Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Top 5 Romantic Songs... That Really Aren't.

Have you ever found yourself singing along to a song that you liked- only to realize that the lyrics were rather foul and repugnant? Such is the power of music. Let us explore five songs that are widely considered to be odes to love, but in reality are odes to mediocrity. Most of these ballads are relatively old, due in large part to the fact that I am relatively old, but even more so because it was during the 70s and 80s that a whole genre was dedicated this kind of slouching laxity. Below are the best of the best.

5. Sister Golden Hair - America

The band America is infamous for its bad lyrics (think: "Horse With No Name"). But this mid 70s classic really takes the cake; "Well I just keep thinkin' 'bout you; Sister Golden Hair Surprise." I can't tell whether this is a term of endearment, or some kind of heretofore unheard of pasta recipe. In any case, the tone of the lyrics would seem to suggest the former (though admittedly I am no cryptologist). Yet what makes this upbeat romantic ballad so unromantic is the way the man ultimately attempts to woo the lady; "I'm not ready for the altar, but I do believe there are times/ where a woman sure can be a friend of mine." Well, sweep the woman off her feet, why don't you? "I've been one poor correspondent, I've been too too hard to find, but it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind." I'm sure that whoever this lady is, she can indeed take great comfort in knowing that she is floating around somewhere in the back of the mind of a guy who has not contacted her in God knows how long.

An important side note: One of the keys to reaching the desired poetical and lyrical sublimity is to use bad grammar and abbreviate words as much as possible.

4. I'd Really Love To See You Tonight - England Dan and John Ford Coley    

 We all knew that "playing it cool" was the approach that one takes when trying to attract the attention of a girl, but this duo brings it to new heights. With a remarkable air of disinterest (if not indifference), the protagonist of the song explains to this nameless girl that he would "really love to see her tonight", which would be fine if it ended there, but alas, it does not. Instead, he chooses to make his grand plans available to all; "We could go walkin' through a windy park, take a drive along the beach, or stay at home and watch TV, you know it really doesn't matter much to me". Impressively, the song gets even worse than that. "I'm not talkin' 'bout movin' in, and I don't want to change your life, but there's a warm wind blowing the stars around and I'd really love to see you tonight." Do you see rainbows and unicorns yet? I could be wrong, but I think he just tried to proposition her, while simultaneously suggesting that this was the most thoughtful thing he could do. Apparently even "movin' in" is setting the bar too high for this Casanova. Come on ladies, who could resist a man who wants to be with you primarily because there's a "warm wind blowin' the stars around."

3. Your Love - The Outfield

If you pay attention at all to the lyrics of this song, it is difficult to get around their crude and almost brutal tenor. On the surface, it may sound like a sweet ode to a girl, but dig just a little deeper, and you discover something quite reprehensible. It seems that his girlfriend Josie is "on a vacation far away", and that he wants the other object of his affection ("object" being the operative word here) to come on over so they can "talk it over". But there is one problem with this little liaison (beyond the infidelity part). It seems he "likes his girls a little bit older." I will leave it to the reader's imagination to figure out precisely what that means, but let us hope that it does not involve any statutory infractions. Judging by the way he speaks to this young girl, one wonders what type of person would even listen to him. "You know I'd do anything for you, stay the night but keep it under cover. I just wanna use your love tonight, I don't wanna lose your love tonight". Apparently the laws of contradiction do not apply to the Outfield. "I would do anything for you"... that is except treat you with any respect. "I don't want to lose your love... tonight." What an enduring sentiment! "And as you leave, please, don't forget to close the door." The only thing that could have made this more insulting is if he had asked her to get him a sandwich while she was up.

2. Amie - Pure Prairie League  

I don't know what it was about the music in the 70s, but there seemed to be a whole genre dedicated to romantic mediocrity. Music has always told the story of this or that "ne'er do well", but never had it so audaciously tried to convince us that women really don't want a passionate loving man so much as an existential coach potato. Maybe people mistook it as a kind of humble understatement about one's own expectations in a relationship. At any rate, this nonchalant attitude was indicative of what many felt at the time. Amie is no exception. Equipped with a pleasant laid back melody, and a quiet, if not shy, vocal performance, one could get the impression that this ballad is nothing more than a sweet, down home, southern-fried classic. What it is instead is the same old mealy mouthed indecisive half-plea to a girl to maybe come back to him; "Which way we should turn together or alone, I can never see what is right or what is wrong... I keep fallin' in and out of love with you... don't know what I'm gonna do." Well, it's good to hear your thoughts on the matter, and I cannot imagine that "Amie" would have the strength to resist such a heartfelt invitation to vacillate with you for all of eternity. The chorus is the most telling of all; "Amie, what you wanna do, I think I could stay with you for a while, maybe longer, if I do." Listen buddy, don't write a check that you can't cash. After all, how could any one hope to be true to a woman for "a little while," or dare I say it, "maybe longer."

1. Imagine - John Lennon


There are so many other songs that I could add to this list, like "Fooled Around and Fell in Love", whose first line is "I must have been through about a thousand girls", or the Police's "Every Breath You Take", which for them was a song about stalking, but for couples getting married, was apparently an ode to fidelity (you know like the kind in the novel 1984). Yet when it comes to the most romantic of unromantic songs, there is one more fabulously grandiose than the rest.  Though the song "Imagine" is not romantic in the traditional sense, it does have a romantic quality to it. Instead of proposing to a particular woman, Lennon seems to be "proposing" to all of mankind. When people listen to this song they get wistful, as though they were listening to a patriotic anthem of sorts. And when musicians cover this song, they play it as reverently as if it were a religious hymn. The truth is the song is neither. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe it as an attack on religion, or an attack on patriotism. The song begins with the fateful words; "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try". He might just as well begin with; "Imagine there's no Christmas... it isn't hard to do." The song promises peace if we will only "imagine" that there are no countries, no possessions, and nothing to kill or die for (one might be tempted to add 'nothing to live for' to the list as well). It seems the real heaven, according to Lennon, comes not from any tangible action, but from day-dreaming the material world back into virtual oblivion. The video is consistent with the lyrical narrative. In the beginning he and Yoko are walking through the fog; eventually they arrive at a house that "isn't" there- performing in a room devoid of colors- while dressed in white pantsuits. The piano sounds like it's under water, the vibe reminds me of a rainy day, and the music sounds too slow for its own good, but beyond that, the song is very upbeat and hopeful.


  1. Hmm.... and to think that I am a sucker for at least the first two songs ;) Good Job Sean! :) As per usual :)

  2. "infamous for its bad lyrics"

    Certainly infamous are the fatuous Horse lyrics, but I still find the words of Ventura Highway beguiling, although not for romantic reasons.

  3. Hey I love this subject. How about 'Stay' by Lisa Loeb; 'Tonight, Tonight' by Smashing Pumpkins; 'I'm on Fire' by Springsteen; 'Tonight's the Night' by Rod Stewart...on and on.

    Speaking of last song, what does this mean exactly: "just let your inhibitions run wild"? I mean if they run wild, then won't she become overrun with inhibition?

  4. Chapmaniac,

    This is topic that isn't easily exhausted. Let me contribute "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" by James Taylor. Taylor's easy lyrics and the sax make this the kind of song that puts one in a romantic mood.

    However, the lyrics are downright repugnant (to use your word). How any woman would let herself be seduced while this song is playing, I don't understand.

    Here's a sample:
    -Do me wrong, do me right. Tell me lies but hold me tight.
    -Save your good-byes for the morning light, but don't let me be lonely tonight.
    -Go away then, damn you, go on and do as you please,
    -You ain't gonna see me getting down on my knees.
    -I'm undecided

    He's not looking for Mrs. Right, just Mrs. Right-now.

  5. Duly noted. The thing I like about doing these lists is it gives those who read them fodder to create their own. Thanks again for your own input.

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