It’s that appealing, nocturnal, burrowing African mammal with a long snout that lives on ants and termites, but is also slang in parts of the US for an mistake-prone person and even an uncircumcised penis. The word comes from Afrikaans and Dutch for pig and earth, but where is it unearthed in song lyrics? It’s attractive word because of the oddity of spelling, and being at the very beginning of dictionaries, alongside its lesser-known cousin, the aardwolf, another nocturnal insectivore, native to east and southern Africa, resembling a small stripy hyena, but using its long, sticky tongue for creepy crawlies rather than meat hunting.
In song aardvark is a mark of lyrical inventiveness, but also eccentricity. You’re unlikely to find it in mainstream pop. There are many examples in hip hop. Founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan GZA aka The Genius includes it in a musical menagerie, Animal Planet, (from Legend Of The Liquid Sword, 2002) painting a metaphorical picture of the human urban jungle with various competitive types at large:
Welcome to the Jungle where the cat loves to scratch, the rat squeals
And the polar bear feasts on the blubber of seals
The pack of wolves be scheming on a bunch of gazelles
Where the leopards grab the wildebeest down by its tail
You see the chimps they grow hemps they hustle and sling in trees
Elephants for security that move tons of leaves
The bluebirds arrest parrots that love to talk
Or eagles that stalk fresh-water trout under the wing of the hawk
You see the vultures pick the pocket of whatever remain
In the brain we watch but a shadow of the lion's mane
Whose roar is loud enough to take the stripes from a zebra
He camouflage his bets and his spots of a cheetah
Shouldn't gamble with a cheetah and not expect to get beat
You silly goose you know he move fast on his feet
Now you're neck deep in debt with a bunch of loan sharks
So you move on a colony of ants with aardvarks, you see
Most of the everglades controlled by the gators
It was crashed by the crocs who came years later
See the locusts had swarmed with the bees
The tick moved with the fleas
The dragonflies and the wasps shared with the seas
The crab and the leeches sucked your blood flow
And they laugh like hyenas when they out to catch dough
See a million mosquitos from the West Nile
Carrying the virus that made the boars less wild
Meanwhile Sicilian US rapper Vinnie Paz goes for a more violent, gangster depiction, comparing the gun barrel to an aardvark’s snout, with inventive, rat-rat-rat rhyming. in Limb From Limb (featuring Ransom, from The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store, 2016):
Every time I see you, you be where the narcs park
Spray his fucking wheel like Con Art, that's always the hard part
You should stay quiet when the God bark
Every gun I carry, nose bigger than an aardvark
The only way to get 'em is to get 'em when the car start
With the combination of skill and cunning of card sharks
Vinnie let them dogs bark, then you see a large spark
I'm a fucking lion, I suffer from an enlarged heart
Buck 65, aka Richard Terfry, the Canadian alternative hip hop artist, who incorporates many other genres into his avant-garde approach, uses the aardvark, and other images to paint a picture of the music industry in Square One (from Square, 2003).
Drums like drugs have turned us to scavengers,
Pathfinders, addicts, and mathematicians,
Practitioners of black magic.
We make music from used up junk and bad luck dreams.
Liars and losers, emus and aardvarks,
Gypsies and penthieves, pedlars, cardsharks.
All of us fortune tellers combing the forest.
Hardcore, building a cardboard fortress.
Buck 65 isn’t the only one who addresses the music industry in aardvark terms. Here’s another Canadian act, the psychedelic rock band, The Guess Who with Attila’s Blues (from Road Food, 1974):
Is your manager managing to manage for the best
Or is he making out fine for himself
Does your record label bring you in with trumpets and horns
Just to pack you back away on the shelf
Is your lawyer lyin' to you, do you really want to know
As your agent waiting home for his pay, pay, pay
Welcome one and all now to show show business
Wouldn't have it any other way.
Got some people lining up for seven days before you come
But then your house is full of empty chairs
Are you finding self-importance in the things that you've done
You're findin' out that no one really cares
Do the people buy your records, do they play them on the air
But the warehouse must be where they stay
Well have you ever had an aardvark sandwich
Have you ever had a seagull stew
I had a pet pitiful penguin
And I made him watch the six o'clock news
And shine my shoes
I got the "help preserve 'em, don't deserve 'em, try and serve 'em, love 'em all" blues.
Then there’s the British postpunk pop act, The Korgis, citing the aardvark’s night vision, in Dirty Postcards (from The Korgis, 1979):
I thought it was a prank when you wired the Pope
To say you'd a vision of an aardvark
Who was perpetrating ghastly deeds with St. Mark
Finally here’s American sings and comedian Allan Sherman, who in The Laarge Daark Aardvark Song, from the album My Name Is Allan (1965), is perhaps our only song dedicated specifically to this animal, describing it rather amusing as a kangaroo in love with a gnu. Could his style, a comedy Sinatra employing those slightly annoying personified creature’s high voice inserts, have inspired a young David Bowie to write The Laughing Gnome, when his ambition was to be a similar performer in the style of Anthony Newley?
Nobody laughs at hippopotamuses,
Or at fat rhinoceroses,
But an aardvark makes them howl
Because he's neither fish nor fowl
He's like a kangaroo in love with a gnu,
So then, do you have any lesser-spotted aardvark songs to offer, or indeed aardwolf ones, which are very scarce? Feel free to share your examples, fictional, factual, or in any cultural context, in comments below. Do these songs make you think of something else? Then also feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.
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