Thursday, November 08, 2018

Interesting Stuff Tangential To The Last Post

Reposted, with repairs, from 2008.  Just because. The "Last Post" referenced in the title was about cognitive linguistics, and how misheard lyrics are evidence for a particular theory in that field. If you are interested, you can search above under "misheard," or go to April 2008.

There are websites devoted to misheard lyrics, for those of you who are interested. Some I suspect are hoaxes, intentional parodies of lyrics for comic effect: O Canada, we stand on cars and freeze..." Others seem like legitimate mishearings, especially by children: The ants are my friend and Blowin In The Wind.

There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music. Some might think it is the volume, or the sloppiness of pronunciation, or the drugs, but I believe the main factor was that there were plenty of lyrics that didn't mean anything. The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that's it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics. Any crazy thing that someone might write could possibly have been correct. Why couldn't Jim Morrison be singing "spiders on the floor (Riders On The Storm)?" Heck, he'd already written "Peace Frog," and sung "our love become a funeral pyre." How can you exclude the spiders for sure?

The bands were named Electric Prunes,

or Blues Magoos (I loved this album)

Or for ? and the Mysterians, we gotta have the full effect. No one but the bassman can play. The keyboard work was tossed out from the John Thomson EZ-Piano series Level One as not challenging enough.

Note from Wikipedia: The band's frontman and primary songwriter was Question Mark. Though the singer has never confirmed it, Library of Congress copyright registrations indicate that his birth name is Rudy Martinez. His eccentric behavior helped to briefly establish the group in the national consciousness. He claimed (and still claims) to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life, and he never appears in public without sunglasses. He has also claimed that voices told him he would still be performing "96 Tears" in the year 10,000.

Against that background, no wonder there are sites devoted to figuring out what Neil Young meant in all his songs

Mr. Soul by Neil Young

Oh, hello Mr. Soul, I dropped by to pick up a reason
For the thought that I caught that my head is the event of the season
Why in crowds just a trace of my face could seem so pleasin'
I'll cop out to the change, but a stranger is putting the tease on.

I was down on a frown when the messenger brought me a letter
I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her
Any girl in the world could have easily known me better
She said, You're strange, but don't change, and I let her.

In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
Is it strange I should change? I don't know, why don't you ask her?

It doesn't mean anything. Young said specifically that he just liked the sounds and collage of images in his lyrics. He would write dozens of verses, then picked the ones that sounded best.


Anonymous said...

your last note of Young's is most humorous given the endless number of hours spent dissecting and trying to interpret what may really be meant by many musicians' lyrics (recall an actual class session devoted to understanding what each stanza signified in Don MacLean's Ms. American Pie; and heard an interview with The Steve Miller Band's leader - where he actually confessed just making up the word 'pompitous' in The Joker)

scott said...

obama says, "i did not know that man, rev. wright."

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the classic “What the H did they say” rock song is Louie Louie .

I had always interpreted “A Louie Louie” as “I know, I know, I ain’t” until I saw this video. Even old dogs can learn new tricks.

When I was working in Latin America, I was often asked to translate the lyrics of American or British songs. More than once I had to inform the requester that I couldn’t even figure out what the musicians were saying in English. One time when I translated a song, I was informed , “I liked that song until I found out what it meant.” Perhaps if I had given a freer, a more poetic translation.

From my knowledge of Spanish, I can get by in Brazilian Portuguese. However, I am lost in spoken Portuguese from Portugal. I can pick out maybe 10-20% of the words in spoken Portuguese from Portugal. However, a great singer like Amalia Rodrigues makes translation superfluous.

Texan99 said...

Dana Carvey did a good skit about rock musicians ad libbing lyrics, "Choppin' Broccoli."

Sam L. said...

"Excuse me while I kiss this guy." It supposedly should be "excuse me while I kiss the sky", or so I read some years ago, but my memory isn't what it never was...

james said...

Plenty of Mondegreens in

In between "never mind the meaning, it sounds nice" and the deliberately obscure (Whiter Shade of Pale, anybody?) and what sometimes seems like "we wrote this when we were high" songs that don't always even "sound nice," yes, anything could turn up in the lyrics.

In defense of the lyricists, people actually put down hard cash to buy records like In the Year 2525.

james said...

Missed that you already linked the Mondegreen site.

Sam L. said...

I really liked ?'s "96 Tears".

Sam L. said...

Fight my ire!

Tom Bridgeland said...

The band America was notorious for fun, nonsensical lyrics. Sister Golden Hair Surprise, Horse with no Name, etc are simply strange.

Texan99 said...

Yesterday I downloaded the new "White Album Super Deluxe" release, with demo tapes of the songs they were thinking of using, and a lot of rehearsals. You can hear the Beatles playing around with nonsensical lyrics and alternative rhymes, more interested in the sound and the mood, the instrumental backup, the percussion. Psychedelicism and mysticism and altered consciousness were very in. It was a trip back to my adolescence.

I'm sure artists are still doing it, I'm just deaf to most of it now. I've barely ever understood a single word of a Nirvana song, which, though 30-odd years old now, is still much newer than Jimi Hendrix. It ain't Cole Porter.