[NOTE: Since I started digging into this topic in the fall of 2014, this post has become the number one most-read story in the history of this website. I update it periodically when warranted. And dammit, some day we’ll get to the bottom of this. – AC]
It was probably in the spring of 1987 when I first heard the special audience lyrics in the Billy Idol version of the Tommy James classic, “Mony Mony.” I was hosting one of the old CFNY Video Roadshows at a high school somewhere in Southern Ontario. When Martin Streek, the guy in charge of playing the videos, flipped to this clip, the dancers erupted.
At first, I couldn’t make how what they were yelling. “What are they shouting?” I asked Martin. He helpfully translated with the appropriate arm gestures.
Billy: Here she come now singing Mony Mony
Dancers: HEY MOTHERF*CKER GET LAID GET F*CKED!
Billy: Well, shoot ’em down, turn around, come on Mony
Dancers: HEY MOTHERF*CKER GET LAID GET F*CKED!
Billy: Hey she give me love and I feel alright now
Dancers: HEY MOTHERF*CKER GET LAID GET F*CKED!
I looked at him weird. “How do they know what to say?”
A puzzled look came across Martin’s face for a moment; it was apparent that he’d never considered the question before. Then he just shrugged and turned to deal with a very angry principal who was appalled that such obscenities would be chanted by his students in his gym at his school.
The question of the origins of the special audience participation lyrics has been in the back of my mind ever since. Perhaps it’s time to address it once and for all–if that’s even possible.
* * *
Wikipedia defines a meme in the following way:
An idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.
Over the last decade, we’ve all become familiar with dozens of Internet memes: Star Wars Kid, LOL cats, the Rickroll and so on. But this concept of ideas and behaviours spreading within a culture goes far, far back into the depths of time. At their core, language, religion and all manner of social conventions are memes. Someone comes up with an idea. Another person likes it and spreads to another person–and so on and so on and so on until it’s a generally accepted practice and everyone is doing it.
How memes take root and travel is a serious area of study for cultural anthropologists and sociologists. Such study can tell us a lot about a culture, its language, its mores and folkways and various forms of communication.
Yes, what you’re about to read is obscene and vulgar, but try to set that aside for a moment. Instead try to focus on the mystery of where the “Mony Mony” audience chant began, how it spread and how it mutated.
First, a little history. “Mony Mony” was written in 1968 by Tommy James, an American singer who had a string of hit singles through the 60s. The title comes from a sign on a building that James could see from his apartment in Manhattan: the MONY Building, short for Mutual of New York. The song reached #3 in both Canada and the US and was a #1 hit in the UK.
Over the next decade, the song was covered several times with varying degrees of success. But then came Billy Idol.
In 1981, fresh from leaving Generation X, Billy released a four-track EP entitled Don’t Stop. The first song on the disc was his take on “Mony Mony.” Although it was released as a single, it was a stiff, managing no better than #107 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But by the time Idol re-released the song in a live version on October 2, 1987 (and coinciding with the North American release of his Vital Idol collection), an interesting and inexplicable phenomenon had taken root whenever the song was performed live or played in a club, at a dance or even a wedding reception: the obscene call-and-response audience chant between the lines of the verses.
How did this occur? It certainly wasn’t via the Internet because in 1987, no one except a few hardcore geeks knew what that was. It couldn’t have been through radio airplay because no radio version with the chanting bit was ever released. And it certainly wouldn’t have been through video play because neither MTV or MuchMusic would have dared play something with such vulgarities.
Furthermore, this seems to have largely been a North American phenomenon–or at least I haven’t been able to uncover any evidence of the chant originating (or even being used) in Britain, Europe or anywhere else in the world. The chants were essentially the same but with slight regional differences. The earliest discussion board post I can find on the subject is from May 20, 1989.
(There’s little documentation I can cite for the following, but this is what I’ve managed to glean from various message boards dating back to the late 80s. This is far from a comprehensive list, so corrections/additions/elaborations are welcome in the comments section.)
- Southern Ontario/New York state/Ohio/Pennsylvania: “Hey, motherfucker! Get laid, get fucked!”
- Wisconsin/Colorado/British Columbia: “Hey, what’s that? Get laid, get fucked!”
- Texas: “Come on, everybody! Get laid, get fucked!”
- Some university campuses: “Hey, hey, slut! Get laid, get fucked!”
- Elsewhere: “Hey, hey what? Get laid, get fucked!”and “Hey, get drunk, get laid, get fucked!”
There were probably others, but you get the drift.
These chants seemed to emerge spontaneously and at more-or-less the same time. Why? It’s unclear, but here are some theories:
1. Some maintain that the tradition extends back to 1969 when the original Tommy James version was played in New York City clubs like The Guest House and the 44th Street Armory. (Link to discussion board post.)
2. One rumour involves lip-reading. There’s allegedly a video where we can clearly see Idol mouthing those words. Delving further, it appears that Idol himself endorses the “Hey, motherfucker! Get laid, get fucked!” version of the chant. Witnesses say that endorsement goes back to an Idol show at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas sometime in the late 80s.
3. When the Don’t Stop EP was released, Idol appeared on MTV with Martha Quinn. During the interview, it’s alleged that he admitted to losing his virginity to the Tommy James version.
4. Billy also chronicled the story in his autobiography, Dancing with Myself.
In 1970, the back of the charity shop bear Bromley South held many wonders.
“Do you want to fuck?” I asked. And she said yes! I’d never had sex, so I was a bit nervous as she took me by the hand.
She must have sensed the situation. “You’re a virgin, aren’t you? she half asked, half declared. “No, I’ve done it before,” I lied as we walked up the hill for a tumble in Church House Gardens. We went behind some bushes and she lay down. I got on top and got hard but was having a bit of trouble getting it in her, it being my first time. She rolled me over and said, “Oh, let me do it,” and she stuck my dick insider her and really shagged me.
As we were at it, “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells was playing on someone’s transistor radio nearby…
About three years after this original post, I picked up the phone on a Sunday evening to find Billy on the line. Here’s what he had to say about all this.
Well, that adds a fair amount to the story. But who were those frat dudes in England back in the middle 80s? Could they be tracked down to get their take on the matter? England: I’m counting on you. Dig around.
So where does this leave us? Sadly, no closer to the truth than when we started. The origins of the “Mony Mony” meme remain a mystery. Perhaps this might work as a Ph.D. thesis for some budding cultural anthropologists. Or maybe someone will read this and offer more evidence.
UPDATE: I’d forgotten about this Canadian TV commercial from 2007. (Thanks Steve!)
The other day, I received this piece of information from Julie,
I was studying and working in the US at that time so I know US college students were already listening to a lot of Australian bands by then. It was really wonderful to hear music from home blaring across the quadrangles from the US students’ dorm windows!
We had a similar “chant thing” going on in Australia in the early 1980s, which may well have been the inspiration for what evolved in the US a few years later.
As you’d be aware, Australians are great travelers and we tend to bring our Vegemite and other “cultural favourites” with us. It’s quite possible that one or more Aussie larrikin students/travelers could have started the US thing (or a returned US traveler could have “adapted” their Aussie experience…).
The band involved in Australia was the Angels, one of Australia’s most popular pub rock bands ever. They were promoted as “Angel City” in the US, so as not to be confused with an American band of the same name.
In the early 1980s, the Angels found their Aussie audiences were adding a few choice words to their 1976 song “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? ” (“No way, get ****ed, **** off!”). I know from personal experience at Angels shows that this chant quickly spread word-for-word right around Australia, without any prompting from the band.
This was reportedly quite disconcerting for them at first, because the song was written about the death of lead singer Doc Neeson’s friend’s girlfriend. The crowds chanting those extra words were not at all sensitive to this (people tend to forget that hard rockers with punk roots have feelings too!).
Angels band members have mentioned first hearing this chant at a Queensland show in 1983. When they asked the audience why they were swearing back at the band, they were told the chant had started at a Blue Light Disco (these were Friday night dance parties run by local police at Australian high schools to improve their PR with teenagers and keep them off the streets). Apparently the DJ concerned would stop the record and encourage the chant…
The Angels (as Angel City – a name hated by the band and their Australian fans) toured America several times from 1980 onwards, so their US audiences could have heard the chant that way. Any young Australian in town would be sure to go to an Angels show when so far away from home…
Over the years, there have been many claims about where and how the Angels’ chant started, but the band just had to get used to it and (as with Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” in the US) the chant ended up on future live versions of “Am I ever gonna see your face again”.
“No way – get ****ed, **** off!” was even used as the title of an Australian SBS TV documentary about the band in 2008.
Fortunately for those of us who love their music, the surviving Angels are still touring. Sadly, there were splits, accidents, and ill-health along the way and Doc Neeson and bass guitarist Chris Bailey died of cancer in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
To give appropriate credit – much of the above account was summarised by Alexander Pan in his April 2020 Goat website article.
Hopefully, this communication solves some of the mystery surrounding the origin of both chants.
If you have anything to contribute to this mystery, please leave it in the comments.