Thursday, 1 May 2008

I Didn’t Quite Catch That…

It was once said of William McGonnagle – dubbed the worst poet in British history (note – British, not English: he was Scottish) - that any idiot with a pen can write bad verse, but that it takes a kind of reverse-genius to write verse that is so bad it is good.

Now I’m a music fan. I love music. I can’t cope with public transport without my stereo and, in quiet moments at home, can often be found with my guitar trying to capture the thought of the moment – so I have to take my hat off to anyone who is successful in the music industry – or at least I would do if I owned a hat.

However, let’s be honest here – not every song writer is an Ian Curtis or a Bruce Springsteen – and inevitably some song writers have to be Chas And Dave (NB –for international readers think Cockney songs about rabbits and football teams with bad rhyming slang). The record factories of the 80s and 90s churned out many indistinguishable stars with forgettable lyrics that were nothing short of terrible. But they weren’t Terrible (with the capital T)

No one will ever award Kylie Minogue an award for thoughtful insight for her lyrics – but bad as they are “In my imagination/there is no celebration” wins no awards for Outstanding Levels Of Awfulness.

Sting, however, is another category all to himself. Be fair, the man’s written some great tunes, but he is also responsible for the following refrains:
#1 Giant steps are what you take/I hope my leg don’t break
#2 He starts to shake and cough/like the old man in the book by Nabkof

Now referencing Lolita in a song is a jump of reverse genius if ever I saw one!

However, what I really enjoy in lyrics is the misheard vocal.

We’ve all listened to a song for years, convinced that someone was singing about spam, when in fact they were singing about jam – so much so that Maxell put out an advert in the 80s for cassette tapes (remember them?) with alternate lyrics for “The Iseralites” and “Into The Valley” including:
The soldiers go marching, but who can Viv iron?

More recent bands have continued this phenomenon – including the mighty R.E.M. For many years I believed that the refrain from The Sidewinder Sleeps ran “Call me Cheryl Baker, call me Cheryl Baker” and was voicing Michael Stipe’s wish to be reincarnated as the most attractive one from Bucks Fizz

My personal favourites for misheard lyrics are the otherwise brilliant Manic Street Preachers, whose song “Faster” always has me in tears of laughter at the end when James Dean Bradfield apparently sings “Sodomy is a Care-Bear” repeatedly.

Well James, if Sodomy really was a Care Bear then it was a strictly limited release.

So, I guess the question is – what particular delights of mishearing make you laugh?


Honour said...

Oh, I'm horrible at hearing lyrics, so I just hum along with the tune. Though, I do have to say -- I am quite apalled when singing Kareoke (hey, I'm a filipina!) to realize: a) there is only one refrain in the whole song (ie. again Kylie Minogue "I can't get you out of my head") b) the song isn't about what I thought it was (i.e. "Delilah" is about murdering his lover???) c) yes, the lyrics I thought they were have been wrong all along!

Anonymous said...

I can't really think of any at the moment. For the most part, if I mishear something or don't think it sounds right, I look the lyrics up on the internet. I'm mostly puzzled more than humoured.

I listen to The Streets, and he often says stuff in a hard British accent that I can't understand, but sometimes I can figure it by putting it in the proper context. Rob Thomas' hit song "Lonely No More" has a weird refrain

"Open up to me/I could do your girlfriend!"

Don't really know what that's about.

And I don't think Kylie necessarily has to aim for sharp and poetic lyrics. Doesn't she just do dance/pop/electronica? That genre almost never has any art in it, although Franz Ferdinand claimed to be attempting to infuse it with some through rock.

Jenny said...

I mishear lyrics quite a lot.

One example is Sleeping In My Car, by Roxette. I thought it went like this; "sleeping in my court I will arrest you". That is quite wrong though, cause it goes like this; "sleeping in my car - I will undress you".

Mostly I've misheard the songs where the singers have different accents then what I'm used to hear, like the Canadian twins Tegan & Sara. When I started listening to their music, I didn't quite understand the meaning of their songs, cause I couldn't hear the real words.