We're hurtling towards the crowning of the Christmas number one. In recent years, it's not been quite the event that it used to be, thanks to the dominance of the X Factor singles. In my humble opinion, X Factor is doing a grand job of ruining popular music by ripping out any vestige of soul from it and replacing that with nicely packaged absolute dross. We're all responsible for this, by letting ourselves get carried along by it and not doing enough to counter it (though I wonder what it is that can be done to combat the Simon Cowell juggernaut).
Of course, a bit of extra interest has been injected this year, through the social media campaign to get Rage Against The Machine's 1992 track, Killing In The Name Of, to the top spot. For no reason other than my dislike for all that the X Factor represents, I'm backing RATM (yes, I know that both tracks are on the Sony label, but I believe that RATM sales will be contributing to homeless charity Shelter, which is a very worthwhile cause at this time of year). I'd be delighted, if surprised, if RATM gave Joe McElderry a potty-mouthed, sage and onion, Christmas stuffing!
I was at university when Killing In The Name Of was first released as a single and I used to listen to the top 40 singles countdown on BBC Radio One. I can still clearly recall DJ Bruno Brookes introducing the single as a new entry and then playing the entire, uncensored track. Oh, how I laughed, though I'm not sure Bruno was as amused by the complaints that then flooded in to the BBC.
Talking of lyrics, I’ve always believed that however eloquent/profound/entertaining the words, it is the melody that defines a song. Basically, come up with a decent tune (preferably a musical combination of verses and a chorus) and the job is essentially done. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the recorded work of a fine wordsmith, but if the music doesn’t get to me, then the words never really will.
However, there are many lyrics that do stick in the memory.
There are the sublime:
"And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time"
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly"
"Teenage kicks, so hard to beat".
There are the ridiculous:
“Dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper, wait a minute...where’s me jumper”
“I don’t want to see a ghost, It’s a sight that I fear most. I’d rather have a piece of toast andwatch the evening news.”
And then there are the downright strange:
“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain.”
“I was lying in a burned out basement, with the full moon in my eye. I was hoping for replacement when the sun burst through the sky.”
I’m a big fan of mis-heard lyrics. Having followed REM for over 20 years, that’s no great surprise. Legend has it that Michael Stipe recorded the vocals for the band’s first album, Murmur, in a cupboard under the stairs. Not only that, but when listening, he appears to be mumbling a series of barely connected half-words. It’s still one of the greatest debut albums.
Elsewhere, there are many examples of mis-heard lyrics that have entered popular culture in their own right, and some of them are very funny.
Did Steve Winwood really sing “Bring me an iron lung” or was he looking for love?
Was Neil Diamond really paying tribute to the “Reverend Blue Jeans”?
Did Hendrix genuinely want us to excuse him while he “kissed this guy”?
Was Diana Ross expecting a rugby league inspired chain reaction when she sang “tell Eddie Waring there’s no salvation”? (The rumour mongers among us might wonder whether there was something going on between Diana and Eddie. The former did once perform at the opening ceremony of the Rugby League World Cup, at Wembley in 1995. Did the latter entice her to appear?)
And was Van Morrison really lifted up by the Lord like a “fool’s foreskin”?
There are so many more - these are just some that stick in my mind.
But having stated everything above, there are some lyrics that for me are as good as the music they are attached to. Dylan, Young (Neil), Jagger, Lennon/McCartney, Wyatt, Martyn, Morrissey and the rest, fair play to you all, but make way for the masters - Young, Young and Scott. For Touch Too Much, the fourth track on AC/DC’s sixth album, Highway to Hell, the three rock ’n roll maestros combined to write what for me are perfect lyrics. Okay, they are more than a little ‘dinosaur’ in attitude (!). They’re downright dirty (even offensive to some people I imagine), with barely disguised innuendo, and I’m not sure that they’ll appear in many poetry anthologies of the future. However, I think that they’re the perfect match for the music and the group in question and they make me smile every time I hear them, especially the first three lines of the second verse. Genius.
"It was one of those nights,
When you turned out the lights
And everything comes into view.
She was taking her time,
I was losing my mind,
There was nothing that she wouldn't do.
It wasn't the first,
It wasn't the last,
She knew we was making love.
I was so satisfied,
Deep down inside,
Like a hand in a velvet glove.
Seems like a touch, a touch too much,
Seems like a touch, a touch too much.
Too much for my body, too much for my brain,
This damn woman's gonna drive me insane.
She's got a touch, a touch too much.
She had the face of an angel,
Smiling with sin,
The body of Venus with arms.
Dealing with danger,
Stroking my skin
Like a thunder and light-e-ning storm.
It wasn't the first,
It wasn't the last,
It wasn't that she didn't care.
She wanted it hard
And wanted it fast,
She liked it done medium rare."
For more classic mis-heard lyrics, it’s worth having a look at the KissThisGuy website.
I'd love to hear other gems from the music world - please add your favourites as comments.