7. Kansas - Dust in the Wind
Perhaps it is unfair to put Kansas on this list, for I would not say that their songs are bereft of meaning (I actually like them). But they do have that element of... 'Shh, you are about to hear something profound. Gather round my children, while I teach you an important life lesson.' "I close my eyes, only for a moment but the moment's gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind." Preach it brother! "Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see." I can't tell if he is trying to tell me something, or he's just really depressed. In another of their songs, we have the lyric; "If I claim to be a wise man, well it surely means that I don't know". Well, OK, I suppose there's something to that, but I liked it better when Socrates said it. At any rate, this is not so much an indictment of Kansas, who may have in fact been trying to say something meaningful (as depressing as that message may be), rather it is a commentary on a song which has all the classic characteristics of heavy-handedness.
6. Aerosmith - Dream On
Much like the former, this too has a haunting intro in the classical vein. The listener is pulled in by the musical drama, and as he follows the lyrical carrot, he expects that there will be some kind of payoff. Alas, the carrot is one of those fake ones you find on display at your Local Pier 1 Imports; "Half my life is book written pages/ Live and learn from fools and from sages/ You know it's true, oh, all the things come back to you". Some actually refer to this as the law of physics, but I digress. All of this sounds rather thoughtful, that is until you get around to asking what that thought is? Steven Tyler then goes on to say in the chorus; "Sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laughter, sing for the tears. Sing with me, just for today. Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away." The chorus begins with a sort of anthemic rise, until we reach the conclusion which turns out to be a whole lot of cryptic garble. In point of fact, the final words of the chorus sound a little too much like a lyrical- though decorative- space filler. I guess what I am saying is I don't quite understand why the Good Lord is going to take me away tomorrow. And if he is, should I be pleased about that? Moreover, why is Steven Tyler asking me to sing with him? I get the feeling he has a reason, he just never gets around to telling me what that is. One of the primary characteristics of such navel gazing classics, is the ability to leave the listener with the distinct impression that you are actually going somewhere with your poetic collage of images. However, what the listener receives instead (as is demonstrated by the beatific fortune cookie on display above) is a big fat nothing burger, a veritable donut hole without the donut.
5. Blue Oyster Cult - The Reaper
I will avoid mention of that magnificent cow bell and get right to the issue. I love this song, mainly because it reminds me of Steven King's book "The Stand". In the TV miniseries (inspired by the book), 99% of the population dies as a result of a plague. This eerily upbeat song about embracing the reaper serves as the backdrop for this almost universal march towards death. As interesting as that all sounds, the song by itself is a little more dubious in its messaging. The music is certainly haunting and the general subject matter sounds interesting, but everywhere in between reads a little too much like a teenagers first attempt at writing a depressing poem; "Valentine is done. Here but now they're gone". Whaaa? "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity. We can be like they are." Yipee, we too can kill ourselves with the hope of something good coming out of it. At one point in the song there is a musical interlude which one would suspect represents the appearance of the reaper. Is the song about accepting the reality of death, or an invitation to suicide? I do not know, but what I can say is that the final verse, like so many of the songs of this ilk, is purposely oblique so that only the most credentialed occultist may be able to interpret it; "Came the last night of sadness, and it was clear she couldn't go on. Then the door was opened and the wind appeared. The candles blew and disappeared. The curtains flew and then he appeared". Wow, did he just rhyme appear and disappear, and then conclude it by putting "appear" again? I think he did.
4. America - Horse With No Name
Taking into account the sheer breadth of nonsensical lyrics that this band has produced, they themselves could be the focus of an entire blog (need I mention The Tin Man or Ventura Highway). You need only read the first verse then you will know exactly what I mean; "On the first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life. There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings. The first thing I met, was a fly with a buzz and the sky with no clouds. The heat was hot and the ground was dry, but the air was full of sound." There is not much that I can add to this lyrical abyss other than to say that a second grader could write better lyrics. I say second grader because when I was in second grade I wrote my first poem about a buzzing bee which had more content than this one. The chorus then wades into even deeper waters; "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to get out of the rain" (I won't even ask what a horse with no name even means). In the desert you can remember your name 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain." There is much to say about the potential paradox of a desert, but this "ain't" it. I will simply conclude with the second verse, which requires no comment other than to say that I hope they were on drugs when they wrote it, because no other explanation, save humor, could exonerate them from such stupidity; "After two days in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red. After three days in the desert fun (did he just say "desert fun"), I was looking at a river bed. And a story it told of a river that flowed , made me sad to think it was dead." Huh? A story about a river that tells a story about a river...
3. Bette Midler - The Rose
'The Rose' is a well crafted song, but the lyrics sound a little like something you mind find in a hallmark card. You know, that kind where you can't really think of your own material, so you find some sappy card which says everything that you feel like you would say if you were only a little more poetic (we won't even talk about 'Wind Beneath My Wings'). Actually it is probably not something you would say, but as long as someone else can say something nice for you, it saves you from having to worry about it. You then simply add your signature at the bottom of the card. This is the type of song that makes the sentimental type well up with emotion and feel like the songwriter has divined the secret thoughts of their soul; "Some say love it is a river, that drowns the tender reed. Some say love it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed. I say love it is a flower and you its only seed." Behold, the meaning of life revealed in one fell swoop! "Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes the rose." I can't tell if this is a botany lesson, or a helpful reminder about what happens when the seasons change. The truth is I understand exactly what Bette is trying to say about hope and adversity, and I think that her sentiment is well taken, but I just can't get the image out of my mind [whenever I listen to this song] of a card with a few scattered seeds on the cover and a gigantic rose inside superimposed over the words of the song. Perhaps it's just me.
2. Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Speaking of roses... In 1991 the sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure hit theaters. Not exactly academy award material, though nevertheless most amusing. At any rate, the movie featured a scene in which Bill and Ted, who are sort of like Valley Boys, are told by "God" that in order to save their lives they must reveal to Him the meaning of life. Both pause for a moment, and then consult one another, and then turn towards the divine being again, declaring; "Every rose has its thorn/ Every night has its dawn/Every cowboy sings a sad sad song/Every rose has its thorn." After they finish reciting these words, they wait in great anticipation for the response- and they are not disappointed- for "God" affirms that they have answered correctly! Appropriately this dim witted pair manage to turn this dime store wisdom into their personal motto. Why? Because it is precisely the type of teenage melodrama that makes any given adolescent feel like they are grasping at the very marrow of life. The song depicts a failed relationship, which clearly the song writer greatly laments. When he arrives at the chorus he has every intention of revealing what sage advice he has gained from these events. The first morsel is the paradox of the beautiful rose and her subsequent thorns. Then, like a great epiphany, it is revealed that every night has its dawn, a proposition that few could squabble with. Then we are told that every cowboy sings a sad sad song. At this point I have to ask, what does a cowboy singing a "sad sad song" have to do with your girlfriend dumping you? Is the implication here that cowboys are generally inclined to sing happy happy songs? And furthermore, does Brett Michaels consider himself a cowboy because that's what it sounds like he's saying? This magnificent hodge-podge of unrelated sayings is spectacular in that it shows that you really don't need to know what the heck you are talking about, as long as you say it somewhat creatively.
1. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
Known to incorporate Lord of the Rings references into their songs, this band has a whole catalogue of lyrics that sound like they could be the soundtrack of Dungeons and Dragons. With Robert Plant's fixation on Tolkien, and Jimmy Paige's penchant for dabbling into the occult, Zeppelin was able to capture some of the mystery of Lord of the Rings without any of the content; "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven/ When she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for". Even the band America might be tempted a chuckle at the sheer stupidity of these lyrics. "There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure, 'cause you know sometimes words have two meanings". Hey Robert, I'm just looking for your words to have one meaning. "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow don't be alarmed now (I suppose the words hedgerow and alarmed now kind of rhyme in a way), it's just a spring clean for the May queen." There is perhaps something alarming about a bustle in a hedgerow, but it is difficult to get too terribly excited about a "spring cleaning" event, even if it does involve a May Queen. "Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there's still time to change the road your on." This lyric couldn't be any more ridiculous if it said; "when you come to a fork in the road, take it". In fact, I think the latter has far more potential.
Receiving honorable mention are Iron's Butterfly's admittedly nonsensical 'In A Gadda Da Vida', which, according to them, sounded cooler than calling it "In the garden of Eden". I think a better name would be 'Yabba Dabba Da Vita', but what do I know? The other song receiving honorable mention is R.E.M's 'It's the End of the World As We Know It But I Feel Fine'... In truth, I could have used any number of songs from this band (remember 'Swan Swan Hummingbird'?), but this one in particular is so littered with nonsense from start to finish, that I couldn't leave off without mentioning it. And lastly, I honor, "Owner of the Lonely Heart", by Yes with its ode to... only God knows the answer to that.