Smoky Robinson’s hit song “Tears of a Clown” sounds like a guy trying to get away with something. “I’m so bummed that you broke up with me. If you see me smiling that’s just me trying to cover up my feelings, I’m actually really sad. And if you see me having a good time at a party? That’s me just pretending. Honestly, I’m not enjoying myself at all, no matter how happy and carefree I look. Totally wrecked, that’s me.”
Tag: ruining a song
This garbage heap of grammatical errors was a huge hit as a pop song in the 1980s:
Sometimes I never leave, but sometimes I would
Sometimes I stay too long, sometimes I would
Sometimes it frightens me, sometimes it would
Sometimes I’m all alone and wish that I could
Until suddenly last summer
And then suddenly last summer
If you never leave, that’s called “staying.” You do it continuously. You never stop not leaving. And because you’re always doing it, you are, in effect, doing it just once. You couldn’t do it “sometimes.” If you were “staying” only “sometimes,” you would, by definition, have to leave occasionally.
Which might be what she’s getting at when she adds, “but sometimes I would.” Okay, fine, but then it’s “but sometimes I do.” Either that or the first part is “Sometimes I’d never leave,” which also doesn’t make any sense but at the very least it’s in the right tense. Keep your tenses straight, dammit. Same goes for the second and third lines!
“Sometimes I stay too long” seems a little bit redundant after saying “sometimes I never leave,” don’t you think? I do.
Not sure what frightens her. Never leaving? Or the very redundant staying too long? Something else? Maybe she could be a little more vague? I’m not a huge fan of ambiguity when it comes to pop songs.
“Sometimes I’m all alone” is pretty straightforward, but I have absolutely no freakin clue what she wishes she could. Do. Can’t even take a wild-ass guess. Maybe I’m missing something obvious but I think it’s more likely she’s trying to be mysterious by writing something open-ended and obtuse. Not a fan of that, either.
Speaking of mysterious:
One summer never ends, one summer never began
It keeps me standing still, it takes all my will
And then suddenly last summer
I mean, come on. If it never began, how does it never end? How does that make sense at all? I’m flummoxed.
All that being said, I still like this song. It’s got a really good sound and it reminds me of my college years. What’s not to love about that?
I was listening to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers the other day when I thought, “Hmmm, it’s been a while since I ruined a song.”
“Paper Doll,” when sung by The Mills Brothers, is one of my favorite songs ever. It might even be one of my favorite songs when sung by other groups, but I wouldn’t know because The Mills Brothers sing it so well that I haven’t gone looking for recordings by other groups. The harmonies, the pace, the phrasings are all just flawless. It’s a lot like Nat King Cole’s recording of “Stardust” – why would I go looking for recordings by other artists when I’ve heard the one, true performance?
“Paper Doll” is the classic heartbreak story: Guy feels so bad about his recent breakup that he swears he’s through with women forever, so what he’s going to do – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is just poetic license – is get a paper doll to replace the girl who left him, because a paper doll wouldn’t leave him. Of course it wouldn’t – it’s paper. Paper dolls are also usually no more than eight inches tall and literally two-dimensional, so other than the total fidelity it’s not going to be a very satisfying relationship.
I’m going to buy a paper doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
Then all the flirty-flirty guys with those flirty-flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night, she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl
Okay. Seems a little sulky, but who hasn’t been there? I’m sympathetic.
I guess I’ve had a million dolls or more
I guess I’ve played the doll game over and over
Hold up a minute – you’ve had it with women because the ones you know get stolen by flirty guys, but here you are telling us you’ve had a million dolls or more? I’m suddenly a lot less sympathetic.
I just quarreled with Sue
That’s why I’m blue
She’s gone away and left me, just like all dolls do
Listen to this guy – he’s had a million dolls, all of which have left him, and he thinks they’re the problem. I have to wonder.
I tell you, boys, it’s tough to be alone
And it’s tough to love a doll who’s not your own
I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s tough to be alone and to love somebody else’s doll at the same time?
I’m through with all of them
I’ll never fall again
Hey boy! What you going to do?
At this point I’m thinking: If he’s had a million dolls or more, he’ll definitely fall again. Statistically, it’s got to happen.
What is the cheesiest song ever written? I nominate “Afternoon Delight” as the cheesiest song in the history of cheesy pop songs. It was already so very cheesy back in the late 70s and it hasn’t gotten any less cheesy after 40+ years.
And yes, I am going to keep repeating “cheesy” until it makes you cross-eyed. The shoe fits.
What makes this song so cheesy? I am so very happy to answer this rhetorical question that absolutely nobody has ever asked me. Almost every pop song I listened to in the 70s was salted with at least a few thinly-veiled references to sex, and very occasionally a not-so-veiled reference. “Afternoon Delight” was a solid three minutes of a songwriter declaring he was in the mood for a nooner. Or an afternooner, as the case may be. Is an “afternooner” a thing? Let’s say it is, just for the sake of argument.
Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight
Ah, the 70s when we described our significant others as “my baby,” “my old lady,” or (gag) “my lover.”
I don’t know if “afternoon delight” meant something else before this song became a hit, but it’s pretty funny to me that you can’t say it now unless you’re talking about boinking, and even then you can use it only with a smirk on your face. It’s just that cliched. Funnily enough, it felt like a cliche back then, too.
My motto’s always been when it’s right, it’s right
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night
It’s almost like this song was written for horny teenage boys who are trying to sound smooth.
When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be here any way
I like boinking in the day time, you like boinking at night, let’s split the difference and boink around the clock.
Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
and the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting
Right. Well. Where to start.
First of all, you don’t rub sticks and stones together to make sparks or start a fire. You rub just sticks together, or just stones (if flint is a stone, which I’m not sure of, but I am sure it’s definitely not a stick). Not sticks and stones. That doesn’t do a thing. I hate to … no, I love to be that guy. Who am I kidding?
But leaving out the nit-picking and getting back to the smarm:
Back when I couldn’t look up pop lyrics on the internet and mostly listened to pop music on an AM radio while driving at speed down county highways in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down, what I thought I heard in the last line was “the thought of lovin’ you is gettin’ so exciting,” which made enough sense in the context of the song that I never questioned it. (Funnier version — not mine: “the bottom part of you is getting so excited.” Check out Misheard Lyrics for more laugh-out-loud versions.)
When I looked up the lyrics today to find specific examples of how cornball this song is, I was pretty sure “the thought of rubbin’ you” had to be a mistake, so I watched the music video on YouTube BECAUSE I’LL TAKE A BULLET SO NOBODY ELSE HAS TO. Tragically, I learned they are indeed clearly saying “rubbin’ you.”
So now I’m trying to imagine a situation, any situation at all, where uttering the phrase “the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting” would spark feelings of desire in the heart of even the most willing significant other, or even in a person desperate to get laid. I’m not saying it absolutely wouldn’t, but my feeling is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’d be more likely to get reactions ranging from a puzzled look at best to, at worst, being left leaning on the bar alone, muttering to yourself.
But I’m afraid I have to tell you those aren’t even the smarmiest lyrics.
Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn’t bite
Wow, that’s an impressive triple negative. I guess that’s, what, something Aunt Polly used to say back on the farm?
But you’ve got some bait a-waitin’ and I think I might
Like nibbling a little afternoon delight
It’s time for me to talk about fish and bait. I really, really don’t want to, but I feel as though I must.
I know this is a figure of speech. I remember the fishing reference.
“You’ve got some bait a-waitin'” is a wrong turn down a bad road, if you ask me. Fishing is fun only for the one with the bait. The fish doesn’t get any fun out of it, if fish can be said to ever have any fun at all. Even when the fish doesn’t meet a gruesome end (death by suffocation, then feasted upon after being skinned and fried in oil), it still has to endure being dragged through the water with a barbed hook stuck in its mouth, then having its jaw torn off when the hook gets pulled out. Doesn’t sound as super-cute as “nibbling a little afternoon delight,” does it?
And the fish itself is a problem for me: cold, wet, slimy fish; dead-eyed animals that flop around with all the self-control of grenade exploding. If I was writing a playful pop song about sex and wanted to compare it with animals I’m pretty sure I’d go with puppies or kittens, something cute and cuddly and smarmy as all get-out. Fish would not even be on my list of choices, first or last.
Finally, comparing sex to bait is all kinds of awkward. Bait is part of a trap. Why would you want to flirt with an idea like that?
Again I GET THAT IT’S A FIGURE OF SPEECH, but it seems to me that a significant part of writing lyrics for a song like this really has to be conjuring up an image in the listener’s mind that doesn’t involve stabbing, pain, bloodshed, and betrayal.
And now, the chorus:
Sky rockets in flight
Skyrockets in flight! Volcanoes erupting! Jackhammers pounding! Popcorn popping! Yeah. So subtle.
Just in case you haven’t had the honor of listening to this Grammy-winning song, here it is as sung by the Starland Vocal Band, the group to originally record it. (The guy in the glasses wrote the song.)
One of my favorite pop songs from back in the day is “Fantasy Girl” by 38 Special. I liked it because I could learn most of the words just by listening to the song on a shitty AM radio (the only way to do it back when there was no internet to look up the words) and because it was one of those songs that got better the louder you cranked up the volume.
The lyrics were fairly simple and there weren’t a lot of them:
Lately I’m learning that so many yearnings are never to be
Childhood illusions, merely delusions of a girl that I see
In my mind’s eye I see clearly a vision of how it could be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free
Now I’ve had my share and sometimes I swear that I’ve had me enough
You end up in sorrow, broken tomorrows, love can be tough
But my mind’s eye sees a vision of true love and how it should be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free
That’s it! That’s the whole song. I got a girl, she’s a fantasy girl, she’s only in my mind and I know she’s not only not real, she’s not even very realistic but I will never let go of my fantasy of true love because real live relationships mostly suck. At least, I think that’s the message they’re trying to get across. Like most pop songs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about the words too much.
Sister Golden Hair
Can we talk about “Sister Golden Hair” for just a couple of minutes? And by “talk about,” I mean “I’m going to ponder it in written form,” not, “we’re going to have a conversation about it,” because although this is a blog on a website on the internet, I’m under no delusions that anybody ever reads it or would comment on it. But I have thoughts, and this is how I organize them sometimes. Okay, this is getting way too meta. Let’s start over:
“Sister Golden Hair” is an old favorite from way back, maybe even from the time it was released in 1975 when I was getting into pop music so hard. It seemed like such a romantic song to my adolescent ears and for many years after, but parsing the words now it’s hard to see much romance in it at all:
Well, I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damned depressed
That I set my sights on Monday, and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar, but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine
Here’s a song about a person who had a date to meet someone, possibly a special someone, possibly even a wedding date, that the person broke off at the last minute, maybe without notifying the person they were meeting on the aforementioned date, on the excuse that they felt depressed, likely about the date itself because they use the excuse they “ain’t ready for the altar.”
First things first: I don’t think this is a song about depression. I think the first line ends “I got so damned depressed” because it scans better than “I felt so sorta down” or “the prospect made me bummed.” I think this one particular meet-up brought him down for some reason (*cough* commitment issues *cough*) and he’s begging off on the excuse that he had the sads that day. I don’t think it was clinical.
Next thing: I parsed the first verse in a gender neutral way even though I’m pretty sure it’s a guy talking about a date with a gal, because a guy wrote it and a guy sang it and he says “a woman sure can be a friend of mine,” as if that’s a far-out concept. Whether or not he jilted her at the altar is up for interpretation – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, say he used the phrase “ready for the altar” to contrast more starkly with the “friend of mine” line, and “only” stood her up, leaving her waiting at the coffee shop or wine bar or wherever she whiled away an hour or so waiting for him.
The next verse seems to be an attempt to smooth over standing her up by a) flattering her, and b) dumping on her a little bit:
Well, I keep on thinking ’bout you, sister golden hair, surprise
And I just can’t live without you, can’t you see it in my eyes
I’ve been one poor correspondent, I’ve been too, too hard to find
But that doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind
“Hey, baby, even though I’m avoiding you and I don’t write to you, I’m always thinking about you and I can’t live without you.” Also, she should know this just by looking into his eyes, like telepathy is a real thing; it’s on her if she can’t see that.
This is a soft-rock version of the irrepressible pop-music genre “guys can’t be tied down by a one-woman relationship because they’re guys and guys are just like that, okay?” Or at least that’s how it sounds to me. Before I wrote this post I looked up other interpretations of the lyrics, which I ordinarily try not to do to avoid contaminating my thoughts, but this time around I wasn’t thinking of writing anything about “Sister Golden Hair” until I read those other interpretations because none of them came close to what I was thinking myself. “Sister Golden Hair” means she’s a nun? She’s a Christian and she’s saving herself for marriage? And he specifically mentioned golden hair because (actual comment) “the carpet matched the drapes?”
I guess everybody’s entitled to their own interpretations, even when they come from left field. I mean, mine are probably deep into left field, too, as anybody’s would very likely be when they try to find meaning in a 1970s pop music lyric. Ultimately, I’m sure the most likely explanation for any pop-music lyric is that it doesn’t mean all that much, other than the song writer was trying to paint a feeling that was, according to many song writers, very likely influenced by drugs or alcohol or both.
hard to handle
The song playing on the radio as we ended our commute to work yesterday morning included the refrain, “Hey, pretty thing, let me light your candle, ’cause, momma, I’m sure hard to handle.”
Yet another pop song that refers to a woman as a thing. *sigh* Why’s he say “thing,” and not “woman?” Leaving aside the misogyny of calling women “things” for just a moment, wouldn’t it scan better if it was “woman?” The cadence of “hey, pretty woman” keeps on bopping along, but “Hey, pretty thing” comes to a screeching halt at the end. And, as a bonus, you wouldn’t be referring to a human being as a “thing.” Just saying.
“Let me light your candle” is a euphemism for sex I hadn’t heard before. The mental image is confusing. Wouldn’t he be the one with the candle? It would make more sense to me if he said, “Hey, pretty woman, won’t you light my candle?” It would still be crude and obvious, as pick-up lines go, but the image would be a lot less clunky.
Is he saying he’s “hard to handle” because he’s a bad boy, or because he’s got a boner? As a double entendre, it seems kind of obvious, now that I think about it. Maybe every double entendre that seemed clever was really kind of obvious.
another song bites the dust
I’m a huge fan of the 1966 R&B hit song “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations, not that I heard it all that often before 2006. I came late to my appreciation of classic Motown music, but I love it now and this is one of the best.
Been thinking too much about the lyrics, though, and you know what that means: TIME FOR ANOTHER SONG TO BE RUINED!
I know you wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you go
If I have to beg and plead for your sympathy
I don’t mind, ’cause you mean that much to me
Whoa! “I refuse to let you go?” No means no, dude! Don’t be a creeper!
Ain’t too proud to beg and you know it
Please don’t leave me girl, Don’t you go
Ain’t too proud to plead, baby, baby
Please don’t leave me, girl, don’t you go
Let’s talk about relationships that are based on begging, because this guy begs a lot. I get that it’s supposed to be romantic, this notion that he’ll crawl through the mud for her, but how’s that relationship going to endure? It’s not, because neither one of them will have any self-respect. If she caves in and stays with him, she’ll hate herself for caving, and he’ll hate himself for giving up his dignity. Begging is not the way to go. Not that he’s going to stop doing it.
Now I’ve heard a cryin’ man is half a man with no sense of pride
But if I have to cry to keep you, I don’t mind weepin’
If it’ll keep you by my side
Well, now we have a complete lack of dignity with a generous helping of emotionally manipulation on the side. Very nice.
If I have to sleep on your doorstep all night and day just to keep you from walking away
Let your friends laugh, even this I can stand,
’cause I wanna keep you any way I can.
Okay, this has veered wildly into the world of the weird. I mean, is he LITERALLY sleeping on her doorstep to stop her from going anywhere? Because I’m pretty sure that’ll get him arrested just about anywhere in the world. And what kind of friends has she got if all they do when her ex behaves like this is laugh? Not very dependable friends, if you ask me.
Now I’ve got a love so deep in the pit of my heart, and each day it grows more and more
I’m not ashamed to call and plead to you, baby
If pleading keeps you from walking out that door
And now he’s making harassing phone calls. Dude, we’ve all been there. You can survive this, but only if you put it behind you. Stop already.
many songs bite the dust
These are the songs I loved when they were first released but I’ve heard them enough. I’m not here to ruin them, it’s just that I’ve heard them so many times that I wouldn’t care if I never heard them again. Or, really, I’d rather not ever hear them again. It’s time for them to retire, preferably forever, from the airwaves.
When our local oldies station plays an Elton John song, nine times out of ten it’s this song. They used to play Yellow Brick Road a lot, but not so much any more and there’s no way they played it more than Crocodile Rock. I’d bet the farm that no other Elton John song has been played as much as Crocodile Rock has. And the crashing shame is, it’s not even one of his best. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s a fun song, but it’s not so good that it deserves to be played umpty-million times. I don’t get why radio stations play it so often, unless maybe they got it on sale.
I’ve never understood what it was about this song that made everybody so ga-ga over it. I like the Eagles, but this song is just so … average? A nameless traveler pulls into a hotel late at night, checks in and verse by verse discovers the place is haunted by the souls of all the other travelers who pulled in and were trapped there forever. Wow. Might have been scary if it were shot in glorious black and white as a Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner, but as a pop song it’s had its run.
We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions
I know I’m going to hell for this. I don’t doubt for a second that Queen is an awesome band and their songs are iconic. Everybody who grew up in the 70s had at least one favorite song by Queen. Unfortunately, it was probably this song. I just don’t get it. Why not Don’t Stop Me Now? Why not my favorite, Somebody To Love? Why not even, so help me, Fat Bottomed Girls? Why does We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions deserve to be played whenever it’s time to honor Freddie Mercury or Queen? They had so many other, better songs.
Speaking of other, better songs, Jimi Hendrix was way better than Hey, Joe. It’s a good song and all, I’m not saying it’s bad, but it seems like the few rare times I hear Hendrix on the oldies radio stations, it’s always Hey, Joe. They need to knock that off. Play Cross Town Traffic once in a while, or Manic Depression. Even Foxy Lady, which seems to be their other go-to Hendrix song. Anything but Hey, Joe.
I Want You Back
I Want You Back by the Jackson Five is one of my favorite Motown songs ever. I really don’t want to ruin it, but I don’t know how to explain what’s going on in with this guy and his ex without making him sound like a jerk, and that, in fact, kind of ruins the song.
His jerkiness starts with the first two lines of the song:
When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd
This has to be the most roundabout way of calling a girl ugly that I have ever heard in a pop song. He is calling her ugly, right? I can’t think of another way to interpret that.
Then he goes straight into regret, but it seems to be more the kind of regret that she’s with someone that’s not him, instead of regret that he was a jerk to her:
But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took
Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look
Oh, baby, give me one more chance (to show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart?
Oh, baby, I was blind to let you go
But now that I see you in his arms (I want you back!)
See, I’m not sure if he really expects her to take him back, or if he’s just crying in his coffee. He called her ugly, admitted to himself that she’s with someone now who thinks she’s beautiful, and he’s all wahh-wahh, gimme a chance. Dude, too late. You had your chance, and it sounds to me like you blew it.
Trying to live without your love is one long, sleepless night
Let me show you, girl, that I know wrong from right
Every street you walk on, I leave tear stains on the ground
Following the girl I didn’t even want around
So … he’s stalking her now? Is that supposed to be romantic? I mean, the first line of that verse sounds like the kind of poetic language guys use when they’re being romantic, but the second line sounds like an empty promise. He already showed her he didn’t know wrong from right; he ditched her because he thought she was ugly. Then some other guy thought she was worth seeing and suddenly he’s all, Hey, I want you back. Makes me think he doesn’t know wrong from anything.
And then those last two lines — the tear stains thing is all poetic again, but he’s following her everywhere. That’s not normal. That’s weird. Dude. Just stop.