Thursday, 7 May 2009

Thursday 13: Self-Referential, Moi?

Header from samulli

Following my last Thursday Thirteen, here's yet another list of songs. I remember (or possibly misremember) Douglas R. Hofstadter claiming, in his book Metamagical Themas, that all great art is self-referential, so with that in mind this week's Thursday 13 lists thirteen songs that refer to themselves:

1. Hook - Blues Traveller

Probably my favourite self-referential song, this is a song all about itself and its own hook. Also, there's a bit near the end that's ridiculously catchy.

2. True - Spandau Ballet

A song that could have easily fitted in my last Thursday 13 about repetitive songs, since it seems to have been written solely with the purpose of seeing how many times the word 'True' could be mentioned. Somewhere, amidst all the 'True's, there's the refreshingly honest Why do I find it hard to write the next line? which I assume refers to the song. Maybe the answer to why he finds it so hard is due to the next line not containing the word 'true' (although it does contain the word 'truth' so it's not exactly a radical departure). Of course, it might not be a self-referential song, and the singer could be just be struggling to write a letter, or possibly blogging (in which case the reason he found it so hard to write the next line would be that blogging hadn't yet been invented).

3. The Leaves That Are Green - Paul Simon

I've already mentioned this in a previous Thursday 13, and its opening self-referential lines of
I was twenty-one years when I wrote this, I'm twenty-two now but I won't be for long which were later appropriated for Billy Bragg's New England. It now also occurs to me that its "Hello Hello Hello" refrain might have been appropriated decades later by Nirvana for Smells Like Teen Spirit, not to mention by stereotypical English policemen.

4. Yes Sir, I Can Boogie - Baccara

Probably the best thing about the song is its wonderfully self-referential lines You wanna know if I can dance, Yes Sir, Already told you in the first verse, And in the chorus.

5. Boring Song - Status Quid

A fairly accurate parody of the British band Status Quo, in this self-proclaimed boring song performed by the Hee Bee Gee Bees on their sadly now-unavailable album "Never Mind The Originals, Here's The Hee Bee Gee Bees". Also slightly self-referential is their Bee Gees parody Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices which is indeed a meaningless song sung in very high voices. The writer of the songs, Philip Pope, went on to write near enough all the songs for the UK version of Spitting Image.

6. Thank You For The Music - Abba

Thank you for the music, the song I'm singing sang the palindromic pop sensations, who were so brilliant they never even bothered releasing this masterpiece as a single at the time. Soon afterwards, aged Forces' Sweetheart Vera Lynn used to turn up on UK TV occasionally singing this, but she never included the first verse which began I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a bore - not particularly interesting admittedly, but it segues nicely into my next choice:

7. You're So Vain - Carly Simon

You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you. But if you were to think that you'd be wrong, it is of course about me.

8. Your Song - Elton John

If you really want a song to be about you, then you can tell everybody that this is your song. Actually there are quite a number of self-referential songs with the word "Song" in the title: The Beautiful South's beautifully cynical Song For Whoever, The Beatles' Only a Northern Song, Petula Clark's This Is My Song, Simon and Garfunkel's "Song For The Asking", and Scarlet's "Independent Love Song" spring to mind.

9. The Intro and The Outro - Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

A song devoted entirely to introducing the band and their amazing guests.

10. Number Three - They Might Be Giants

The third song from their eponymous debut album, which declares Since there's just two songs in me
and this is Number Three

11. School's Out - Alice Cooper

After some cool puns about class and principles/principals, Alice cleverly gets around the lack of rhymes for 'principles' with the line We can't even think of a word that rhymes.

12. 99 Luftballons - Nena

I got the idea for this week's Thursday 13, but was struggling to come up with anything after my first eleven, so I started googling and found that my idea wasn't the least bit original and had already been done ridiculously comprehensively already at the List of Self-Referential Songs (a similar thing happened with my Comic Book Romance Thursday 13 when I came across a site called coincidentally enough A Comic Book Romance). Anyway, from fairly early on in the site, I went with Nena's Neunundneunzig Luftballons which refers to itself in the German version, but not in the English version Ninety-Nine Red Balloons. The German version is also used in the movie Watchmen, which I tend to mention a lot on this blog (and I'm assuming the Watchmen fans out there are net-savvy enough to have already discovered that cool '80s Saturday morning cartoon version of it, so don't need me to tell them about it).

13. Tribute - Tenacious D

A song about the greatest song in the world, which seems self-referential, but near the end they reveal And the peculiar thing is this my friends: the song we sang on that fateful night it didn't actually sound anything like this song, which I guess it means it really shouldn't be on this list, but, hey, it was either this or Joe Pasquale's I Know A Song That'll Get On Your Nerves (thankfully one of the songs I couldn't find a link for on Youtube).

So, that's the end of my list. Please let me know if there are any of your favourite self-referential songs I've missed.


Thom said...

I so forgot about spandau ballet. Great list. Carly Simon WOOT

The Bumbles said...

My favorite is Brian Eno & David Byrne's "Strange Overtones" myself. Cracks me up every time I hear it when in the middle of telling his story, Byrne reminds Eno that his song still needs a chorus - I'm sure you'll figure it out. Not to mention criticizing him about his beats being 20 years old.

Improbable Joe said...

The Tenacious D song is funny in that it is actually a tribute to two of the real "greatest songs in the world": Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", and "One" by Metallica! They wanted to write a song better than "One", and they wound up writing a song that totally rips off the chord changes in "Stairway"... double tribute!

A Blog In The Rough said...

tenacious D, lol. I'll have to give this one a bit of a thought :)

Rikki said...

Liked your musings on True and the Paul Símon song. Why they bothered to even make an Engish version of 99 Luftballons I don't understand. In my opinion the song makes little sense in German and even less so in English (the translation leaves a lot ot be desired; that seems to happen a lot).

PennyLane said...

Spandau ballet! I love it!
Check out Jimmy Eat World yet? Always Be is a good self referential.