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“First I Look at the Purse” — The Contours

April 26, 2010

Back in the early 70’s I lived in Berkeley and many of the women I knew there would upbraid me for listening to rock music.  During their hectoring, these harridans’ primary criticism was that the songs portrayed women as sex objects.  Well, you can say a lot of things about this week’s song, but it does not portray women as sex objects!

The Contours aren’t that obscure, of course.  In 1962, they had their one big hit — “Do You Love Me” — which became a big hit again in 1988, following its use in the movie Dirty Dancing.  They were a Motown group but had a rougher sound and a far wilder stage presence than most Motown acts.  

“The Contours antics pulled crowds from their seats as the group… ran around the stage doing jumps, flips, splits and diving through each other’s legs.”1

So… from the summer of 1965, here is “First I Look at the Purse” (I dare you to keep from clapping along or cracking up at the lyrics):

Smokey Robinson wrote this song with Bobby Rogers (who was also a member of The Miracles).  Rogers even impersonated a woman’s voice on the intro line, “What does every man look at first?”2

This is certainly atypical Smokey Robinson territory — instead of a romantic balladeer we get an outrageous comedian:

“Some fellas look at the way they walk,
The way they swing and sway;
Some fellas like the way they talk,
And dig the things they say.
But I don’t care if she waddles like a duck,
or talks with a lisp.
I still think I’m in good luck,
if the dollar bills are crisp.”3

And my particular favorite, the incredibly crass, “She can be covered with a rash, long as she got some cash.”4

The best known cover of “First I Look at the Purse” is by the J. Geils Band.  It was their first single — the song was a good choice for a group that, some years later, would declare that “Love Stinks.”

There’s also a revved-up version on Nashville Pussy’s 1998 scabrous debut CD Let Them Eat Pussy — and the photo on the cover of that recording would give those Berkeley feminists something to get genuinely apoplectic about!5

  1. from Stu Hackel’s liner notes for The Best of The Contours, copyright 2003, Motown Records.
  2. I think that the phrase “What does every man look at first?” was an advertising tag line from the 60’s, but I can’t remember the product being advertised.  If you remember, please let me know.
  3. Copyright 1965, Jobete Music Company, Inc.
  4. Ibid.

From → The 1960's

One Comment
  1. Kathleen Roberts permalink

    This is one of my favorite songs! I didn’t know there were so many versions.

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