Pop lyrics: do they really matter?

Here’s an interesting post by Laurie Duggan on the wall of sound, where he makes the point that the vocal track on My Bloody Valentine’s song ‘Come In Alone’ works because of the wall of sound surrounding it. While I think this is true, a closer inspection of the lyrics to these kinds of songs reveals (as if we didn’t know it already) that when it comes to pop and rock music, it’s not what you say but how you go about saying it that matters.

MBV are of course not well-known for their lyrical content, precisely because they layer so many effects upon both vocals and instruments that the words themselves are hard to make out. Take, for instance, ‘Soon’, arguably their best-known song, a triumphant dance anthem from the pre-Britpop early-1990s reprised again more recently for the Lost In Translation generation.

Here’s what Kevin Sheids and Bilinda Butcher are actually saying:

Wake up
Don’t fear
I want to
Love you
Yeah (doll of pain)
I let you get to me
Yeah yeah

Come back
Don’t be
Afraid of me
Soon
That (I’ll harm you)
Your eyes are blue
Blue jewels
Yeah yeah
Come back
Have faith
Someone like you
Can find the reason
Of what I did to you
Yeah yeah

Wake up
Don’t fear
I want to
Love you
Yeah (doll of pain)
I let you get to me
Yeah yeah

My Bloody Valentine, ‘Soon’

Not particularly awe-inspiring stuff, is it? Personally, I prefer the utterly-pathetic student helplessness of ‘Taste’ by fellow-travellers, Ride:

Floating like a smoke ring,
It cannot be regained,
Now it’s touched, it’s broken,

The taste just slips away.
I just want to know.
The taste just slips away.

I just want to know.
I don’t want to tell you
What you want to know,

I don’t want to tell you.
As hard as right can be,
It can feel so wrong,

Too much to leave,
Now it’s all gone wrong.
It’s all gone wrong

But what’s right or wrong?
I don’t know
The taste just slips away

Ride, ‘Taste’

It’s funny, I always misheard that first line as ‘Valenteen, wipe your smile clean, you can’t believe we’ve gained”. But there’s something triumphantly sheepish about the final stanza, and its incredibly arrogant sentiments. What’s right or wrong? I don’t know’. Don’t ask me. The perfect tone of apathy and pure pop adrenalin.

Then again, if you’re like me, you’re probably also fond of reading these crafty and deadpan lyrics from another early-1990s anthem. Sing this with me:

The gold road’s sure a long road
Winds on through the hills for fifteen days
The pack on my back is aching
The straps seem to cut me like a knife

I’m no clown I won’t back down
I don’t need you to tell me what’s going down

Down down down down da down down down
Down down down down da down down down

I’m standing alone
I’m watching you all
I’m seeing you sinking
I’m standing alone
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
Fool’s gold

These boots were made for walking
The marquis de sade don’t wear no boots like these

Gold’s just around the corner
Breakdown’s coming up right behind

Sometimes you have to try to get along dear
I know the truth and I know what you’re thinking

Down down down down da down down down

I’m standing alone
I’m watching you all
I’m seeing you sinking
I’m standing alone
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
Fool’s gold

Fool’s gold

I’m standing alone
I’m watching you all
I’m seeing you sinking
I’m standing alone
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
Fool’s gold

The Stone Roses, ‘Fools Gold’

Unfortunately, as we all know, The Second Coming came about three years too late for the Roses. By the time they got back, they were having to contend with this kind of lyrical toejam:

Whoohoo!
Whoohoo!
Whoohoo!
Whoohoo!

I got my head checked
By a jumbo jet
It wasn’t easy but nothing is
No

Whoohoo!
When I feel heavy metal
Whoohoo!
And I’m pins and I’m needles
Whoohoo!
Well I lie and I’m easy
All of the time I am never sure
Why I need you
Pleased to meet you

I got my head done
When I was young
It’s not my problem
It’s not my problem

Whoohoo!
When I feel heavy metal
Whoohoo!
And I’m pins and I’m needles
Whoohoo!
Well, I lie and I’m easy
All of the time and I’m never sure
Why I need you
Pleased to meet you

Yeah yeah, yeah yeah, yeah yeah, oh, yeah

Blur, ‘Song 2’

And, need I even say it, the final insult was this malignant piece of toejam from the band who finally signalled the end of all that early-1990s pop romanticism.

All your dreams are made
When you’re chained to (your) mirror with (your) razor blade
Today’s the day that all the world will see
Another sunny afternoon
(I’m) walking to the sound of your favorite tune
Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon
Need a little time to wake up
Need a little time to wake up wake up
Need a little time to wake up
Need a little time to rest your mind
You know you should so I guess you might as well

What’s the story morning glory
Well
(you) need a little time to wake up
Wake up well
What’s the story morning glory
Well
Need a little time to wake up
Wake up

(cos) all your dreams are made
Now you’re chained to the mirror with your razor blade
Today’s the day that all the world will see
(it’s) another sunny afternoon
Yeah I’m walking to the sound of my favorite tune
Tomorrow doesn’t know what it doesn’t know too soon

Need a little time to wake up
Need a little time to wake up
Need a little time to wake up
Need a little time to rest your mind
You know you should so I guess that you might as well

What’s the story morning glory
Well
Need a little time to wake up, wake up
Well
What’s the story morning glory
Well

Need a little time to wake up, wake up
Well
What’s the story morning glory
Well
Need a little time to wake up, wake up
Well
What’s the story morning glory
Well?

Oasis, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’

Perhaps, in the end, it was fitting that Oasis’ fourth album was idiotically titled Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. Because if you think a group of giants has just one shoulder, there’s really no hope for you, innit.

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