I’m talking about songs that might or might not be sound, otherwise, but which contain at least one clunker, one dud, that mars an otherwise charming experience.
I always liked Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, for example, but one line always grated on my nerves. “They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, ‘man, what are you doing here?'”. What does he mean? He has just described the brief, pathetic lives of several bar patrons, all of whom seem to be deluding themselves. But even they know that that the narrator, Billy Joel himself, presumably, doesn’t belong in this seedy little joint. It’s an embarrassing line. I hope Joel deletes it when he releases the tenth edition of his greatest bestest collected gold hits, director’s cut.
I also liked “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. It’s about a woman who lives the traditional life, marrying, having kids, keeping house, until she is 37. Then she decides to leave her husband. The song doesn’t tell you what the husband did wrong. It just keep repeating the chorus, “he thinks he’ll keep her”. That obviously comes from a phrase some men might use to describe a fish they did not throw back because it was too skinny or young or tasteless. It’s a patronizing phrase of course. He deserves her contempt. But she’s a strong, independent woman: she leaves him.
But wait a minute– she doesn’t leave him. I had always misunderstood the last line. She doesn’t pack her suitcases and wait at the door! She packs his suitcases.
In other words, he’s worked for 17 years paying the mortgage and all the bills just so she can scam him out of the house, and probably the car, and probably some nice juicy support payments too. Then she joins the typing pool at minimum wage, proud, one supposes, of the fact that she is no longer a “kept” woman.
Does Carpenter even realize how utterly hypocritical this line is? She packs his bags. I’m keeping the community property. Go sleep in a hotel. But don’t forget to pay the mortgage.
Well, let’s look a little further: she lists a multitude of tasks that she, as a woman, does for the family, implying, of course, that he doesn’t do anything. Sure, if pressed, Mary Chapin Carpenter will probably admit that he does more than just pay the bills. We could add a verse: he fixes the car, he fixes the stove; he deals with spiders; he investigates strange noises at night; he deals with aggressive sales people; he understands taxes; he assembles bookshelves; he takes the kids fishing, whatever.
I find this little twist annoying. If she has decided that after only seventeen years of patronizing attitudes, she is going to get out from under his paternalistic domination and strike out on her own, she should be the one to pack the bags. Not feminism’s finest moment. Here’s a whole gang of empowered women singing an anthem to the idea of taking a man for everything he’s worth. Oh wait– there’s at least four men in the band, let alone behind the mixer console. Oh shit– and it was “co-written” by a man, Don Schlitz. Just like “I am Woman” and “You Don’t Own Me”, the other great feminist anthems.
Okay. That’s just plain cheesie, girls. Write your own damn songs of liberation from dependence on men. That said– it’s a great song, as is “Passionate Kisses”. written by Lucinda Williams.
Both these cuts are actual live recordings. Here is the original.
My favorite lines:
pens that won’t run out of ink /and cool quiet time to think.
A heart-breaking song by Lucinda Williams. This is a real break-up song written by a woman.
In “Things Have Changed”, Bob Dylan tells you about a woman sitting on his lap who is drinking champagne. She is obviously part of the degraded landscape he find so appalling. She has white skin and “assassin’s eyes”.
My question is, then why is he letting her sit on his lap? Maybe he wants it both ways. Maybe he finds her sexually enticing, but still reserves to right to condemn her moral lassitude. Take a hike, Bob.
Paul Simon’s “Feelin’ Groovy” is one long bad lyric. It is quite possibly the worst lyric ever written by a self-respected singer-songwriter. And it contains the single worst, lamest line ever written: “Life, I love you; all is groovy”.
“all is groovy”
Well, I guess he couldn’t fit “everything is groovy” into that phrase.
Bob Dylan could have. He would have created something interesting out of it too. “Everything is twisted cat slicked back silver sack groovy– everything…”
You wouldn’t want to say, “I am groovy”, would you? And you’ve already said, “Life, I love you”, which makes me picture a fat drooling golden-haired choir-boy running from tree to tree embracing everything and waving his sparkly wand. All is groovy. Not, “it” is groovy, or “life is groovy”, but “all” is groovy.
And as if it isn’t enough to have written and copyrighted the worst line of all time, Simon and Garfunkel give a saccharine little vocal twist to the words, the literary equivalent of dumping four heaps of sugar into your lukewarm tea.
Finally, there is Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love is”.
This mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders.
What we have here is a simile used to give us a metaphorical impression of a metaphor. The rest of the lyric is as lame as you might imagine.
Please note the fake video– this is not the recording of the singers that you see. They are obviously posed and coached to look passionate and inspired but the recording is definitely a studio job dubbed for this stinking video.
Bob Dylan (“Is Your Love in Vain”):
Can you cook and sew/Make flowers grow
Really Bob? Yes, even Bob has a few duds. Very few.