Thursday, April 26, 2007

Everyone Makes Mistakes: Musings On Song Lyrics From the Peanut Gallery

Due to the recent discussion of song lyrics that are bad enough to make Richard Simmons kill himself, I am compelled to throw my two cents into the fray. A large number of the artists quoted have been people that, frankly, nobody gives a monkey's behind about. Jesse McCartney? Savage Garden? Peter Gabriel? Who cares? The real tragedy is when people considered to be lyrical legends commit such offenses. Yes, even some of history's greatest songwriters have penned lyrical travesties. Let's examine a few.

Your sister's gone out. She's on a date
You just sit at home and masturbate
- Billy Joel, "Captain Jack"

I am easily one of the world's biggest Billy Joel fans, but even I admit that those are possibly two of the worst lines of music ever written. Just because some action occurs doesn't mean you need to write about it. Somehow I don't think there has ever been a chart-topping hit with lyrics such as, "I woke up this morning, scratched my ass, clipped my toenails, then headed to class." Shame on you, Billy.

And the tears never came
They just stayed in our eyes
We refused to admit that we wore this disguise
Every inch of us growing
Like Pinocchio's nose
As we walked around in the emperor's new clothes
- Elton John, "Emperor's New Clothes"

Come on, Elton. You are known worldwide as being one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and you write that abomination? Lyrics like that make Britney Spears look like Shakespeare. And exactly what part of you is growing like Pinocchio's nose? It seems to me that the behavior of your anatomy is something you should keep to yourself.

When out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun
In case of accidents he always took his mom
He's the all American bullet-headed saxon mother's son.
All the children sing

Hey Bungalow Bill
What did you kill
Bungalow Bill?
-The Beatles, "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"

Now I know why John Lennon was shot.

Wish I was a Kellogg's Cornflake

Floatin' in my bowl takin' movies,
Relaxin' awhile, livin' in style,
Talkin' to a raisin who 'casionn'ly plays LA.,
Casually glancing at his toupee.

Wish I was an English muffin
'Bout to make the most out of a toaster.

I'd ease myself down,
Comin' up brown.

I prefer boysenberry
More than any ordinary jam.
I'm a "Citizens for Boysenberry Jam" fan.
-Simon & Garfunkel, "Punky's Dilemma"

There's metaphor, and then there's Punky's Dilemma. You nailed the whole metaphor thing with "I Am A Rock." That song was brilliant. This one is just disturbing. Of all the food products you could be, you pick cereal and an English muffin? Also, what is this "Citizen's for Boysenberry Jam" line about? Is the jam being oppressed? Has the jam been banned? Is jam comparable to fair wages? I simply do not understand.

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a gypsy queen,
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle all dressed in green,
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle 'til the moon is blue,
Wiggle 'til the moon sees you.

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle in your boots and shoes,
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, you got nothing to lose,
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, like a swarm of bees,
Wiggle on your hands and knees.
- Bob Dylan, "Wiggle Wiggle"

Bob Dylan may very well be the world's most well-known lyricist. Not only did he author multiple hits of his own, he also wrote the lyrics to myriad other songs that were made popular by other artists. But, I guess even Mikhail Baryshnikov trips and falls sometimes. Clearly that is what happened here. I don't even know how else to respond to this. I'm frankly dumbfounded.

In short, even the greats have their off days. I mean, even the man who produced Sin City brought us The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. But, that's another story altogether.



dave said...

Where to begin...

First of all, you seemed to have missed the whole point of Joel's lyric, if not the whole song. Captain Jack is code for heroin and he's describing this young man's life, too old to be at home, outsider always looking in, confused, lost, etc. His sister has somehow made it out, living, even like those people in the Village that he envies for living their own lives, and he's back at home, with himself. With very few words, he juxtaposes his life to his sister's, and the others.

As far as the Elton John song, he rarely wrote nay of his own lyrics, good or bad, so you should be talking to Bernie Taupin, lyricist and partner for almost 40 years.

Dylan didn't just pen hits, he changed how the rock song was even written. What he's doing on Under the Red Sky (the album Wiggle Wiggle is on) is go in the opposite direction - like minimalism in the visual arts. It's old time rock n roll, the type of music many people ignored in the post-Dylan era.

And to say that about John Lennon is just tasteless and without tact. Especially since the song is satire and completely tongue-in-cheek.

Your comments, overall, were unresearched, ill-conceived, and insulting, as well as embarrassing for yourself.

Cultural Subterfuge said...

My, my, Dave, we are bitter, aren't we? First, I didn't miss the point of anything. I completely understand what Captain Jack is about. I'm not saying the theme of the song is bad. In fact, it is quite clever, as are most of the rest of the lyrics of the song. I just happen to think that those two lines are extremely stupid.

Second, yes I am aware that Elton wasn't writing his own lyrics, but he did write the music and he let that abomination be paired with his melody. So nuts to both him and Bernie for that one.

Third, I understand that Dylan is great. I never said he wasn't. There is still no excuse for that song.

Fourth, it's not tasteless, it's sarcasm. Lighten up.

Oh and in order for something to be embarrassing for me, I need to feel a sense of embarrassment, which I don't. I am still quite fond of my post, but thanks for playing.


Hugo said...

My kids love "Wiggle." It's a great song. For kids. Different standards.