Is Heavy Rock Guilty Of The Worst Lyrics Ever…? The Case For The Prosecution

a judges gavel judge court

I’m Putting Rock On Trial! Have Your Say!

It is the 25th anniversary of Bon Jovi’s first UK number one album, “New Jersey” – a moment when heavy rock had confirmed its place in the mainstream, capping the momentum built by the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard (number 1 in the US with “Love Bites”) and Whitesnake.

Yet for many people it may seem baffling that a singer with bad hair playing guitar-based power-pop with a crazy way of dressing could be so popular. But that’s enough about Lady Gaga. At least in the eighties there was no-one sticking their tongue out. Oh, except Gene Simmons of Kiss. And he rarely, if ever, twerked.

As the lack of nominations for heavy rock at the Mercury Music Prize demonstrate, and indeed as Deep Purple’s lack of induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame also shows, some people just don’t get heavy rock. The reasons are many. But plenty of people do (or did) like Bon Jovi. So is heavy rock a Darwinian cul-de-sac that has had its day? Why isn’t everyone going Gaga over classic rock in general? And when did it become “classic rock”: a term that suggests it belongs in a museum?

Or to put it another way, “whatever happened to my rock n roll?”

This series will highlight the crimes that Heavy Rock is accused of, and give you the cases for and against.

At the end of each debate, you will have the ability to vote either “guilty” or “not guilty”, according to the evidence. And because this is a democratic process, you may also introduce your own evidence, in the comments section at the foot of the page to sway the jury…

So what went wrong? And should Heavy Rock be consigned to Alcatrazz (not the band fronted by Graham Bonnet), or should it be allowed to Sing-Sing?

Accusation Number One:

Heavy rock lyrics are ridiculous and adolescent.

It is twenty five years since “New Jersey” reached the top of the album charts. Both before and after that time, popular music has explored some of Life’s Great Questions including social issues (Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke”), life and death (The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realise”), ecological issues (Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Goin’ On?”) and politics (er, Boney M’s “Rasputin”).

And what is Heavy Rock’s Great Contribution to this furtherance of human endeavour?

Strum, Rock, Vincent and Slaughter.  All. Real. Names.

Strum, Rock, Vincent and Slaughter.
All. Real. Names.

Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion. This is what they came up with:

“I want dirty rhythm / I want dirty rhythm over me / come together in serenade / pull the pin of my love grenade”.

Seriously. And that was after Spinal Tap had lampooned this sort of thing with their “lick my love pump” gag… Is this just eighties rock’s fault? Perhaps not. Heavy rock has a long history of dodgy lyrical content. Let’s look at a few examples:

Exhibit A: Black Sabbath: War Pigs.

“Generals Gather In Their Masses / Just like witches at Black Masses”

In the first line of one of the stand out songs on Black Sabbath’s second album the stall is set. Rhyming a word with the same word is not a rhyme.

Exhibit B: Dio Buzzword Bingo.

If you ever want a drunken evening, put on a few Ronnie James Dio (RIP God bless ‘im) records, and take a shot every time you hear one of the following words: Dream, Demon, Night, Rainbow, Evil. By the end of two LPs you will have consumed so much alcohol, the fumes from your breath alone will be enough to stop an angry rhinoceros at thirty paces*, or perhaps more appropriately an angry demon or dragon.

Indeed, some perhaps less generous people maintain this is the only way to listen to Dio records (it isn’t, honestly). However, whilst such imagery would be fine for a song or two, Dio’s error (and I say this with respect to a unique and fine singer and front man) is that he seldom strayed from this theme over a dozen albums. It became a formula. Compare this to The Beatles’ lyrical output over a similar number of albums, and you’ll see what I mean.

Exhibit C: A random selection of song lyrics:

Here are just a few words from heavy rock’s finest lyricists….

Manowar – Fighting The World: “Fight fight fight / Fighting the world every single day / Fighting the world for the right to play / Heavy Metal in my brain / I’m fighting for Metal ’cause it’s here to stay”.

Metallica – Whiplash: “Bang your head against the stage like you never did before / Make it ring, make it bleed, make it really sore.” If that’s the intelligent side of thrash metal, imagine what the unintelligent side is like…

Or how about the truly bizarre Helloween, whose quirky style included this gem:

Helloween – Rise and Fall: “Romeo loved his Juliet / their parents told them “Stop” / then it all turned out peculiar / he couldn’t get it up”. The only excuse we have for that is that they are German…

Let’s slay some real dragons: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven gave us “”If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now”…

What if we move on to the less traditional metal guys? Perhaps lyrics improve with the glam metal brigade?

Perhaps not:

Kiss – C’Mon And Love Me: “She’s a dancer, a romancer, I’m a Capricorn and she’s a Cancer…”

Motley Crue – Slice of your Pie:Tattoo crawlin’ down her leg, so sexy / So young…ever get caught they’ll arrest me”

Great White – Mista Bone: “Just take it like a sweet injection / Just a token of my affection / Another night we’ll take another direction / I’m going to play you like a rhythm section“.

Perhaps the final word should go to Van Halen whose ruminations on relationships came up with this beauty:

Van HalenWhy Can’t This Be Love: “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time”….

No wonder when Nirvana came along it wasn’t difficult to show up an entire genre as being lyrically vacuous…

* Because Dio records have not been big sellers to date on African safari holidays, admittedly this concept has not been fully road-tested.

Have Your Say!

  • Is Rock guilty of poor lyricism? Is the lack of a poet laureate the reason why Def Leppard barely survived the nineties?
  • Or is it the very essence of rock n roll and something to be treasured and celebrated?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think these are crimes against the English language.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think it is a long and noble tradition to spout nonsense whilst playing rock n roll.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!
  • Next post: THE DEFENCE

Record #240: Dio – Dream Evil

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Categories: Hard Rock

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46 replies

  1. That’s why its so great. It doesn’t take itself to seriously.
    Hail Manowar.

    Like

  2. If Heavy Rock is guilty of the worst, I would also argue they are guilty of the best too.

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  3. I’d always thought that heavy rock lyrics were the worst because they are SUPPOSED to be the worst! I’m having a problem at the moment making the leap to the suggestion it’s the best lyrics as well – but I’ll wait till I see the evidence for that! (God I sound like bloody Petrocelli!)

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  4. If Heavy Rock is guilty then why did they erect a statue of Bon Scott in his adopted hometown of Freemantle? Only Starship’s We Built This City has been proven guilty of this crime! Long Live the puerile lyric!!!

    E

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  5. Not guilty! Where is people’s sense of irony? Very few lyricists are really poets, and the heavy rock folks are realistic about that and unashamed.

    Many of these words and phrases have been warmly embraced by the populace. Think about “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” Sorry, Neil Young doesn’t have enough of a fan base to have spread this one as far and wide as Def Leppard. “Rock me ’til I’m bad to the bone”? Hopefully no one has actually ever said this to another person directly, but we all know it, and we all secretly appreciate it. “For those about to rock, we salute you,” says it all. (Rock anthems are enough for their own trial and acquittal. The guilty party on that one is Coldplay, taking themselves too seriously.)

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  6. My rebuff is that if I want to listen to music for the lyrics, then I’ll listen to Bob Dylan or even Tracy Chapman. I don’t listen to metal because I’m all hung up on the lyrics, it’s the sound of guitars that do it for me. Of course, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Boy George or Wham don’t exactly have great lyrics either.
    BTW, there was a metal band called Sing Sing, I have their album “Wheels in Motion” and it’s quite good.

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  7. If you think heavy rock is guilty of the worst lyrics, I assume you haven’t heard a country song from the last 5 years?

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  8. Your honour, on the basis of the evidence presented, guilty as charged. However, I think we have to consider this in a larger context. For example, country music. Please consider the following evidence and ask whether it is prudent to punish said heavy rockers while these dudes are still on the loose:

    http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/misc/COUNTRY.HTML

    http://www.petelevin.com/countrytitles_home.htm

    Well, they are easy to make.

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  9. 50/50 in the poll? How likely is that? Maybe only 2 votes have been cast.

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  10. On the other hand, heavy rock has produced some very good lyrics. I submit as evidence Neil Peart (and he’s even a drummer!), Roger Waters, Ian Anderson.

    After I discovered Iron Maiden a few years ago, through the music first (it was “Journeyman” on YouTube which got me started), I was relieved to find that their lyrics are actually quite good. Maybe not quite the level as those of the above mentioned lyricists, but much, much better than your typical heavy-metal lyric.

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  11. Let’s not forget BonJovi’s “I just want to live while I’m alive”

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  12. Interesting topic and ‘project’ but I’m really disappointed with your treatment of ‘War Pigs’. It’s become very fashionable to lampoon the song’s (admittedly clumsy) opening line. But …you want ‘meaning’, you want social and political relevance? Look at ‘War Pigs’ in its entirety and consider:
    The Vietnam War (which at least partly inspired the lyric);
    Geezer’s working class and catholic upbringing (which help cast light on the lyric);
    The fact that the UK had a much higher percentage of church-going people at the time it was written;
    The West’s involvement in recent wars in the Middle East;
    Look too at Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ in this context.
    Still hard-hitting, still relevant.

    There is a lot of bad stuff in ‘heavy rock’ – I’ve often struggled with the hedonistic and superficial bent of a lot of ‘hair metal’, and the unnecessary unpleasantness of a lot of thrash, death and extreme metal … but there’s tremendous variety too, both between and sometimes within bands. (Your ‘Whiplash’ example is not really representative of Metallica’s lyrical output over the years, is it?! And there’s a world of difference between the crass sexism of Motley Crue and, say, Bon Jovi’s output.)

    I really don’t think you should put the entire heavy rock tradition in the dock as it were. And why single out heavy rock – pop, rap, hip hop, country, punk, indie etc. etc … there’s good and bad in most genres. There’s often humour, irony and playfulness too.

    Michael

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  13. As a teenager I was a headbanger, I never thought there could be a better sound than riffing guitars, so the lyrics didn’t matter. Now I know that metal doesn’t even do the guitars well, other then an occasional bit of AC/DC, if I want noisy guitars I know that other genres do it better, Japanese psychedelics, surf punk, avant noise, garage punk and even Neil Young. It’s not just the terrible lyrics, and no metal band is ironic, but metal is a long way off providing the best guitar sound.

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  14. Agreed it looks bad for Heavy Rock, especially with your fine hall of evidence; I shall applaud your discovery skills as well as your effective courtroom manner.

    But I contend that Heavy Rock will be cleared on a technicality.

    Consider:

    ***********************************************
    “And I can’t fight this feeling anymore
    I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for
    It’s time to bring this ship into the shore
    And throw away the oars forever

    ‘Cause I can’t fight this feeling anymore
    Etc. etc., from http://www.lyrics.com/cant-fight-this-feeling-lyrics-reo-speedwagon.html
    ***********************************************

    Remember these fellows? No heavy rockers, they; ’twas REO Speedwagon. And because of REO Speedwagon’s unique blend of vapid pseudo-rock and shallow lyrical treacle, Heavy Rock cannot be found guilty, for the same reason that the one car plucked from a pile of already-speeding drivers cannot be convicted: the state has engaged in unjust persecution. If REO Speedwagon is not doing hard time, then no precedent exists under which to charge Heavy Rock, and so, the judge must let them walk, er, in this case, rock.

    You can expect, at some point in the future, our letter informing you of a blog post in which we consider whether your post (about whether rock is guilty of the worst lyrics ever) was the worst post committed on music-related blogs in which trials are held regarding various rock cases.

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  15. I guess without those lyrics it wouldn’t be metal/rock anymore. And let’s be honest: there are a lot of lyrics out there which are not good, or worse. Rock and metal have their instrumental parts which are very good, and I have not heard any One Direction song which had both great lyrics and music. Most of them have neither…

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  16. The question is, even if the music is good, can one really appreciate it with typical heavy-metal lyrics involving some bloke with magic powers, people being tortured to death, virgins, bloody corpses, people rising from the dead etc? OK, enough on Bach’s Mass in B minor.

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  17. I’m guessing that most folks here don’t follow this blog, but check out the previous link for a discussion of some of the worst songs ever.

    Like

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  1. Cheesiest Heavy Metal Lyrics Ever | marissabergen602

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