Blog in 05 2012.
We're almost at the end of our favourite lyric blogs.
'She handed me a heart-shaped locket that said, "To thine own self be true’"/ And I shivered as I watched a roach crawl across the toe of my high-heeled shoe / It sounded like somebody else that was talking, asking, "Mama, what do I do?"/ "Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you."'
Fancy, written and performed by Bobbie Gentry.
A young woman escaping poverty by turning to prostitution: not the most obvious subject for a funky little blue-eyed soul ditty. But Bobbie Gentry’s richly descriptive – and, at times, darkly funny – lyrics tell an intriguing and evocative story.
The plucky heroine, Fancy, reminds me of Scarlett O’Hara: she’s got sass and gumption – those quintessentially Southern qualities – and she’s a little bit shameless, too. I love how the grotesque image of the cockroach crawling across her shoe sums up the contrast between her humble origins in a ‘one-room, run-down shack on the outskirts of New Orleans’ and her rather more glamorous situation at the end of the song: having ‘charmed a king, a congressman and an occasional aristocrat’, she’s managed to bag herself ‘a Georgia mansion and an elegant New York townhouse flat’.
Thankfully, I can’t say I really identify with the subject matter. But I’ve got to hand it to Bobbie Gentry for creating a three-dimensional character and a proper, gripping storyline in the space of four and a half minutes. Most writers can only dream of that kind of economy.
By Laura C
‘C'mon let me show you just what you need honey (I got what you need) / You need a man with sensitivity (a man like me)’ Sensitivity, by Ralph Tresvant.
The first time I heard this song (and these lyrics) I was in my cousin Greg’s blue Ford Fiesta. He was driving my brother and me back from his parents’ house and playing this song at full blast. I was in the back seat next to the speakers – probably not the best place for a ten-year-old girl – and the bass was so loud I couldn’t hear the words (which was probably a good thing considering their sexy content). I remember feeling like the coolest little girl in the world as we drove down Kilburn High Road.
Years later as a teenager I listened to this song again. It was a little shocking as I knew these lyrics were similar to the things that he must’ve been saying to the ladies at the time. I never really looked at him the same way again. I guess these lyrics show that the direct approach is sometimes the best way to get what you want.
‘I have waited with a glacier’s patience / Smashed every transformer with every trailer / Til nothing was standing / 65 miles wide / Still you are nowhere / Still you are nowhere / Nowhere in sight’ This Tornado Loves You, by Neko Case.
This song is full of metaphors about love, nature and destruction (lots going on then). But there’s one line in particular that gets me:
‘I have waited with a glacier’s patience.’
It’s a brilliant image: a graciously grumpy glacier. Maybe it’s the idea of such a powerful thing being restrained by something as intangible as patience. Whatever it is, it stays with me every time I hear it.
Over the last week and a half, we've plastered the blog with our favourite lyrics. The Ivors are round the corner (17th May) and we thought it'd be a great idea to get everyone here at The Writer involved in writing a blog.
So we've been wracking our brains to choose our most loved lyrics – ones that really mean something to us. It's a great way for the not-so-regular bloggers to get involved. Here's today's dosage, and there's plenty more in previous blog posts.
‘One day my dad said, "Find someone new" / I had to tell my Jimmy we're through / (whatcha mean when ya say that ya better go find somebody new?) / He stood there and asked me why / But all I could do was cry / I'm sorry I hurt you (the leader of the pack)’
The Leader Of The Pack, by The Shangri-las.
Ah, teenage love. This is definitely up there as one of the most traumatic songs I’ve ever heard. It’s just devastating. I love songs that literally tell a story. And this does just that.
It starts at the beginning, with Betty chatting to her pals about her new boy, Jimmy. And as the story progresses, you know it’s going to all end in tears. It’s even got motorbike sounds effects in the song to really paint the picture of that dark, rainy night when Jimmy dies. Terrible, I know. I really couldn't pick my favourite line from this song, so here's a little taster. But you really should listen to it all (the whole way through, on full volume) to truly appreciate it. Listen and weep.
‘No-one laughs at God in a hospital / No-one laughs at God in a war’
Laughing With, written and performed by Regina Spektor.
I wouldn’t call myself religious. But I guess I’d never rule it out, either. The way I’ve always put it is I believe in something. I just don’t know what yet.
But this song, and these lyrics, always make me feel a bit humble. I don’t think they’re necessarily just about God. I think they’re about the need, every so often in your life, to believe in something and have faith. No matter how much of an atheist you think you are, I don’t think there are many people who can honestly say there’s never been a time when they’ve prayed to something.
The whole song works with this hypnotic repetitiveness: ‘No-one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake / No-one’s laughing at God when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else, and they hope that they’re mistaken’. It teeters between shorter sentences and longer lines, stitching this reliable rhythm, that gets broken up by the chorus every so often.
This song and these lyrics. They make you think about just how many times you’ve prayed to something. Atheist or not.
‘No money in our jackets and our jeans are torn / Your hands are cold but your lips are warm’
Down to the Waterline, by Dire Straits.
Much to my frustration, I’m the type of person who doesn’t normally absorb lyrics. I appreciate them, no doubt. But for me the stamp of a good song is the way it sounds; the organised cacophony of cadences and lilts and riffs and bass. It’s probably why I like hip-hop, because the voice forms the rhythm more than anything else.
So I decided to choose lyrics to a song whose tune I can’t remember. (There’s logic in that somewhere.)
I have no idea what Down to the Waterline sounds like. I heard it once when I was eighteen and impressionable, and a dreamy boy from school played it to me. I completely melted, and I’ve remembered the line ‘Your hands are cold but your lips are warm’ since. Probably because it’s the most ridiculously cool and sexy line ever. (And I still fancy the pants off the boy.)
Because The Ivors are happening next Thursday, we thought we'd share the lyrics that mean a lot to us. Today's lyrics get the nod for their brummie everyday-ness, potential sarcasm and intelligent historical referencing.
‘Turn left up the street / Nothing but grey concrete and dead beats / Grab something to eat / Maccy D's or KFC / Only one choice in the city / Done voicing my pity, now let's get to the nitty-gritty’
Weak Become Heroes, by The Streets.
This is the start of the story. Each song on the album tells a different story, and together they make up the novel. To me, it just feels real. Maybe it’s because of the brummie accent. Maccy D’s just feels so familiar. Even though I’m not a brummie. (But I do a good brummie accent.)
The sound of the tune doesn’t seem to fit the words, it’s all plinky-plonky and quite upbeat. And then you listen to what he’s saying. He paints a picture and doesn’t use any artistic licence to make it prettier or brighter – he tells it like it is, and does it in his own words.
It reminds me of my brother too. He’s a teacher, and everyone calls him Mr Chavitt (instead of Chris Davitt). He’s not a deadbeat or anything. But he is a bit like Mike Skinner.
‘Human, human of the year / And you’ve won’
Human Of The Year, by Regina Spektor.
This is from Regina Spektor’s fifth album, Far. I don’t know why I like it so much – probably because Regina’s vocals soar straight into the rafters with the piano on this line, smacking the accusatory tone of the song right in your face. But, putting aside her incredible vocal ability for a minute:
How does someone become human of the year?
Is it the human of the year? Or is it a human of the year?
Is it like the Nobel Prize, but for everyone?
...In fact, what constitutes a human? What makes this particular human a special human? If you’re naming an award the ‘Human of the Year Award’, then what’s it celebrating, exactly? Is it an award that’s even worth anything? We’re all humans after all, right?
I smell her sarcasm, sense her disbelief, feel her confusion. ‘Human of the year? And you won?’ she seems to say. Or is it: ‘Human of the year, what a stupid award. Great that you won.’ Maybe she’s even releasing a sigh before muttering, angrily under her breath (hoping that no one hears), ‘Human of the year, and you won. Of course you did.’
Resignation. An admission. A rejection of what’s happening. Who knows? And that’s the beauty of it.
‘Yeah, I got more records than the KGB’
Paper Planes, by MIA.
I love this. As puns go, it’s remarkably non-groan-inducing and cleverer than your average puntastic quip.
I studied history at university. The Cold War’s plethora of big brother intelligence agencies, with records on everyone and everything, is one of the era’s defining features that really sticks out in my mind.
This song was also fairly ubiquitous when I was student. So it was always a bit of a cheap thrill hearing this 20th-century referencing lyric in the middle of a busy dance floor. And it still brings a smile to my face.
Here are some lyrics that get us dancing, thinking and make the melancholy bearable.
‘You can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find / You get what you need’
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by The Rolling Stones.
Written in 1964 by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, most people interpret this song as a slightly jaded look at the end of the swinging 60s – how the big peace and love movement maybe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Whereas I find it quite reassuring and comforting. The melody’s brilliant and every time I hear the words I think – yes Jagger, so true. It’s a good reminder that sometimes the things we really want aren’t the best for us. But in the end we get what we need and everything works out fine.
‘So I broke into the palace / With a sponge and rusty spanner
She said “Eh I know you, and you cannot sing” / I said “That’s nothing you should hear me play piano”’
The Queen is Dead, by The Smiths. Written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr.
There’s comfort in melancholy, said Joni Mitchell (on Hejira). She’s right. Songs about life’s trips, stumbles and disappointments are much richer than the rictus-grin, chest-beating ones. Sure, I’ve fallen into the trap of getting up to dance to Dancing Queen (with its sneakily undanceable tempo). And if you get me tipsy, I’ll admit liking That’s the Way I Like It and Jump. But, to get all Tina Turner for a moment, Private Dancer beats Simply the Best all day long.
Melancholy isn’t about slitting your wrists. It’s any sort of regret, loss or longing. Coming second, being wistful, not belonging. Things we all experience. To namecheck a few of my faves, it’s there in the outsiders, fantasists and has-beens loafing through Steely Dan’s often jaunty jazz-blues-rock catalogue. It’s all over Joni’s stuff, from Case of You and Edith and the Kingpin to People’s Parties and Chinese Cafe. Nick Drake did it exquisitely. I think Bon Iver does too, but can’t make out the words. You can’t feel sad listening to music like that.
The Smiths, though. Depressing, say the naysayers. But look at those words up top – funny aren’t they? Actually, nearly all Morrissey is funny, albeit a bit mordant. Even the sublimely, dangerously grave That Joke isn’t Funny Anymore is kind-of amusing. (It dug me out of a hangover when I first heard it anyway.) So there’s the comfort in melancholy. You can have it with fun.
‘When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around / Those pretty faces always make you stand out in a crowd
But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance is all it took / Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look’
I Want You Back, by The Jackson Five.
A party classic. A floor-filler. Surely every wedding DJ has it on their playlist. I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard it as a child. I couldn’t listen to the joyful intro without breaking into a cheesy grin. (Followed closely by an embarrassing dance.)
As I got older I started to understand what the pre-teen MJ and his brothers were singing about. Everybody’s inner child can relate to this, right? We want what we can’t have. The grass is always greener on the other side. As a child (and an only child for the first eight years of my life) I threw the odd tantrum over something I wasn’t allowed to have. I didn’t care, or understand, if I was being unreasonable. As far as I was concerned, someone else had stopped me from having what I wanted. It wasn’t my fault. End of story.
These days, I’m more likely to reflect on a missed opportunity in my life. Something I once had, but didn’t appreciate.
Woah. What happened there? Suddenly my mood’s changed. I think I read way too much into those lyrics.
At the end of the day it’s a catchy pop song. I preferred the way it sounded when I was a child. And that’s the way I’ll keep listening to it.
If you didn't know, all of us here at The Writer have been sharing our favourite lyrics over the past week. If you've not had a chance to catch up, you can backtrack in the blogs below.
‘Shadows, tapping at your window / Ghostly voices whisper will you come and play / Not for all the tea in China, or the corn in Carolina, never, never ever’
Land of Make Believe, by Bucks Fizz.
Excuse me while I lose all my credibility. For those of you not of, ahem, a certain age, Bucks Fizz were one of the bestselling groups of the 80s, famously winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 (helped in no small part by the now infamous Velcro skirt rip, which many a child of the 80s re-enacted).
They were all over the radio when I was growing up and as a child I absolutely loved Land of Make Believe. It may still be on my iPod. I always liked the evocative imagery of the child safe in her bedroom, trying to ignore the ghostly voices trying to lure her outside for god knows what (‘to have her heart’, we find out later). For a child who spent many long hours looking for the doorway to Narnia – and still harbours a small hope that it might turn up one day – it was the perfect theme song.
‘And I need you now tonight / And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight / We'll be holding on forever’
Total Eclipse Of The Heart, by Bonnie Tyler – written by Jim Steinman.
Yep, you read right. It’s not the cheesy lyrics that do it for me. In fact, they’re pretty awful. But it’s my absolute favourite karaoke song. I've even been known to hit repeat. Shameful.
With all of its two lines, repeated to make up the entire song, it’s nothing inspirational. But those simple rhyming couplets and dramatic vocals do it for me. It’s so bad that it’s actually good.
And it’s a real belter of a song. Give it a go.
'Gloomy is Sunday / With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I / Have decided to end it all'
Gloomy Sunday, by Laszlo Javor. Translated by Sam M Lewis.
In the wrong hands this song is a melodramatic stinker (that means you, Serge Gainsbourg). But when I first heard it whispered over an intricate guitar, it was perfectly bleak and very beautiful.
Banned by the BBC for its effect on WW2 morale, Gloomy Sunday already had a bad rep for encouraging suicides in 1930s Hungary. With its sparse statements and simple cadence, it’s florid yet to-the-point. You could do a lot worse in a ready-made suicide note.
What’s interesting is the idea that death could enter through the ears; that a pop song could have such power over the listener.
Seven mildly-obsessed years, 60 or so versions and several languages later, I've whittled it down to Billy Holliday for heartache, Paul Robeson for rumbling gravitas and Diamanda Galas channelling sheer unhinged morbidity. Believe me, you don’t want her singing this about you.