Thursday, 26 February 2009

Thursday 13

Header from samulli

This week, thirteen of my favourite lyricists/lyrics:

1. W.S. Gilbert - Someone from incredibly long ago, mainly known these days for his comic operas with Arthur Sullivan (Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, etc.). While I'm naturally impressed with any writer who uses the words "binomial theorem", as he did in his song about a Modern Major-General, I actually decided to start with Gilbert purely in an attempt to be topical. Topical? I hear you say in disbelief (although you probably didn't say it out loud, so it's a wonder I heard you). Yes, topical, I reply (though again not aloud), since the following lyric seems appropriate for this time of year:

For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I've no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don't know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.
Through some singular coincidence - I shouldn't be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy -
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year, on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you'll easily discover,
That though you've lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you're only five and a little bit over!

Sorry for such a large quote, but just quoting the February bit out of context would have been a bit unfair on Gilbert. Anyway, it's got numbers, leap years, as many words on each line as possible, "discover" rhymed with "over", and the whole song revolves around a paradox; what's not to like?

2. Paul Simon - Tons of great songs, tons of great lyrics to choose from, but since we had a paradox last time, let's continue the trend with this one, the opening lines to "The Leaves That Are Green":

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I'm twenty-two now but I won't be for long

Lyrics so good that Billy Bragg also borrowed them as the opening lines for his song A New England. As an aside, another memorable pair of opening lines of Paul Simon's come from his song "Duncan", which starts, "My father was a fisherman, my mother was a fisherman's friend"; although this might only be memorable to me because in the UK a Fisherman's Friend is a kind of inedible cough sweet.

3. Howard Ashman - Late great lyricist who provided songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, and Aladdin, but I'll pick a lyric from Little Shop of Horrors' Dentist Song:

I thrill when I drill a bicuspid
It's swell though they tell me I'm maladjusted

Apart from the pleasing way he manages to fit three rhymes into two lines, I quite like the way that this is one of the few songs that uses the word "bicuspid" (just as "Gaston" from Beauty and the Beast is one of the few to feature the word "expectorating"; and similar to Gilbert who regularly uses seldom-lyricised words like hypoteneuse in his songs. Oh no, it looks like there's a theme developing).

4. Neil Innes - terrific songwriter both on his own (I wish his TV series The Innes Book of Records was available on DVD) and in groups (The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Rutles). As far as seldom-used words in songs, I think the following lyric from The Rutles' "Good Times Roll" winds hands down:

Fricasse chorus girl's thigh
Toffee and mackeral gateau
Pineapple pie in the sky

Dull trivia fact: Psychadelicatessen was on the shortlist when I was thinking up a name for this blog.

5. Neil Hannon - Driving force behind The Divine Comedy, as well as performing a few songs that have been played in the background of Doctor Who and also a few songs on the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy soundtrack. He writes some great intelligent music in all sorts of different styles, and here's a lyric I like from the Divine Comedy's "Don't Look Down":

Old-fashioned ferris wheels
Are no big deal
They’re just big wheels with chairs
So don’t be scared
Just set yourself free

6. Andy Partridge - main songwriter with XTC and their whimsical offshoot The Dukes of the Stratosphear. I was going to pick a lyric from one of my favourite XTC songs, Mayor of Simpleton , because it used the word "eproms", but when I looked up the exact lyrics I discovered I'd been mishearing it all these years (D'oh!) and I couldn't find a nice short snippet from my other favourite song of theirs, Dear God , so instead let's go for this from The Dukes of the Stratosphears' "The Mole From The Ministry":

I'm the mole from the ministry
And you'll all bow down to me
I'm the mole in your potting shed
I'm the bad thoughts inside your head
And you won't catch me

7. They Might Be Giants - Purveyors of quirky lyrics. Here's a palindromic lyric from "I Palindrome I" (which also features one of my favourite opening lines, "Someday mother will die and I'll get the money"):

"Son I am able," she said "though you scare me."
"Watch," said I
"Beloved," I said "watch me scare you though." said she,
"Able am I, Son."

8. Jim Steinman - Wagnerian songwriter behind Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell, who does terrific over-the-top lyrics that match the subtlety of his tunes. Here's one of my faves from his "Out Of The Frying Pan":

It's never been this hot and I've never been so bored
And breathing's just no fun anymore

9. Suzanne Vega - Singer/songwriter who writes great lyrics and tells great stories (Tom's Diner, The Queen and The Soldier). Choosing a lyric, I've got to go for something from her first album which I listened to ridiculously often when I first got it. Here are the opening lines of "Undertow":

I believe right now if I could
I would swallow you whole
I would leave only bones and teeth
We could see what was underneath
And we would be free then

10. Voice Of The Beehive - Terrific band, who did some terrific pop tunes (their second album Honey Lingers is notable for not having a bad track on it). Here's some lines from their song "Perfect Place":

I will assure all of the husbands who are guilty and the wives who feel useless.
I will nurse all of the black and blue babies with their unhappy parents who had unhappy parents.
I will assure all of the boys who feel awkward and the girls who feel clumsy.
I will walk alongside the old man who feels so alone as everyone rushes by him.

11. Tori Amos - Singer/songwriter/friend of Neil Gaiman. Thought her debut album was terrific, and my favourite lyric of hers are the first words of the first song I ever heard of hers, "Silent All These Years":
Excuse me but can I be you for a while
My dog wont bite if you sit real still
I got the anti-christ in the kitchen yellin' at me again
Yeah I can hear that

12. Neil Finn - I remember reading a possibly apocryphal story in Q Magazine about how, backstage after a Crowded House concert, Sting walked in singing "Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over," to which Neil Finn sang back "De-do-do-do De-da-da-da," and a disgruntled Sting promptly turned on his heels and walked straight out. Hope it's true, but regardless, Neil's written some terrific tunes for Split Enz and Crowded House. Here's some lines from Crowded House's "There Goes God".

Hey don't look now
But there goes God
In his sexy pants
And his sausage dog
And he can't stand Beelzebub
Cos he looks so good in black, in black

13. Kirsty MacColl - Wonderfully witty and talented songwriter, although tragically most of her big hits in the UK (A New England, Days, Fairytale of New York) were written by others. Here's some lyrics from her song "Soho Square":

An empty bench in Soho Square
If you'd have come you'd have found me there
But you never did 'cause you don't care
And I'm so sorry, baby
I don't mind loneliness too much
But when I met you I was touched
And that was good enough for me
But do we always have to be sorry
Why can't we just be happy, baby?


Janet said...

I loved this T13...well done! Incredibly enjoyable to read :-)

An Eerie Tapestry said...

Thanks for the kind words, Janet. I really appreciate it.

A Blog In The Rough said...

great lyrics, I must agree. Love Jim Steinman, I could go on for hours on Meat Loaf lyrics :)