Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting A Kick

A "kick" refers to any form of instant or sudden pleasurable sensation, perhaps even of the unexpected sort, while "to kick" means to cast off any sort of heavy physical dependency, especially to drugs, as in the phrase “to kick [off] the habit.” I suspect that “kick” is a form of American slang that likely dates its origin back to the Jazz Era, when to get a “kick” was a popular expression referring to an instant sensation of pleasure, either from drugs or alcohol (a stiff drink could have a "kick like a mule"). By the process of metaphorical elaboration, “kick” or “kicks”came to mean any sort of pleasure, social (“fun”) or otherwise. In 1934, Cole Porter was able to write “I Get a Kick Out of You” for the Broadway musical Anything Goes, containing a set of lyrics consisting of

Some get a kick from cocaine
I'm sure that if
took even one sniff
hat would bore me terrifically, too
et, I get a kick out of you

By the 1936 Hollywood film adaptation of the play, however, made soon after the advent of Hollywood’s “production code” (under the watchful eye of the Hays Office), because of the drug reference Porter was forced to alter the lyric from “a kick from cocaine” to the less offensive “the perfume in Spain.”

Later, by the 1960s, “kicks” was a slang term closely associated with teenage behavior--a form of non-productive social expenditure stereotypical teenagers were quite interested in pursuing--and could refer to the benign sort of fun known as “cruising” to more sordid activities such as sex, underage drinking, and juvenile delinquency ("pranks"). But the word never kicked its association with drugs, especially at a time such the 1960s when drug use was associated with freedom, both from convention as well as middle-class sexual Puritanism.

Songs Containing a Kick (of the Instant Pleasure Sort, of the Unrestrained Freedom Sort, or just the Plain Vindictive, Right in the Ass Sort):

Cole Porter – I Get a Kick Out of You
Bobby Troup – (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66
Paul Revere & the Raiders – Kicks
The Association – Along Comes Mary
The MC5 – Kick Out the Jams
The Residents – Aircraft Damage
Kinky Friedman – Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life
Eric Clapton – Cocaine
Don Henley – Dirty Laundry
INXS – Kick
Quiet Riot – Get Your Kicks
The Undertones – Teenage Kicks

1 comment:

Bent said...

Just for some added kicks, a few OED citations of how 'kick' was used, in some cases even earlier than the '30s:

1928: Daily Express 4 Dec. 10/3, "I was told I should get a kick out of that journey and I certainly did." 1929: Evening News 18 Nov. 15/6 "A cocktail basis with a real kick (42 deg. proof spirit)." 1933: D. L. SAYERS Murder must Advertise ix. 159 "There's a kick in being afraid." 1935: S. SPENDER Destructive Element 82 "Strether accepts even the fact that he is living with Madame de Vionnet; in fact, he gets a kick out of it." 1941: Jazz Information Nov. 22/2 "A man who .. worked hard and got his kicks and saved a little money." 1942: R.A.F. Jrnl. 2 May 35 "We get a great kick out of wearing it." 1946: MEZZROW & WOLFE Really Blues (1957) 373 "For kicks, for pleasure's sake."

Ain't that a kick in the head...