Daily Tedium

Swearing In Code

How a ’60s psychedelic band turned a four-letter word into a hummable melody—and unwittingly screwed over a radio DJ who didn’t realize it.

By Ernie Smith

Unless you’re listening to a numbers station for work reasons, odds are that you aren’t going to need Morse Code for any good reason. Which means that, if you want to take advantage of the lack of general knowledge of Morse Code, you absolutely can.

The folk group Pearls Before Swine, a modest psychedelic phenomenon in 1967, thought they were pulling a fast one on their audience when they recorded the tune “Oh Dear (Miss Morse),” the most popular song from the band’s hit album One Nation Underground.

The folk tune was augmented with some basic blips of noise that sound vaguely like Morse Code blips. But it turns out that it’s Rapp’s hummable chorus that was hiding the real message:

di-di-dah-dit / di-di-dah / dah-di-dah-dit / dah-di-dah

If you know your International Morse Code, you’ll be aware that these sing-songy nonsense words actually spell out a certain four-letter word. This caught one popular DJ off-guard, according to the band’s leader, Tom Rapp, as most people weren’t aware of what the song was doing—except for Boy Scouts, who caught it right away.

"I tried L-O-V-E first, and the cadence was all wrong," Rapp told The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten in 1998. "Then I tried that, and you know, it was like God wanted that word in that song. It got Murray the K in trouble."

(The acid-folk act, whose best album is probably 1968’s Balaklava, is not the only band to try a stunt like this, though they’re a bit classier than the other band known for a similar stunt. In 2005, The Bloodhound Gang released the song “Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo,” based on the NATO phonetic alphabet, as the first single from their album Hefty Fine.)

Surprisingly, this detail is not the most interesting detail about Pearls Before Swine, an anti-establishment band in an era full of them. Instead, it’s the fact that, after putting his music career on pause, Tom Rapp eventually found a legitimate career as a civil rights lawyer—only briefly returning to the music industry nearly three decades later.

Not a bad career shift.

Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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