Lyrically challenged

Saturday November 3, 2012

In the rock era, song lyrics have been all over the map, from obscure Beatles songs that everyone thought were rife with other meanings, to simplistic moon, noon, spoon rhyming lyrics. The other thing that came along with those lyrics were performances live and recorded, where the lyrics were tough to make out. The classic misinterpreted song lyric comes from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in the song "Blinded by the light." Here’s the actual lyric: "Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night." Yeah, there wasn’t any reference to feminine hygiene products in that line. Sorry. Hey, we all hear things differently. I’ll never forget when a close friend thought the Carly Simon song "You’re so vain" had a line in it that she interpreted as "grounds in my coffee." Equating a song about a schmuck to "grounds in my coffee" actually seemed apropos. None of us is immune from hearing lyrics differently than to hers.

People have been getting lyrics wrong for decades, and sometimes it can be pretty funny. I once worked with a person who grew up in Eastern Europe, and English is her second language. A pop song at the time was "Never gonna give you up" sung by Rick Astley. My co-worker and I were driving along when that song came on the radio, and she expressed quite a bit of anger about "that stupid song." I asked her what she meant by that, and she said, "He is singing ‘I’m a gonna give you up, I’m a gonna let you down.’ That’s just stupid." When I finally regained my composure, I interpreted the actual lyric, which is "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down." Her face got a little red, but she took it OK. How many people remember the Gilda Radner bit on Saturday Night Live where she played an old lady named Mrs. Latella. The kicker in the bit was always Mrs. Latella hearing something incorrectly, like "Violins in the street" instead of "violence in the streets." It made for some pretty funny stuff.

Being a casual music fan, I’m always interested in the real interpretation of lyrics, instead of what I think I’m hearing. I’ll go on to the Internet and look up lyrics, and I swear they have monkeys interpreting lyrics for these sites. A frighteningly high proportion of lyrics found on the Internet are just plain wrong, and in many cases make absolutely no sense! When you purchase songs and albums on iTunes you can get lyrics with the download for an iPod, but it takes a bit of know how. My iPod died, so now I use an MP3-MP4 player. I’ve read that you can get lyrics for PC but you have to jump through some hoops. I’m not all that tech savvy when it comes to that sort of thing, and I don’t buy enough music to get proficient at it, so I take the easy way and look lyrics up on the web. It can be frustrating. Just downloading the music to be able to listen on my computer took some time to learn due to the differences and incompatibilities of MP3 and MP4 formats. I understand that these format difficulties are mostly about technology rights and money, no big surprise there.

I recently purchased the new Donald Fagen album, "Sunken Condos," on iTunes. While Fagen’s annunciation is generally good, my hearing isn’t. I went on the web to find lyrics to a couple of the songs I like the best on this great album, and I was appalled by what I saw. One of the best songs on this new album is titled "Miss Marlene." It’s about a young girl who could bowl like a pro, got her heart broken, and ran out into a dark street and got hit by a cab and killed. One of the lyrics is, "We’re still bowlin’ every Saturday night." Well, all of the Internet sites that publish lyrics have this line as, "We’re still bold every Saturday night." I’m guessing that the interpreter figured that Fagen is too hip to use the word bowling, so they put in what they wanted to hear. This was far from the only lyric botch job on the web sites.

Another song on "Sunken Condos" is a Fagen cover of the Isaac Hayes song "Out of the ghetto." The lyric line in question is the very first line in the song. It is, "You’ve come a long way baby from welfare and food stamp lines." The websites all have it as "You’ve come a long way baby from wealth and food stamp lines." That makes no sense This is beyond sloppy work, it’s dumb. That’s the Internet for you.

My favorite quote about the Internet is this: "It is difficult to verify the veracity of statements made on the Internet: Abraham Lincoln."

Until they do a better job of providing song lyrics, I will remain lyrically challenged.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for 20 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM every weekday morning at 8 a.m.


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