A Chicago artist named Gillette is on the verge of scoring a rare platinum single with a ditty sure to make half her audience cringe. Just why can be summed up by the title: “Short Dick Man.” While attacks on men aren’t that unusual, particularly in the R & B world, it’s safe to say that never has so trenchant an assault been directed at so vulnerable a part of the male anatomy with such commercial success. The result is the biggest weenie song since Chuck Berry’s rather more forgiving “My Ding-a-Ling” some 25 years ago.
The jimmy jeremiad in question is an extremely sparse work populated by hand claps, a keyboard bass line, a drumbeat, and a breathy, flutelike sound. The equally spare lyrics consist of just a few lines of chorus (“Don’t want no short dick man / Don’t want no short dick man / Eeeny-weeny teeny-weeny / Shriveled little short dick man”) mixed with the occasional derisive interjection: “You need some fucking tweezers to put the little thing away?” The song’s got an irresistible beat and the kind of hook that won’t get out of your head. The single peaked at 14 on the Billboard singles charts a few weeks ago and remains in the top five for national radio airplay.
Gillette is a 19-year-old Berwyn resident who didn’t tell her mom she’d made a record about penises until she had the number one record on B-96. And she’s not the provocateur you’d expect. The true auteurs behind the song and its accompanying album are a four-man production team known as 20 Fingers, and the song and album they conceived, wrote, and produced may just be the beginnings of a new Chicago hit factory. The group–Manny Mohr, Charlie Babie, J.J. Flores, and Onofrio Lollino–is based out of Brookfield’s SOS records, a new label owned by Frank Rodrigo, formerly the head of the venerable house outfit called ID.
Mohr and Babie wrote the original song. Concept in hand, the group sought out a singer and came up with an old friend of Flores’s, then working as a receptionist in a medical clinic. The single they completed contains a total of five recording tracks, a minimalist wonder. Credited to “20 Fingers featuring Gillette,” the song exploded in local dance clubs. A B-96 programmer persuaded the group to make a clean version–“Short, Short Man”–and the song went crazy.
“In most records you hear today,” Mohr says, “there are negative things toward women. A woman is this, a woman is that. The ‘B word,’ the ‘H word,’ this is what they’re gonna do to her. Charlie and I wanted to say something that would make up for all the bad things that are said about women.” For the album, 20 Fingers decided to take the concept to the limit. “We generated so much interest with the single,” he says, “that when we came to do the album we decided to do it basically with a sort of back-at-the-guys sort of attitude, you know what I’m saying? We wanted her to say on her album things that women only think about saying.”
Mohr stops to laugh. “That three-word phrase just about took care of it.”
The album, Gillette on the Attack, credited to Gillette but with the words “A 20 Fingers Production” prominently displayed, is accordingly a scorching song cycle on themes similar to the single. The leadoff track, “Mr. Personality,” is another giddy novelty wonder–basically the same sentiments of “Short Dick Man” but with a larger target (“You’re so ugly your dad had to tie a pork chop around your neck just to get the dog to play with you”). Musically, 20 Fingers may be onto something. Gillette on the Attack’s most impressive feature is the group’s up-front manipulation of the crushing guitar chords played by hired hands Lenny Vertucci and Greg Suran. The first 30 seconds of “Pay Back” are indistinguishable from a Van Halen track, and heavy-duty power chording pops up throughout the album, referencing not only Run-D.M.C.’s ground-breaking rock-rap fusion of the mid-80s but also today’s ruling grunge sounds.
Gillette would seem to have one-hit wonder written all over her–save for the fact that the second single, “Mr. Personality,” has already been number one for a month on KISS, an influential black station in LA. And 20 Fingers has other hits coming as well: Max-A-Million’s “Fat Boy” is a mix of reggae and what’s known as “jungle,” a potent new black dance music. It’s moving up the Billboard singles chart, and dance chanteuse Roula’s “Lick It” is threatening to do the same. Just as Gillette began breaking out, the SOS label cut a deal with Zoo records out of LA, which has picked up the Gillette album and is in the last stages of finalizing a deal with Roula and Max-A-Million as well. “We’ve shown we can hit the Hot 100 without the big boys,” says SOS’s Hazel Zoleta. “Now the major players are coming in, but we started all that noise ourselves.”
The Bottle Rockets’ January 20 concert at Schubas left a packed house dizzy with pleasure. The rural Missouri outfit looks like Lynyrd Skynyrd, writes pop songs better than the Gin Blossoms, and rocks out live like Neil Young and Crazy Horse–a heady combination in a space as intimate as Schubas. The band returns to town for a Saturday show at FitzGerald’s. Opening: the Waco Brothers, featuring Mekon Jon Langford….The Trib’s current Friday section pop-music confusion is the consequence of a bad decision made some years ago: creating the Take Two movies ‘n’ music center insert. When critic Greg Kot was given a long-overdue pop music column two years ago, there wasn’t room for it in Take Two, so it was given a prominent place on page five of Friday. Backed with David Rothschild’s Homefront local-music news column, it turned out to be a nice package–even if it wasn’t clear why the rest of the music writing came 10 or 15 pages later, crammed into the back of Take Two. But now the paper’s found room for Kot’s column in Take Two, and willy-nilly has buried one of the section’s biggest assets. And since there’s no room for Homefront back there, that’s been left to fend for itself near the front of Friday. It’s a good column, but that’s certainly not where it belongs.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Bruce Powell.