Hello! I’m here to show you a pop song from 1899. That’s right: the long-ago year 1899. I’m like a time traveler. I am basically H.G. Wells. But a version of H.G. Wells where the initials stand for something dirty (“Horny Guy”?). Because this pop song is secretly a sexual time machine.
Here is the song. It’s called “How’d You Like To Be The Iceman?”, written by J. Fredric Helf and Edward P. Moran, performed by Will F. Denny. I provided a link to the song because I am an Honorable Blogger. But I encourage you to never hear it.
Definitely don’t try to hear it while reading this. It’s too weird! You won’t be able to focus! Also, as audio? It sucks. It’s full of 1899 Microphone Crackles. Its musician is playing the single broken piano every American was sharing at the time. And as far as performer Will F. Denny goes, there is a reason you have a concept of “funny old-timey voice” in your head. Some people talked funny in 1899. And Will F. Denny is the not-funny, aggravating real version of that stereotype. Also, he’s barely doing “music”. His musical influences seem to be Scott Joplin, H.H. Holmes, and a bystander shouting expository information to The Shadow.
Here is why I care about “How’d You Like To Be The Iceman?”: I’m pretty sure this one weird song invented an entire cultural concept of Blue Collar Sex Guys. You know this trope. It’s as American as apple pie. An apple pie delivered by a too-helpful milkman. Who’s making eyes at one of the home’s adults. Or both adults! Some people form The Devil’s Picket Fence with any “pool boy” (sex-wink) or “pizza delivery guy” (sex-wink) who services them (sex word). Of course, this trope is borderline made-up. It’s a joke slash fantasy. So how did it get invented? How did it get in everyone’s heads? I do not know for sure. But I believe all those trope-guys sprung (SEX-WINK) from this one 1899 novelty song.
“How’d You Like To Be The Iceman?” was 1899’s song of the summer. According to Atlas Obscura, it would’ve topped the Billboard charts, if there were charts for Edison wax cylinders.
What is an Edison wax cylinder? It’s like a lot of turn-of-the-century technology: it barely worked, it’s ridiculous in retrospect, and it changed all of our lives forever. The cylinder’s laughably tiny few minutes of recording space invented all good songs. And those cylinders are the other revolutionary technology in my podcast episode about refrigerators.
Before the first popular electric refrigerator (G.E.’s “Monitor Top” in 1927), Americans had iceboxes. That was a big box that kept your food cold, through the advanced technology of “you put ice in it.” Basically living out of an Igloo™ cooler. It was cruddy, wonky, borderline stupid technology that made everyone’s lives one million percent better. Your vegetables lasted more than two seconds, now. Your family would not die, so much. And because everyone wanted that, everyone depended on constant home delivery of gigantic blocks of ice. How did that work? Ridiculous global ice-harvesting gathered the blocks. And then burly delivery men serviced that giant package with their last mile if you know what I’m sayiiiiiin.
Before electric refrigeration, burly ice delivery men were an entire profession. “Icemen” had wagons and funny mustaches and everything. And historians say most city homes received daily ice deliveries, plus special orders. Icemen carried the heavy ice blocks out of wagons, into homes, often up flights of stairs…and the resulting muscles got people dreamin’.
Then 1899 came along. And something weird happened, even by 1899 standards. That nationwide smash hit novelty song portrayed icemen as playboy millionaires who bartered their ice for alcohol and sex. I know that sounds like a massive creative leap. It sounds like a world where Paul Blart Mall Cop portrayed that character as Tony Stark. But I am not making this up! Read the lyrics for yourself, if you love squinting at old sheet music. Or stick with this summary:
Now please take a look at the song’s peak. Here is the particularly hardcore lyric:
We’re all adults here. We all know “kiss” was 1899-speak for “porkin’.” And don’t get me wrong: not every Dick Fight Island explodes (pained sex-wink) into the entire world’s subconscious. But this “withholding-yet-willing ice/fuckman” trope took over the world. Atlas Obscura says it got re-recorded, spoofed, and performed across vaudeville. Somebody did a whole separate hit song in 1907, subverting the trope and insisting “All She Gets From The Iceman Is Ice”. An Australian poet wrote a lament for sad ladies when electric refrigerators replaced their sexy icemen thirty years later. And one hundred twenty one years later, my li’l podcast reached at least one person who has some ~questions~.
Anyway, that’s my research. Now we must move beyond research, into the rarified air of Guessin’ Stuff. Because I feel the sexy icemen never went away. I guesstimate that they splintered into a constellation of specialized sexy blue collar men, which I’ve asked Seanbaby to diagram like so:
Editor’s Note: Schmidty, I incorporated all your notes into the final graphic. Great article! I learned one new ways to bang lonely wives!
So thank you, sexy icemen. Your legacy has touched us all, with hands far too clammy to be erotic. And also thank you, Brockway, for replying to my “SUBJ: sexy icemen” e-mail with this comic book image:
Because if that one particular bubble doesn’t flush this 1899 song out of your head, nothing will.