The Accusation: Heavy Rock lyrics are ridiculous and adolescent
In my previous post I set out the case for the prosecution:
This post sets out the defence:
Do you think heavy rock’s lyrics are bad just because these guys were wearing denim and leather? You can’t judge a book by its cover. Those working class, sweary, sweaty leather clad hoodlums might have something to say, and plenty did. Here are a few examples:
Never mind “Stairway”, try this from Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”: “If the sun refused to shine I would still be loving you / When mountains crumble to the sea there will still be you and me”
Hair metal? Try this from Guns n Roses‘ “Sweet Child of Mine“: “She’s got eyes of the bluest skies / As if they thought of rain / I hate to look into those eyes / And see an ounce of pain / Her hair reminds me / of a warm safe place / Where as a child I’d hide / And pray for the thunder / And the rain / To quietly pass me by”….
And for those who warn against allowing your drummer to write the lyrics, here’s a perceptive muse on fame in Rush’s Limelight: “Living in a fish eye lens / Caught in the camera eye / I have no heart to lie / I can’t pretend a stranger / Is a long-awaited friend”.
But we should also talk about the examples given of supposedly criminal lyrics. Let’s examine these more closely…
Firstly, the first line of War Pigs – yes, okay it isn’t Shakespeare. But the year was 1970. The Vietnam conflict was still sending US soldiers to their deaths. And what was top of the pop charts? Mungo Jerry‘s “In The Summertime”. Not a bad song, but it’s like Mungo was stuck at a awkward party full of strangers and was forced to make small talk about “where are you going on holiday this year?” and the weather… At least Sabbath had something to say about the world.
I would argue “War Pigs” is as powerful an anti war song as Dylan’s “Masters Of War”. It’s just that it was written by a trainee accountant from Birmingham rather than by Dylan. And it’s far more fun to play, as The Arctic Monkeys have shown by stealing part of the riff in the song “Arabella” on their latest album.
Dio? Well – you might as well criticise Shakespeare for writing more than one historical play (“Henry V? We already saw Henry IV!”) as criticise Dio for repeating his lyrical themes.
But the main reason that the accusation is false is this:
Most rock and pop lyrics are rubbish. Heavy rock is no better, but (significantly) no worse than any other genre. Having wince-inducing lyrics that give the listener stomach ache when heard has never been an impediment to success (see Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”).
Here are some more of popular music’s worst lyrics – has heavy rock ever done anything this bad?
- Snap “Rhythm Is A Dancer” (“I’m as serious as cancer / When I say Rhythm is a Dancer).
- ABC – That Was Then But This Is Now (“More Sacrifices than an Aztec priest / Standing here straining at that leash / All fall down / Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble / Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble)
- Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know? (And fire-y demons all dance when you walk through that door / Don’t say you’re easy on me / you’re about as easy as a nuclear war).
- T-Rex – Children Of The Revolution (“I drive a Rolls Royce / Cos it’s good for my voice”).
- 2 Unlimited – No Limit (“No no, No no no no, No no no no, No no there’s no limit”).
- Victoria Beckham – This Groove (“I want you to come and listen to my body sing / Ya wanna hear my bell ring – biddy-bong-bing”).
- Madonna – American Life (“I drive my Mini Cooper / And I’m feeling super-dooper.”)
- Black Eyed Peas, “My Humps” (“My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely lady lumps.”
- Pussycat Dolls “When I Grow Up”: (“I wanna see the world / Drive nice cars / I wanna have boobies”
- Coldplay “The Hardest Part” (“And the hardest part was letting go / Not taking part was the hardest part”)
Moving along from pop music for a moment, what about indie?
R.E.M.“Oh life, is bigger / Bigger than you / and you are not me” Surely those articulate indie rockers could have come up with something better than this? “
Oasis “Slowly moving down the hall / faster than a cannonball”…
If we are asking “why is heavy rock less popular in 2013 than it was in 1988?” then lyrics can’t be the answer – otherwise all these other acts would not have been a success. Dodgy lyrics are an inherent part of popular music, and are one of its charms – and strengths. Sure – a great lyric can make a good song great. But a bad song with a great lyric is just poetry set to noise…
In the words of Little Richard: “Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom”…
It’s Time To Vote!
- 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!
Record #241: Little Richard – Tutti Frutti
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