the way she wears her hair/

Look at that stupid girl."

That cattiness may also lend a little more credence to the non-sequitur of saying that it is not about the clothes or the hair, but that "the way she powders her nose/you see the vanity that it shows and shows." 

Note the implication that we could reference the clothes or the hair for the stupidity, the same way we could reference in the second verse her "digging for gold," which is also what we are "not talking about."  Pretty sure this all deserves a chorus of "meooooooooow!"

The cattiness is not hurt (and that is maybe the weirdest positive statement I have ever made) by the video Foley made to promote the song, her in leather pants, dancing around a couple of mostly nude, muscular dudes, preening in her own right through the snarls of "look at that stupid girlllll!" What is the message we are trying to send with this song?

In addition, the music accompaniment is raunchier than the Stones' version, which is a shock in its own right. Guitars slash with a punk attitude and a bluesy saxophone riff accentuates the burlesque. Ellen seems to want to one-up the Mick, which is pretty dangerous strategy.

The thing is that Foley's version is pretty catchy, and there can be many a day when I hear about someone doing something really ignorant and thinking "she's the worst thing in the whole wide world/look at that stupid girl." And I am sorry, but sometimes that stupidity is specific in the moment to a gender, no matter how gender fluid I try to see the world. The problem is that I don't have a stand-by song directed at stupid men, or at least not with such a succinct title.  Aimee Mann's "Stupid Thing" probably comes the closest, just because the words are so clearly directed at her "dear departed," the lover/boyfriend/husband "stopping it all before it got started." I suppose I could use any number of Ramones' songs, but mental retardation is a far cry from ignorant stupidity.


Foley herself seems somewhat trapped by external views that may see her as "the sickest thing in the whole round world:" she was the original female singer on Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," but was replaced in video and on tour by Karla DeVito; she lasted one season on Night Court before being replaced by Markie Post as the public defender; dated The Clash's Mick Jones and became the subject of their hit "Should I Stay Or Should I Go;" took the blame for much of The Clash's demise, playing the Yoko Ono role during the Sandinista! years, including pirating (or at least distracting) Jones' and Joe Strummer's talents for the co-writing, co-playing and producing of her second album, The Spirit Of St. Louis. Despite a career touching at least a little in all areas of music, film (she has a really small part in Fatal Attraction), television and theater, by the late 80s, she was mostly forgotten in all of those industries, returning a little bit in film and music in 2010 and beyond.  We know it's a hard life for women in the entertainment business, but I wonder how Foley feels about singing "Stupid Girl." Is she looking in the mirror when she sings, "I've tried and I've tried/but it never, never, never really works out"?

Having purchased those first two albums, loving that she got the public defender role initially in Night Court, delighted by hearing her voice on later Clash, Joe Jackson or Blue Öyster Cult albums, I liked Ellen Foley and would never call her a stupid girl. Not that I have much to judge her by.

Almost as if a microcosm of her career, my desire to write about her, specifically, through "Stupid Girl" comes almost serendipitously. When I go through a week where Marjorie Taylor Green proclaims that Nikki Haley's vote count in New Hampshire's primary was “FAKE," I hear Ellen's voice growling "stupid girl." When Nikki Haley herself claims America has never been a racist country, I hear Ellen's voice growling "stupid girl." When . . . , well, maybe I should keep my examples at a national level. Just understand that Ellen's voice has been in my ear a lot all day long. And it was enough to bump ahead of a few songs already in the queue. I can hear the hissing from the back of the line.

Ellen Foley. "Stupid Girl." Night Out. Epic, 1979. Video link here.

Day 320: Billy Joel "Miami 2017"

Day 322: Dusty Springfield "Son Of A Preacher Man"

See complete list here.