What's Up With These Songs?
by Mike Patton and Rusty Spell

The songs discussed in this column bug us in some way or another, or seem worth commenting on, because of the lyrics or music or both.

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  1. Sk8ter Boy: Avril Lavigne
  2. Kiss: Tom Jones and The Art of Noise
  3. Cars with the Boom: L'Trimm
  4. Just a Friend: Biz Markie
  5. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.: Sufjan Stevens
  6. Big Girls Don't Cry: Fergie
  7. Dear Mr. Jesus: PowerSource

Big Girls Don't Cry: Fergie
(Stacie Ferguson / Toby Gad)
by Rusty Spell

Poor grammar is a staple of popular music, but it usually seems intentional, used for some sort of effect.  "I can't get no satisfaction" sounds a lot better than "I cannot obtain satisfaction."  However, the Fergie lyric "I'm gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket" smacks of simple ignorance.  Corrections?  I'm not going to be silly and suggest "I'm gonna miss you like a child misses his or her blanket" or "I'm gonna miss you like children miss their blankets."  My initial mishearing of the lyric sounds good to me, actually: "I'm gonna miss you like a child misses that blanket."  It puts emphasis on "that blanket," increasing its importance and specificity--the power of its myth.  It also gives it a funky feel, full of more attitude, and it gives more authenticity to what -- in its current form -- is kind of just a dumb line.  I'll be happy to hear the correction in Fergie's 2017 deluxe edition of The Dutchess.  Maybe by then I'll know why she put the T in duchess.

Cars with the Boom: L'Trimm
(E. Cager / R. DeRougemont / L. Julian / Paul Klein / J. Stone
by Rusty Spell

Apparently it took five people to write the nonsensical line "He was obviously hooking up bass, I assume" (italics mine).  This is also the song where, after three and a half minutes singing about subwoofers, Tigra and Bunny shift their focus by asking us to beep our horns (not to mention a bonus command of "now clap").

Dear Mr. Jesus: PowerSource
(Richard Klender)
by Rusty Spell

This is a song sung by a six-year-old girl, Sharon Batts, in which she sees a news story about a mother and father who were sent to jail for hitting their little girl, possibly to the point of death.  She sings to Jesus (sorry--Mr. Jesus, because it's cute), asking him to not "let them hurt [his] children" (which assumes that Jesus is letting them?).  She also says she doesn't understand why they took the parents away and that "they don't mean to hit."  Does she understand what's happened or not?  She knows that hitting is wrong, but she doesn't understand why they've been sent away?  Anyway, the song ends with Sharon telling Jesus, "Please don't tell my daddy, but my mommy hits me too."  At this point, the dude from PowerSource digs deep into his gut and scream-sings "Please don't let them hurt your children!" with emotional note flurries that would embarrass Christina Aguilera.  What are we meant to do with this song?  Laugh at it?  Cringe?  Cry?  Who knows.  This song really exists in the world and we each have to deal with it in our own way.

Genie In a Bottle: Christina Aguilera
(David Frank / Steve Kipner / Pamela Sheyne)
by Rusty Spell

The line is "I'm a genie in a bottle.  You gotta rub me the right way."  The problem is that you don't rub the genie; you rub the bottle to get to the genie.  This song might work, however, with a stretch of logic, if you imagine that "genie in a bottle" as a collective, like a "ship in a bottle."  In this case, Christina is calling herself the entire collective, the entire "genie in a bottle," not just the genie inside the bottle.  I guess you win this round, Frank/Kipner/Sheyne.

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues: Elton John
(Elton John / Bernie Taupin)
by Rusty Spell

This song never actually explains why they call it the blues.  You guess what's why they call it the blues, Bernie?  Did you mean to say "I guess that's what they call the blues"?  If not, you'll need to explain to me why feeling low is called "the blues."  You haven't said anything about color or otherwise given any indication why the blues might be so named.  (Still a beautiful song, of course.)

John Wayne Gacy, Jr.: Sufjan Stevens
(Sufjan Stevens)
by Rusty Spell

This is a very pretty and sad song that describes the thirty-three or so rapes and murders of young boys committed by John Wayne Gacy.  Most of the song is simply stating facts, and this is what makes it sad: that Gacy dressed as a clown for little boys, kissed them, raped them, murdered them, put their bodies underneath his house.  There's a very affecting "Oh my God" that Sufjan sings in a falsetto.  There's a feeling of hopelessness and confusion about something that a human being (if you can believe he was a human being) did.

However, Sufjan has a misstep during in one place in the middle and then almost completely ruins it at the end.  The misstep in the middle is when he describes the boys under the house and asks, "Are you one of them?"  At the end, he sings, "And in my best behavior, I am really just like him.  Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid."  I see what he's trying for, of course.  He's trying for a metaphor, that we all seem nice on the outside ("he was quiet, kept to himself," etc.) but have sins on the inside and all that typical crap.  But the reasons the song is affecting is because it's not a metaphor.  It's something that really happened.  It's literal.  And, in our wildest dreams, we're not like John Fucking Gacy, no matter how many "evil" feelings we harbor.  Sufjan going for the typical "deep" lyric is insulting to the wonderful lyrics he's already provided us.

Just a Friend: Biz Markie
(Biz Markie)
by Rusty Spell

I like this song a lot, not in spite of but (in part) because the lyrics are so horrible.  They commit many offenses; I'll see if I can hit the highlights.  First there are the forced rhymes: "Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date, but a year to make love she wanted you to wait?"  In order to rhyme wait with date, the Biz employed some kind of Yoda talk.  "Let me tell you a story of my situation.  I was talking to a girl from the US nation."  Here the best Markie could do was add the girl's nationality (awkwardly) for a rhyme.  "The way I met her was on a tour at a concert."  An English teacher would write "awk." next to this sentence.  He goes on to rhyme concert with mini skirt.  After a few more lines (in which he meets a girl he calls "blah-blah-blah") and the chorus (in which he doesn't believe that she has "just a friend"), he sings, "I took blah-blah-blah's word for it at this time.  I thought just having a friend couldn't be no crime, cause I have friends, and that's a fact, like Agnes, Agatha, Germain, and Jack."  Aside from the filler "at this time" and "that's a fact," this is simply a tangent that has nothing to do with anything.  He admits this in the next line: "Forget about that; let's go into the story..."  A similar tangent (after many similar problem lyrics) occurs when he goes to her dorm and laments, "This guy made me fill out a visitor's form."  The worst offender of the song, to me, is when he asks where her dorm door is and sings, "They showed me where it was for the moment."  For the moment?  I'm not even sure what that means.  And this wasn't even written to rhyme with anything, since the "rhyming" line that follows is "I didn't know that I was in for such an event."  (Such?  Such as what?)  But don't worry.  "Oh snap!  Guess what I saw?  A fellow tongue-kissing my girl on the mouth."  Seems like the best line in the song until you realize that you can't really tongue-kiss on the mouth--maybe in the mouth, but specifically on another tongue, unless he had in mind that you could tongue-kiss someone on the cheek.  Once again, I realize the beauty of this song is that it doesn't give a shit.  The video features Biz Markie dressed like Beethoven playing his masterpiece, so he's already mocked himself enough.  Know that I'm not mocking him here, just pointing out how stupidly perfect it is.

Kiss: Tom Jones and The Art of Noise
(Prince)
by Rusty Spell

In the original Prince version, Prince sings, "Women, not girls, rule my world."  He wants them to "act your age, not your shoe size," etc.  However, in the Tom Jones version, Tom sings, "Women and girls rule my world."  His producer pointed this out and Tom said, "Why would I want to leave out the girls?"  True story.  The next question Tom was asked, a few years later, by Chris Hansen, "What are you doing here?"

Sk8ter Boy: Avril Lavigne
(Avril Lavigne)
by Rusty Spell

First line of this song: "He was a boy.  She was a girl.  Can I make it any more obvious?"  It?  I'd wager that, yes, you could make it tons more obvious.  If I had to make a guess, I'd say that you're setting up a story of a boy and girl who fall in love, but I later learn that you're not, so perhaps you should be a little more forthcoming.  Next line: "He was a punk.  She did ballet.  What more can I say?"  Lots more!  Again, if I had to take a wild guess as to what the hell your song was about so far, I'd say it's about a punk guy and ballet-doing girl who fall in love (but, again, I learn that this isn't true).  Avril Lavigne, like many teenagers, assume that we assume their mindset, that we are -- in fact -- mind readers.  This is why they're always huffing off somewhere upset.  They sit in a corner and sulk all day and when you ask them what's wrong, they blow up at you and say "Can I make it anymore obvious?"  Little would I know what this song is really about: the ballet-doer doesn't like the punk boy, so she rejects him.  He later becomes famous on MTV and she -- get this -- has a baby!  What a loser!  A baby!  The song is supposed to be some moral about looking past the surface (whatever that means), more proof that it was written by a dumb teen.  (This entry was suggested by Noby Nobriga.)

South Park Theme: Primus
(Les Claypool)
by Rusty Spell

If you're given the opportunity to write the theme song to what promises to be one of the coolest shows on television, don't half-ass the lyrics.  Look: "I'm goin' down to South Park, gonna have myself a time.  I'm goin' down to South Park, gonna leave my woes behind.  Headin' on up to South Park, gonna see if I can't unwind.  So come on down to South Park and meet some friends of mine."  This is clearly a first draft.


Copyright Apr 2008 - Nov 2014 We Like Media.
You may email Mike Patton and Rusty W. Spell.