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Thursday, 13 March
Lyric Poetry

Yesterday the fiancee picked me up from work, and we were driving home, the radio playing. Suddenly Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" started up, and I of course was mindlessly singing along, when I suddenly thought, "These are the dumbest lyrics ever." Look:

Take your baby by the hair
And pull her close and there there there
Take your baby by the ears
And play upon her darkest fears

What? Oh, well. I'm nothing if not agreeable, so I did in fact grab my fiancee by the ears and then poured a cupful of live spiders down her shirt. Well, in my mind I did. But there's more:

So take your baby by the wrist
And in her mouth an amethyst

Hot damn! So I released her ears and pried open the fiancee's jaws. Jackpot! A shiny amethyst! I knew I had me a great gal.

Of course, these are not actually the stupidest lyrics ever. They're just pretty damn stupid. The worst lyrics ever is of course going to be a pretty subjective topic, and everyone will have their own opinion. While thinking about this, I rejected the obvious choices, like Alanis Morrissette or (as was suggested to me) Leonard Nimoy just because their lyrics are so obviously witless and bad. I also passed over things like "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"--which I consider to be the most heinous song ever perpetrated on an innocent public--as well as skull-clutchers like the entire oeuvre of the Indigo Girls. So it's all kind of arbitrary, but I just thought for a while about the relative terribleness of certain song lyrics that I think have gone unremarked on.

But before I leave off the Wanging Chungers, I do want to point out that I found a fucking great Mondegreen that someone had about that song. Someone posted somewhere that they had always heard the lyrics this way:

Take your baby by the ears,
and play upon her doggie spheres

Which is, you know, the best thing ever; it's going onto my tombstone to baffle untold later generations. It's like something out of the i ching.

Anyway. So I just was kind of free-associating with the idea of bad lyrics, when I remembered an old song from college days by that deathless old bastard Malcolm McLaren called, wrenchingly, "Something's Jumpin' in Your Shirt." McLaren at his most winsomely affecting, don't you think? Check out the lyrics:

No matter what I do, no matter what I say
My t-shirt's changed since yesterday
I look into the mirror and my t-shirt's got a mark
I guess it's just because my life is falling apart
But I felt something hurting
And a boy said,
There's somethin jumpin!
Jumpin in my shirt
Something's jumpin, jumpin in your shirt
Something's jumpin, does it really hurt?
Something's jumpin, my hearts on red alert
Walk the body! Walk the body!

Oh my god! It's like . . . Faulkner! I really, really like the t-shirt-as-life-barometer or whatever the hell it means. These lyrics are so awful, they really just make me very happy. Walk the body! Okay! I don't even know what the fuck that means, but I'll try it! Something's jumpin' in your shirt! Is it your heart? No, I think it's clear that we're talking about boobs. God, what a great, great bunch of horrible lyrics.

But that's a pretty obscure song. How about MOR mainstay Toto? They had a pretty big hit with the chugging, faceless "Africa." Read on!

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way,
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

That's not so bad. I mean, it's insipid and meaningless, but not the worst ever, though you can see where Mr. Mister was getting inspiration from. It makes no sense, of course: if she's flying in, why are the moonlit wings reflecting the stars guiding him towards salvation? Or is he on the plane? Is that where he stopped the old man "along the way?" Never mind, no time! Hurry, boy!

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

Oh, what dizzying poetic heights! I particularly like the total creative surrender implied in the "hundred men or more" line. Hmmm . . . what's a big, big number? More than a hundred! Brilliant. What the fuck do the rains in Africa have to do with anything anyway, and why would you bless them? All you're doing is irritating those wild dogs (huh?), restless for whatever "solitary company" could possibly be. I'd be restless too. But the final line brings it all home. You know what a beautiful mountain is like? Another mountain.

I know I'm not exactly going after big game here, but hey, like I said, I've just been brain-dumping. But I must say, it's time to bring out the big one; I've been waiting to find something that competes with the next song in terms of sheer fucking awfulness. It so clearly shoots for straight-faced Bukowskian hard-knuckle poeticality, and so spectacularly fails, I really find it kind of breathtaking. It's worth quoting the entire mind-ripping thing, starting with the ass-tastic title. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the lyrics of Live:

“Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe”

my brother kicked his feet to sleep
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
and i sang the dirge song

my brother never missed a beat
my brother kicked his feet to sleep, sweet feet
my brother kicked his feet to sleep
and i sang the dirge song

Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?
Lady, don't you know a man when you see one?
Crazy lady with the shiny shoes, where are you?
Kick you feet and calm the space that makes
you hollow

little swami's got his bowl to eat
little swami always walks his beat, sweet feet
little swami's got his bowl to eat
and i sing the dirge song

it's amazing how they come to see
the little swami with his bowl to eat, sweet feet
the little swami only wears a sheet
and won't sing the dirge song

anal, tight-assed soldier with that dogged heart
put down your gun
we are ready to explode, we gotta take it smart
and take it slow

Holy fucking good golly! Sing the "dirge song," brother! I don't know what other kind of dirges there are, but oh well! Not that anything in there makes any fucking sense at all anyway! "Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?" I think we've all asked this at least once in our lives.

I mean . . . jesus. I really don't know what to do with all that. What's the cross-reference foot fetish going on with his brother and the hungry swami? Who's the poor soldier that gets sucker-punched at the end with the anal stuff? Maybe he should have kicked the space that made him hollow.

I fold. I mean, I just can't do any better than what Live has already done. I take my baby by the wrist. I sing the dirge song. Where have all the cowboys gone?

Africa.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

I always thought it was "I miss the rains" and "to do the things we never had to do", which I'm sure you can agree completely redeems the song.

And I've always liked Seven Mary Three's hit "Cumbersome", with its thought provoking:

yeah yeah yeah, no
no no no, yeah

Comment number: 002611   Posted by: Ultracity on March 14, 2003 12:58 PM from IP: 66.235.30.52

Oh, don't forget pensive indie-rocker-geniuses Unwound:

better run away, better close our eyes.
take a little walk to taste the ice.
try antifreeze, try antifreeze, cause it's under your seat, naked at your feet.
we're cold and you're comfortable. we're cold and you're comfortable.
filling up the space for the drag race.
stop between the lions while the lambs keep on trying.
try antifreeze, try antifreeze, cause it's under your seat, naked at your feet.
we're cold and you're comfortable. we're cold and you're comfortable.
try antifreeze, try antifreeze, cause it's under your seat, naked at your feet.
we're cold and you're comfortable. we're cold and you're comfortable

Naked antifreeze! What is this world comming to.

Comment number: 002612   Posted by: bigbadem on March 14, 2003 01:03 PM from IP: 170.112.1.251

Oh, don't forget pensive indie-rocker-geniuses Unwound...

/me goes to Dallas, takes a left.

Comment number: 002613   Posted by: Snarky on March 14, 2003 01:42 PM from IP: 198.151.13.8

back off, skotty. alanis morisette is actually a clever lyricist and i'll stand behind the indigo girls too (not just because i might not have survived high skool without them). do you not quote their lyrics because, in truth, you have no evidence to support your supposition?

Comment number: 002614   Posted by: ester on March 14, 2003 04:08 PM from IP: 68.49.102.161

Skotty?

Comment number: 002615   Posted by: senn on March 15, 2003 05:37 PM from IP: 12.224.111.37

Aw, ester, you had to come along and speak up. Even worse, you're forcing me to admit ownership of fucking Alanis Morrissette music. But, since you asked, here's a choice lyric:

how 'bout them transparent dangling carrots
how 'bout that ever elusive kudo

Yes . . . how about . . . those.

I admit the Indigo Girls line was more or less flamebait, but you don't honestly find a lot of their lyrics, uh, sophomoric? Don't get me wrong, I can understand why a lot of people like them, but I mostly just enjoy hassling them because they're so fucking earnest. Maybe if they did a Ministry cover or something. That would be cool.

Comment number: 002616   Posted by: Skot on March 16, 2003 10:35 PM from IP: 63.187.241.206

ur all insane. like this discussion.

Comment number: 002617   Posted by: a crazed thespian on March 16, 2003 10:45 PM from IP: 64.109.30.87

Not that I'd ever suggest your work is derivative of anyone's, Skot, but you're treading the same ground that your humorist hero Dave Barry clomped on ten years ago with his search for the worst song ever. His winner was "MacArthur Park," and while there has been a great deal of music perpetrated on the unsuspecting public since he wrote his column on the subject, today's artists just can't compete.

Comment number: 002618   Posted by: anapestic on March 17, 2003 07:23 AM from IP: 216.181.58.90

Anapestic, don't you have some bagels in my oven?

Comment number: 002619   Posted by: Skot on March 17, 2003 07:47 AM from IP: 140.107.120.123

Then of course there was the Fixx, from nineteen eighty was it three?

Are we, are we, are we ourselves?
(...are we our-seh-eh-helves)
Are we ourselves
And do we really know?

Comment number: 002620   Posted by: dylan on March 17, 2003 01:39 PM from IP: 67.30.176.216

I need to stop reading your blog at work. I'm laughing so hard I'm going to get fired...

Comment number: 002621   Posted by: Krizzer on March 17, 2003 04:47 PM from IP: 12.229.253.255

About the lyrics by Malcolm McLaren in "Something's Jumpin' in Your Shirt" I remember being told it was about a model whos bust grew and was fired for being too big. The lyrics just lament her situation. All fits to me.

I can't find anything to confirm it however.

Comment number: 002622   Posted by: slim on May 5, 2003 10:43 PM from IP: 203.97.2.243

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