The Ed Sullivan Show was a weekly television programme which was watched by millions. It helped define popular culture for decades to come by introducing groups like the Beatles to an American audience.
In 1967, the Rolling Stones were due to be guests on the show. They wanted to play their hit song “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. This offended Sullivan’s sense of decency, and he reportedly told Mick Jagger and his band that the lyrics were unacceptable. “Either the song goes, or you go,” is what he said. The band changed the lyrics to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” and were allowed to perform the song.
A year later, a young Welsh singer named Tom Jones got his moment on Sullivan’s show. The song he sang was called “Delilah”. “Delilah” tells the story of a man who stalks his ex-girlfriend, watching her with another man who spends the night. In the morning, the song records, “I crossed the street to her house and she opened the door. She stood there laughing. I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more.”
As misogynist lyrics go, that really can’t be topped. “Delilah” is a song about a jealous man butchering a defenceless woman with a knife.
Unlike the Rolling Stones song a year earlier, the censors had no problem with the lyrics of this song.
For reasons I cannot understand, “Delilah” has become in recent years the unofficial anthem of Welsh Rugby, and is traditionally sung by male choirs at matches. But this has understandably provoked controversy.
In 2014, a former leader of Plaid Cymru called for fans to stop singing the song. He said that the song trivialises “the idea of murdering a woman”. Two years later, Welsh Labour MP Chris Bryant asked that “Delilah” not be sung by rugby fans, correctly pointing out that the lyrics glorify violence towards women.
Tom Jones — who did not write the song — felt compelled to defend it a half century after he first recorded it. Those singing the song, he said, are not “really thinking about it … If it’s going to be taken literally, I think it takes the fun out of it.” He told The Guardian that “Delilah” is “not a political statement.” The woman in the song, he explained, was unfaithful to her man and he “just loses it … It’s something that happens in life.”
Last week, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) finally put a stop to the singing of “Delilah” at matches. A spokesman for Principality Stadium was quoted as saying that the song was “problematic”.
Meanwhile, Tom Giffard, the Welsh Tory shadow sport minister called the decision to ban the song “wrongheaded” and “virtue signalling”. Demanding reforms in Welsh Rugby, Giffard denounced the WRU for banning “a much loved Tom Jones song.”
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about domestic violence and the murder of women. And with all that, Tory politicians can still talk about banning “Delilah” as “virtue signalling” rather than as a long-overdue and necessary action.
It is incredible that even now, singers like Jones can defend the song as being about some poor bloke who “just loses it” — rather than being what it actually is, a song about domestic violence from the point of view of the perpetrator. It is a song about power, toxic masculinity and violence.
Saying that the song describes “something that happens in life” doesn’t excuse the song’s lyrics. Tom Jones wouldn’t record a song from the point of view of a serial killer, or a child abuser, though those things happen too. Audiences at rugby matches probably won’t be singing songs from the viewpoint of Fred and Rose West or the Yorkshire Ripper. But the imagined butchering of a woman who dared to laugh in the face of a man — that’s alright, because, you know, we can all “lose it”.
There is something really sick and depraved about a society in which people take pleasure in singing together about these things. Men need to speak out against domestic violence and not be cowed by accusations of being “woke”. On the left, and in the unions, we should show zero tolerance for domestic violence and a society that tolerates such things, in life and in song.
This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.