Before we get to the moral arguments, there was good reason for Welsh Rugby Union not to perform live performances of Tom Jones’ Delilah before international matches. It’s an absolutely horrific song, not just an unforgivable ode to domestic violence, but a full-blown crime against good taste.
For those unfamiliar with the controversy, Welsh fans have long sung this over-the-top late ’60s number, popular for its goofy “my my my why why why” chorus. But in recent years there has been a campaign to have it dropped on the reasonable grounds that it is about a man murdering his lover, sung from the killer’s point of view, with a slick sideline in blaming the victim. “She stood there laughing, I felt the knife in my hand and she stopped laughing.”
That year, authorities urged choirs to remove the reprehensible schlock from their pre-match playlists. Keyword screams of anger over awakened warriors, thought police gone mad and political correctness. You’re right. What becomes of society when rugby fans can’t enjoy a lusty old sing-along? On the other hand, it is striking that the freedom fighters who rage against this decision never allow organizations the freedom to make decisions they don’t like. The fans naturally reacted by singing it through the final game.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that rugby fans will come back from the game, heartened by the singing of ‘Delilah’, with a newfound tolerance for domestic violence, any more than I will come back from watching top gun with a determination to fly F-16s. Supporters will argue that this is a song, not an incitement to violence. But a counter-argument is that values change and so do our anthems. One might choose to justify the song by saying that the arts have always used dark themes as source material. But that’s no reason to use it as an essentially national tune. “Delilah” is not critical to the character of the day.
That was clearly the view of Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Constable Richard Lewis, who tweeted his support for the decision, noting that around two women a week are murdered by partners or ex-partners so maybe it was “time.” sing something else.” I sympathize with his point of view, although I’m not sure we need a police-approved songbook for sporting events.
England fans are chanting “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – believed, according to a statement, in homage to former player Martin Offiah, whose nickname was Chariots (Chariots Offiah, geddit). Some also object, given the song’s history as a spiritual slave. For now, the chanting goes on, at least until we get a decision from the Met Police’s new commissioner.
But getting back to my main point, “Delilah” is a really bad song, a blot on the reputation of every nation that enjoys singing it. It claims to be an operatic narrative, but without any sense of tragedy in its light-hearted melody and moronic lyrics. I am also not aware of any libretto in the canon in which the killer stands and sings “my, my, my”. The phrase is ideal for forgetting to turn off the iron, discovering a new florist on the high street, or realizing that it’s nice again. But there’s something lacking about standing over the bleeding corpse of your faithless lover.
The only purpose of “my my my Delilah” is to rhyme with “why why why Delilah”. (You see, it really was her fault; she made him do it, poor chap.) And it’s that mindless monosyllabic couplet that makes it such a classic. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has the same irresistible ballpark formula of fast tune and repeating chorus with the added bonus of having the audience sing “da da daah” between the lines. But at least it’s cheerful and doesn’t involve acts of violence.
No doubt the Welsh are proud of Tom Jones but he had other hits. So here is my suggestion. Go to Green, Green Grass of Home. It’s also a terrible song, but at least it’s an ode to a country you love and doesn’t involve domestic violence. I’m sure the chief constable would agree.
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https://www.ft.com/content/fc855566-9ec1-4547-9b28-3a082e5c8eb1 Why why why? Welsh Rugby’s true crime singing ‘Delilah’