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Tuesday
Nov222005

Musicology

I've always found the best way to get to know someone, I mean really get to know them in an I-understand-how-you-perceive-the-world-and-I-can-jive way is to rifle through their CD collection. I advise you to get cracking on this little project as early in a coupling as possible.
Case in point; I once found myself three weeks into a relationship with a perfectly reputable fellow with blue eyes and smashing dimples when I stumbled onto his massive betrayal. There on his shelf, right behind a completely respectable if unoriginal R.E.M disc was Celine Deon. I know. I was devastated too. I immediately put the kibosh on any future romanticism. It was sad but had to be done, regardless of his vehement protestation.
"It was the movie. The ship was sinking. The kid froze to death. He died! I couldn't help myself! Is that so wrong?"
"Yes. Yes it is. I saw The Bodyguard but I managed to refrain from running out and hypnotically buying a Whitney Houston album. I'm sorry Chris. I just don't think I can respect you anymore."

Similarly I was once mocked for weeks when my friend Andy discovered Missy Elliot's Misunderstood in my car CD case.
"But it totally rocks! Listen. Work it, let me work it, I put my thing down flip it and reverse it." In a futile attempt at persuasion, this white girl played that funky music, thrusting and bobbing my head, shimmying my chest and jerking my arms about in what I envisioned to be very smooth and sexy Missy Elliot back-up dancer stylings.
"Stop singing." He said fearfully. "Are you having a seizure? Stop whatever it is you're doing there this instant or we can't be friends anymore."
I tried the feminist approach. "You just don't like chick rap! Misogynist! If she was a man you'd like it.!" Nothing could sway his opinion of Missy. I had to work doubly hard that month on my skiing skills, pot smoking and footing the bill for apres ski burritos to convince him I was worth being friends with despite my enjoyment of Missy AND my unfortunate Elaine Benis like dance moves.

I don't fault Andy. Musical tastes are a very personal issue. He can't stomach Missy and the fact that she was in my catalog changed his perception of me. Similarly, I take umbrage at anyone's enjoyment of Celine Dion. And R. Kelly. and that one band that goes by many different names.. You know, the one called Creed/Matchbox 20/Nickelback/3 Doors Down/System of a Down... Granted, there are some gray musical areas. Artists that you hate, your friend can like and you can find it in your heart to forgive their indulgence. Missy Elliot fell into that murky gray area in the great musical divide and could therefore be negotiated into the friendship. Celine Dion? Never. Other deal breakers for me? As previously mentioned, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and bubblegum pop. Yes, really. I'm not a pop prude.. I'm as susceptible to a catchy ditty as the rest of the world, I just can't stand lazy lyrics. For example:

You drive me crazy
I just can’t sleep
I’m so excited, I’m in too deep"


or

Oops I did it again
I made you believe we’re more than just friends
Oh baby, baby
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn’t mean that I’m serious


or the pop song that swept the globe causing more damage than last year's Tsunami:

I just can’t get you out of my head
Boy your lovin’ is all I think about
I just can’t get you out of my head
Boy it’s more than I dare to think about


(our girl Kylie is rhyming head with head.. and about with about. Oh and the kicker, the prolific chorus:

La la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la


or

Chill out
Whatcha yelling for?
Lay back
It’s all been done before
And if you could only let it be you would see
I like you the way you are
When we’re driving in your car


"I like the way you are, when we're driving in you're car? Jesus. I can appreciate a snazzy melody, a grabby hook as much as the next person. But still. I will not tell a lie. I've driven in my car and tonelessly belted out all of the above. But it's the tune that sucks me in.. The lyrics embarrass me. Is the overall listening experience enjoyable? Moving? No and no. Does my heart slip a little and a lump form in my throat when these songs blast from my radio? Am I inspired? Again, no. I come away feeling about as emotionally inspired as when I recite all the words to the latest snappy commercial jingle.

Contrast that with this:

My heart is the bums on the street
With nothing to eat and their dirty hands cupped up
My heart is the squirrels in the park
Late Sunday evening dodging the raindrops
My heart is a barrel on fire
That blows burnin’ ashes at a telephone wire
My heart is the avenue wind rattlin’ street signs
With its delicate din…


or this..

She's a jar
With a heavy lid
My pop quiz kid
A sleepy kisser
A pretty war
With feelings hid
She begs me not to miss her
She says forever
To light a fuse
We could use
A hand full of wheel
And a day off
And a bruised road
However you might feel
Tonight is real
When I forget how to talk, I sing
Wont you please
Bring that flash to shine
And turn my eyes red
Unless they close
When you click
And my face gets sick
Stuck
Like a question unposed
Just climb aboard
The tracks of a trains arm
In my fragile family tree
And watch me floating inches above
The people under me
Please beware the quiet front yard
I warned you
Before there were water skies
I warned you not to drive
Dry your eyes, you poor devil
Are there really ones like these?
The ones I dream
Float like leaves
And freeze to spread skeleton wings
I passed through before I knew you
I believe it's just because
Daddy's payday is not enough
Oh, I believe it's all because
Daddy's payday is not enough
Just climb aboard
The tracks of a trains arm
In my fragile family tree
And watch me floating inches above
The people under me
She's a jar
With a heavy lid
My pop quiz kid
A sleepy kisser
A pretty war
With feelings hid
You know she begs me not to hit her


Those are catchy songs with phenomenal lyrics that swan dive directly into my soul and stay there, bubbling up throughout time to become the soundtrack to the humor, the pain, the excitment and the tragedy of my life experiences. I don't want to be told how to feel by a teenage girl who writes songs that sound like love letters I wrote in sixth grade, rolls with a posse, like, totally wants to make the crossover into acting, makes more money than god and had somebody else write the song for her in the first place. I refuse to be lumped into the group of folks that define their relationships by songs with trite sentences like I miss you, I want you. Even Madonna's new record:

Ring, ring, ring goes the telephone
The lights are on but there's no-one home
Tick Tick Tock it's a quarter to two
And I'm done
I'm hanging up on you.

Huh? This is what one of the alleged greatest artists of our generation comes up with after years of meditation, yoga, and Kabbalah? Maybe Lourdes wrote it?

I'm not a music snob.. Really I'm not. I know I sound horribly hipster. But, as I previously stated in Hating the Haters, you should like who you like regardless of what others think. But can't some of these mainstream artists that make windfalls of cash write good lyrics already? They're certainly getting paid enough. I want beautiful words strung together in innovative ways, like rainbow colored lights on a Christmas tree. I want the notes to reverberate in my heart, burrow into my soul and give birth to new emotions about old circumstances. The songs can still be pop.. can still be catchy.. But enough with inane lyrics already!

The point of my musical meandering? I discovered one of those frivolous surveys forwarded through the nebulous corner of the internet called Myspace.. but this one I actually liked. You choose the song that best fits your movie soundtrack. It's amazing how much information somebody's selected tracks will impart about their character. So, without further ado, here are mine.. and yes I cheated by sliding an extra song in a couple categories.. But as the immortal Bobby Brown (who I also consider a dealbreaker artist) once sang.. IT'S MY PREROGATIVE!"

Opening credits: Pixies - Here Comes Your Man
Waking up: Jack Johnson - Inaudible Melodies
Average day: The Verve - Bitterweet Symphony
First date: OMD - If You Leave
Falling in love: Badly Drawn Boy - The Shining
Love scene: Marah - Passion Play (unpublished)
Fight scene: The Hives - Hate To Say I Told You So
Breaking up: Ani Difranco - Untouchable Face/Citizen Cope - Sideways
Getting back together: Coldplay - The Scientist
Secret love: Dave Matthews Band - Say Goodbye
Life's okay: Marah - Fever
Mental breakdown: Wilco - Poor Places/Pixies - Where is My Mind
Driving: The Strokes - Is This It/The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
Learning a lesson: Flaming Lips - Fight Test
Deep thought: Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
Flashback: Beatles - In My Life
Partying: Outkast - Hey Ya
Happy dance: Billy Bragg & Wilco - California Stars
Regretting: Pearl Jam - Yellow Ledbetter
Long night alone: Built To Spill - Else
Death scene: Radiohead - Exit Music (For a Film)
Closing credits: Marah - Phantom Eyes

Reader Comments (17)

Great article... there is indeed far too much laziness in lyric writing today, amongst writers who want to be talken seriously. Chris Martin, for example, has got to be one of the worst lyricists in the history of rock. He wants to bad to sound 'important' and 'meaningful' when in fact his sentiments are trite and meaningless.

However, I do like meaningless nonsense in pop songs that are designed to make you dance. Those Kylie and Madonnda lyrics do look silly and empty on paper, but it in the context of an uptempo, catchy pop song, sound pretty good. Some of the greatest songs in rock/pop history have, lyrically, been complete jibberish...

"Awop-bop-a-loo-mop alop-bam-boom
Tutti Frutti, all over rootie..... "

"she was just seventeen, you know what I mean"

"One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock,
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock"


Musically, I'm not putting Kylie in the same bracket as Little Richard, Bill Haley or the Beatles, but I do enjoy idiotic pop lyrics, and I think something like 'Can't get You Out Of My Head' follows in that tradition. Hell, even Marah aren't afraid to do a bit for "sha-la-la-ing" at the end of their songs...



November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDan
Great examples of good pop. Am in total agreement. Except maybe about Kylie.. The whole song is lalala..which is catchy, granted. Even The Surge admits to digging it. There's no question a well crafted pop song can give me a lift up or set my toe to tapping. I s'pose that's what it's meant for. Simple, straightforward and often nonsensical. I can appreciate that. The sugar just seems to dominate the airwaves and in addition to lazy lyrics it creates lazy listeners. Pop musicians (I include "rock" bands from MTV in this category) are publicly lauded while the thought provoking AND catchy tunes are virtually ignored. Is there an artist on the top ten Billboard charts that writes interesting lyrics?
November 22, 2005 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko
Strokes driving album, yes!!! Few years ago I was blessed to drive my bf's car while he was in the process of "moving". I was so into there cute little tunes that I missed this flying boulder (read little rock) that smashed his windshield. But he wasn't even mad :)

Side note, same Strokes album made me VERY anger at said gent was racing me consistantly late to work while I was suffering from my own car problems.

Moral of the story, I don't drive to the Strokes any more.
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMindy
Deep thought: Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

I love that song, every time I hear it I almost cry though, including the OC Season 1 finale.
But right now I'm most excited for my Marah CD to get here as well as Kanye, yeah I'm a little delayed on the Kanye front, but whatever.
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeather B.
Monica, u have great taste in music...continue on
being a music snob....pop music sucks
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRoderick
Who the hell is Kylie???? :)
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
Okay - I got my movie soundtrack...it'll seem a bit basic I think, but no matter how popular some of these songs have become, they fit my life perfectly.

Opening credits: Smashing Pumpkins - Today
Waking up: Elastica – Waking up
Average day: Lou Reed – Perfect Day
First date: The Donnas – Hey, I’m Gonna Be Your Girl
Falling in love: Veruca Salt – Somebody (Depeche Mode Cover)
Love scene: The Cure – Close to Me
Fight scene: Tool - Intolerance
Breaking up: Pearl Jam - Footsteps
Getting back together: John Lennon – Starting Over
Secret love: Janis Joplin – Bobby McGee
Life's okay: The Ramones – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
Mental breakdown: Harvey Danger – Flagpole Sitta
Driving: Pearl Jam - Rearviewmirror
Learning a lesson: Garbage – Stupid Girl
Deep thought: Hole – Northern Light
Flashback: 10,000 Maniacs – These Are Days
Partying: Deee-Lite – Groove is In The Heart
Happy dance: The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl
Regretting: Led Zepplin – Fool in The Rain
Long night alone: Jane Siberry – It Can’t Rain All the Time
Death scene: REM – Everybody Hurts
Closing credits: Steppenwolf – Magic Carpet Ride
November 22, 2005 | Registered Commentertallchickbarbara
Mon... GREAT post. Weighing in with my list, which I think I'll burn onto a CD. -B
----------------

Opening credits: Elvis Costello – London’s Brilliant Parade
Waking up: Sting – Brand New Day
Average day: Jimmy Durante – Make Someone Happy
First date: Louis Armstrong – A Kiss to Build a Dream on
Falling in love: Herb Alpert – This Guy’s in Love with You
Love scene: Van Morrison – Into the Mystic; Dave Matthews Band – Angel
Fight scene: Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie, Too
Breaking up: Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach – God Give Me Strength
Getting back together: The Foundations – Baby Now that I’ve Found You
Secret love: Frank Sinatra – Moonlight Serenace (from Reprise Collection)
Life's okay: Chicago – Beginnings
Mental breakdown: Randy Newman – Bleeding All Over the Place
Driving: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Running Down a Dream
Learning a lesson: Sting – I Must Have Loved You
Deep thought: Beach Boys – In My Room; Sting – Moon Over Bourbon Street
Flashback: Genesis – Evidence of Autumn (Three Sides Live)
Partying: Steve Smith & The Nakeds – I’m Huge; Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally
Happy dance: Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway
Regretting: Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach -- Painted from Memory; Randy Newman – Marie
Long night alone: Michael Andrews/Gary Jules -- Mad World
Death scene: Genesis – Open Door (Three Sides Live)
Closing credits: Joe Brown -- I’ll See You in my Dreams (Live from A Concert for George)
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterWry Bri
Nice article but I disagree with your sentiments.

Great pop is there for people to enjoy, to dance to, to have on pop radio etc. If you don't like it then switch off. And dismissing Kylie for that song is a mistake -the writers were Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis.

I'm a musical snob as much as anyone - it's my business as a manager and a music publisher. But as a professional in the entertainment industry it's my job to be part of the process of entertaining people. And if people want pop (and they do - not many 9 year olds want to listen to Wilco or The Strokes) then that's we give them.

If you don't like - turn it off.

As for Dan's comments above re Chris Martin, I suggest he actually reads the lyrics and thinks about them. hey mean something, even if just to him and his band. Dismissing Martin and then referencing Bill Haley is one of the most laughable things I've read in years.
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Love, look at the two of us
Strangers in many ways
Let's take a lifetime to say
I knew you well

The most poignant lyrics in popular music. Compliments of The Carpenters.

'Nuff said!
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKPage
haha i loved this: "the one called Creed/Matchbox 20/Nickelback/3 Doors Down/System of a Down... " right on!

and great soundtrack.
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersubgirl
I recently started reading your site and was hooked right away. Today I am compelled to comment: I love your soundtrack. You won me over right off the bat: I would insert Pixies - Here Comes Your Man into probably 10 scenes in my soundtrack. I have the polyphonic ringtone for it on my phone, which sounds like elevator music, which makes me laugh.

Keep up the rockin blog...
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteramanda b
Hey there Paul.. Thanks for your comment.. I can appreciate everything you say and agree with you for the most part. Re: Pop, I don't like it, I do turn it off. And Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis? Perhaps I should know who they are? Am not in the music industry so that sort of name dropping doesn't have much pull with me. And I'm sure most 9 year olds think Kylie wrote the song, anyway. Am not dissing folks who like pop. I'm personally sick of most of it dominating the airwaves and thought I'd bitch.

Barb and Bri.. awesome soundtracks.. it's fun to think about, isn't it?
November 22, 2005 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko
Cathy Dennis - 3 hit wonder and now a major songwriter. 1 US hit (I think) back in the late 80's/early 90's.

Rob Davis - bass player in Mud - hits 72 - 76 in the UK I guess

Nevertheless, loving your bitching about pop. Personally, I turn it off.

Damn -I love Marah and spent Sunday night listening to them and Monday night drinking with them. Even a guy called, er, er, Serge turned up.....

Love ya

Paul
November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Excellent post. I had to laugh when you were talking about pop music. Thanks for that.
November 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMartha
I didn't have the chance to read all of this, but i will later.

To start tho-

Fo real - Missy's album SUCKS! BMG sent it to me and I kept it. Mistake.

System of A Down does not belong in that list!

lata!
CH
November 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterChuebe
I hate the beatles for a number of reasons, but I think that "she was just seventeen, you know what I mean" is probably one of the best lines they ever wrote, even if it was already a pastiche - theres no jibberish there, its straight to the point - I get the message, oh yes !

the kylie song is the same area as the Stooges no fun, inspired by the cat in the hat books Iggy used the minmum amount of words possible with as much repition as possible so it sticks in your head - its intentionally catchy and it works on a base level

Madonna has guts, I'll give her that - how come she doesnt just die of embarrassment ?

she must be the 4 millionth person to rhyme "telephone" with "home" - that was old news in alexander graham bells time - if it wasnt madonna would anyone be listening ?

I like to watch "top of the pops" with the subtitles on - its painful sometimes, you cant help but cringe, but I find it oddly therapeutic

theres so many bands that mean so little that 'make it' that in turn inspire other bands with little or no meaning that somehow get signed and 'make it' and the circle of insipid radio friendly 'pop' continues

I mean coldplay ? they are a dealbreaker for me, just pish !
November 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMurray

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