As if there’s not already enough wrong with the world, Americans were treated, this week, to the news that arguably the most recognizable ice cream truck song is racist, And not just a little, but like, an 11 on the RAF™ Scale.
Before aggrieved white people completely lose their shit over black people ruining yet another thing, though, there are other ice cream truck songs that aren’t racist, and which you can still enjoy while continuing not to think about racism. If you’re looking for a list of ice cream truck songs that won’t make you want to stick knives in your ears, we can’t help you:
1. Mister Softee
This New York City favorite was written in 1960 by Les Waas, can only be played by NYC ice cream vendors when their trucks are moving, and is the perfect setup for Viagra jokes. The lyrics aren’t racist, either, but do include the phrase “ding-a-ling down the street” and was a source of a childhood trauma endured by Larry David.
2. “Rocket Sauce”
Popularized by Tenacious D, this tune is based on “Sailing, Sailing,” because nothing says “ice cream” like being on a pirate ship.
According to The Washington Post, this nostalgic chimey earworm “is no song at all. Rather, it is a medley of tunes. An Asian manufacturer placed it on a computer chip to show off a new technology. It was just supposed to be a sample, but (ice cream music mogul Mark) Nichols included it in the Omni music box. It became an ice cream standard.”
Sometimes referred to as “The Ghetto Ice Cream Song,” so okay, that’s a little racist.
4. Michael Hearst’s Songs For Ice Cream Trucks
An entire album of 13 ice cream truck songs that won’t make you think about racism at all. Well, okay, maybe “Ice Cream Yo!” is a little bit racist. Damn.
5. “The Entertainer”
Scott Joplin’s ragtime standard is one of the most popular tunes for ice cream trucks to butcher. While it’s not racist, the ragtime genre did spawn a racist sub-genre of “coon songs,” because of course it did.
Well, you get the idea, there are lots of public domain songs that don’t have the n-word in them. Now, I know what you’re thinking right now. What are all of these ice cream men supposed to do with their existing music? Who’s going to pay for all of that? (the answer: WHITE PEOPLE!!) It’s not like they can just flip a switch.
Actually, yes, they can just flip a switch. The industry standard for ice cream truck music is, apparently, Nichols Electronics’ Digital II, which literally allows the driver to flip a switch between eight different songs — only one of which is racist. Does “La Cucaracha” count? Oh, shit, “Camptown Races.”
The racist origins of the Ice Cream Song were sussed out by Theodore Johnson, III sort of confirmed my suspicion with his excellent article at NPR’s Code Switch blog, came across the song “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” while researching racial stereotypes, and immediately recognized the tune. While the song is usually credited as “Turkey in the Blind,” Johnson has the Ice Cream Song dead to rights as the later, more racist version, which even references ice cream in the lyrics.
Also of great interest is the piece that Johnson wrote tracing the origins of the watermelon stereotype, in which he first discovered the origins of the Ice Cream Truck Song, and in which he also reveals the irony that. although he personally hates watermelon. “I’m a black man with a watermelon for a birthmark.”
I know how he feels. My birthmark is a silhouette of Kenny G.
What’s remarkable about Johnson’s article, though, is that I actually don’t know how he feels, and never will, because I don’t live in a culture whose every sedimentary layer is contaminated with hatred and contempt for my very being. As Ani DiFranco was accidentally right about when she freaked out on people who didn’t like her workshopping on a plantation, you can’t throw a rock in America without hitting something that was enabled by racism.
For some white people, though, the thought of racism can be very painful, even downright terrifying, so if you’ve read Mr. Johnson’s piece, and are afraid you can never eat ice cream again without being angry with him for ruining it for you, there’s good news: there are lots of other ice cream truck songs that aren’t racist.
Of course, you could always deal with racist ice cream truck songs the way NPR’s Theodore Johnson III does: like a Toasted Almond Bar, nut up and deal with it:
“And so when a song about niggers and watermelon fills the suburban air, I will smile and hand over money from my pocket. The sight of my children enjoying a Good Humor ice cream bar will fight back the racist song that lampooned black people who happened to be in good humor. The delivery of the cold hard truth can wait until another day.”