Kiss off

Usually I avoid writing posts about favourites: favourite books, favourite songs, favourite films.

This is partly because my lists would change wildly from one week to the next, as I recalled the long-forgotten existence of some old favourite and simultaneously forgot the existence of others. (There is only so much space left in my head for such things, after all.) But, let’s face it, it’s also cowardice: it’s a fear of declaring my taste and exposing it to be deeply uncool, or, even worse, unintentionally revealing something about myself in the process.

But for whatever reason, this time, I have decided to have a go at producing a list of lyrics I’ve always liked.

Hmmm, lyrics I’ve “always liked” – that sounds weak as piss, doesn’t it? What I mean is, lyrics that, the first time I heard them,  made me stop and go “Woah! What the…?” Here they are.

1. Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb.

Now, I rarely, if ever, listen to any Pink Floyd, but their bleak, depressing concept album The Wall has personal associations for me going back to my teenage years that perhaps I’ll tell you about some other day. I would never voluntarily listen to the entire album nowadays, but this particular song came to mind when musing about powerful lyrics.  The “voices” in the song alternate from verses sung by a sinister doctor administering tranquilisers, to the chorus, sung by the patient/victim, who is drifting out of consciousness and grasping at dream-like memories of his childhood. It’s the last chorus that has always got me:

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse

Out of the corner of my eye

I turned to look but it was gone,

I can not put my finger on it now, 

the child is grown, the dream is gone

If I had more knowledge about musical composition, perhaps I’d say that it’s success is due to the marrying of melody, rhythmn and arrangement with the lyrics. Whatever it is, the whole is so perfectly melded, that I can almost see the adult and child out of the corner of my own eye, when I hear these lyrics.

Thinking about these words today, I realised they capture some of the sadness of remembering my now dead brother.  He was born when I was a child, and now, looking back, I see that his life was apparently only a short moment in my own life, now over, as if it was always just a memory, or a dream. I’m like the child, now grown, who knows that particular dream is gone.

2. Various lines by The Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes

When I was in my final year at high school, a small, but select group of us felt very cool because we had discovered American “Indie” band, The Violent Femmes. Well, to be honest, it took me a while to be convinced, because, having a fairly limited experience of music up until then, I’d never heard an album recorded with such low production values, and at first that got in the way of being able to appreciate their quirky sound. The breakthrough finally came, however, and I saw them for what they were – an antidote to the bland commercial power ballads being played on the country radio station that I was stuck with.

Once smitten, I listened to “the Femmes” so much for a year or two, that I must have worn out my enjoyment, because I’ve never really listened to them since. Perhaps their musical style and humour was particularly suited to the 18-19 year old mind. I’d never previously encountered lyrics that ranged from dark to bland to absurd, delivered in a twangy, whiney voice that seemed to strip away the usual theatricality and made them sound all the more authentic. The backing vocals, and instrumentation – which surely included xylophones at some point? – sounded at times crazily upbeat and at others darkly sinister. Thrown into that mix were occasionally witty, self-referential lines:

I hear the rain, I hear the rain

I hear the rain, got to kill the pain (Hear The Rain)

 

And six, six, six for my sorrow

And seven, seven, for no tomorrow,

And eight, eight, – I forget what eight was for….(Kiss Off)

 

Third verse, same as the first…. (Prove My Love) 

 

3. Tori Amos, Crucify

I have to include on this first inaugral list, Tori Amos. I got into Tori Amos in 1992 via her album of that year, Little Earthquakes. Musically she was likened to Kate Bush, but unlike the Kate Bush songs I was familiar with at that time, Amos’ lyrics were clearly autobiographical. She didn’t shy away from talking about the difficulties and personal tragedies that came with being a woman, such as these lines:

He said, you’re really an ugly girl

But I like the way you play

And I died, 

but I thanked him.

Can you believe that? Sick, sick,

holding on to his picture,

dressing up every day.

Tell it like it is, Tori! Those lines were pretty powerful, although the greatest punch on the album was in Me And A Gun, a song sung with no musical accompaniment, about Amos escaping from her attackers after having been raped. Although it is confronting, the song is also about her will to survive (I haven’t seen Barbados, so I must get out of this).

Little Earthquakes
4. Tom Waits, Step Right Up

Finally, who could not enjoy the humour in Waits’ tongue-in-cheek ode to marketing and consumerism? For the purposes of this song, Waits is spruiking an un-named product – or products – that does, or do, everything. I like to imagine that Tom just wandered along a shopping strip in a down-market part of L.A., scribbled down – or photographed –  all the signage, then went home, cut and pasted it  all together (with scissors and glue, naturally, this was in the 70’s!) and voila!

Because it’s the parts that make up the whole in this case, rather than quote a “section”, I’ll just pick out a few of the claims our spruiker makes about this mystery product, all to the sounds of a jazzy beat:

…It fillets, chops, dices slices,

(…) it mows your lawn, it picks the kids up from school

(…) it finds the slipper that’s been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks

(…) it forges your signature

(…) it entertains visiting relatives…

(…) never needs winding, never needs winding, never needs winding..

(…) it gives you an erection, it wins the election

and this, growled towards the end, as though from the perspective of an observing lawyer:

the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away…

Ah, that’s Tom when he’s feeling cheeky.

Of course, Waits is also capable of writing a throw-away line that is both powerful, yet soft and tender, such as this line I’ve always loved, from the beautiful and tender, Who Are You?

How do your pistol and your bible and your sleeping pills go?

Are you still jumping out windows in expensive clothes? 

*

The challenge for me here is – how do I sum up a post about a variety of lyrics that have no unifying theme? Of course, over the time that I’ve been writing this post, (in bits and pieces over a few weeks), plenty of other songs and lyrics have come to mind, and I’ve realised that these are by no means the only great lyrics I can think of.  So perhaps I should sum up by saying, this is not a definitive list of “best” lyrics ever, it’s just some of the songs that first came to mind when I thought about lyrics that stood out, and stand the test of time.

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1 Comment

  1. Mmm Pink Floyd. Comfortably numb makes me uncomfortably feel. I love all of PF, but that song and Wish You Were Here get me every time. And there are certain songs by Tom Waits that are the same (almost all of Mule Variations, for example).

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