Monday, October 15, 2012

The 10 Most Nonsensical Songs of All Time

The primary difference between these songs and hieroglyphics is that hieroglyphics are decipherable and when deciphered actually say something, while these songs, when they are "translated," not only become more unintelligible, but you actually wish you could go back to that innocent time when you had no idea what the lyrics were at all. Instead, as you begin to listen to the words more carefully, it becomes readily apparent that you are not the only one who has no idea what they are talking about.

10. In-A-Gada-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly

Not to be confused with what a child says when he or she is trying to say "Daddy", or Fred Flintstone's famous catchphrase "Yabba-Dabba-Da-Vida", this Iron Butterfly song was originally supposed to be called In the Garden of Eden, but after the lead singer started slurring the words while intoxicated, the band decided that the resulting nonsense sounded cooler than the actual words. Hence, the title of the song. Though tenth on the list, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida holds a very special place, for unlike the other songs on the list, it really is gibberish, not just real words that happen to say nothing.

9. Stand - R.E.M.

Famous for his stream of conscious lyrics, Stipe sometimes actually manages to say something with his collage of images, while at other times it can just come off sounding like a child rhyming on the playground. Frankly, the song reminds me of something you might hear when children are skipping rope or playing hopscotch; "Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven't before... If you are confused, check with the sun. Carry a compass to move you along. Your feet are going to be on the ground, your head is there to move you around." Note to self; "Your head is there to move you around." I will treasure this wisdom always.

8. Ironic - Alanis Morissette

First, let me credit Ms. Morissette for tackling such an interesting subject as "irony." However, the problem with writing a song about instances of irony is that you actually have to provide instances of irony; "It's like rain on your wedding day, It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. It's like meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife." One might describe these events as "typical", or even the result of "Murphy's law," but they are not "ironic" in the strictest sense. The truth is Ms. Morissette gives a valiant effort in this regard, but sadly it is one that ultimately comes up short. Now isn't that ironic- a song about irony that has no irony. Indeed, by avoiding irony altogether, Ms. Morissette has written the most ironic song of all.

7. Kryptonite - Three Doors Down

I don't mean to slag on this band because they seem like good guys, but when it comes to their first major hit, Kryptonite, they've got some explaining to do. The song is presumably an attempt to draw a parallel between the story of Superman and the lead singer. However, when one uses a figure as colorful as Superman, the metaphor should in fact reflect that which it represents; "If I go crazy then would you still call me Superman. If I'm alive and well would you be there a holdin' my hand. I'll keep you by my side with my super-human might. Kryptonite." OK, I can overlook the questionable use of Superman in this song, but I can't just turn the other way when one arbitrarily throws the word "Kryptonite" where it doesn't belong. He may just as well have thrown the word "beta-carotene" or "ziggurat" in the song, it would have made about the same amount of sense. I know, I know, kryptonite is part of the story of Superman, but what, pray tell, does it have to do with the previous statement? I know it rhymes, but just because something rhymes doesn't make it true (though I am tempted to argue otherwise). Perhaps the lyric writer needs a reminder that Superman does not like Kryptonite, so not only does it not follow from the previous statement, it contradicts it.

6. I Want It That Way - Backstreet Boys

My lyrical standards for boybands (or girlbands like the Spice Girls) are very low. In fact, I have about the same expectation as I do for a second grader writing their first poem. For example, here is the first poem I ever wrote; "A cat went to a tree. He ate a bee. The bee did buzz. The cat raised his fuzz, and they ran around and around all over town." Genius, no. Logical in the most basic sense? Yes. So when I listen the lyrics of a song like I Want It That Way, I am not asking for much. Alas, that is apparently too much to much to ask for. Placed at the end of every verse and chorus is this inexplicable phrase; "I want it that way". In the first verse it is a good thing. In the second it is a bad thing. In the chorus, he "never wants to hear her say it." Son, make up your mind, do you want it that way, or not? And what pray tell, is "that way" in the first place?  Not since Meat Loaf's, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that", has a lyric said so much and so little at the same time. In any case, when I hear this catchy little number I can't help but to think that it would make a great fast food commercial. How would you like your burger, sir? "I want it that way!"

5. Africa - Toto

"I know that I must do what's right, as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus across the Serengeti... It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. It's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take the time to do the things we never have." This may very well mean something profound that I am just not cultured enough to understand (which is more than a little possible).The other possibility is that the band is just making stuff up. According to lyricist Jeff Porcaro, he wrote the song after watching a documentary on Africa. So inspired by it was he that he wrote a song about going to Africa, a place he had never been. In a certain sense he does pull it off. The song really does have an exotic feel, not to mention a great chorus. But upon closer observation, the lyrics have about as much content as the love song that I have yet to write about the people of Mongolia. To be clear, I have never been to Mongolia, but I have watched a special on National Geographic, and was fascinated by it. And though I generally leave it to God to do the blessing, as much as I can, I too "bless the rains" in Mongolia, especially in the capital city Ulaanbaatar, where it is sorely needed (or so I am told).

4. MacArthur Park - Donna Summer

Performed in the late 70's by the recently deceased Donna Summer, this song starts promisingly with a rather pleasant melody coupled with lyrics that seem pretty straight forward. Then all of sudden, it goes south in a hurry; "Spring was never waiting for us. It ran one step ahead... Between the parted pages, and were pressed in love's hot fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants." How many songs do you know use a simile comparing love to a striped (she actually says strip├ęd) pair of pants? "MacArthur park is melting in the dark. All the sweet green icing flowing down. Someone left the cake out in the rain. I don't think I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it, and I'll never have that recipe again, oh no...". To the contrary, oh yes! I take it back- this is one of the most spectacular songs ever written; the words couldn't be anymore marvelous if the songwriter tried to make a joke out of the song. R.E.M., once upon a time, tried to do this with their song Superman (not to be confused with the 3 Doors Down version), and Sting, in a bid to make fun of the song Every Breath You Take, added these words at the end of one of his solo efforts; "Every breath you take, every move you make, every cake you bake, every leg you break..." But the genius of comparing a broken heart to a cake melting in the rain is almost too much for me to bear. It is difficult to write a lyrical masterpiece, but it is perhaps even more difficult to write spectacularly bad lyrics and mean them. This song accomplishes all of this in spades.

3. The Impression That I Get (Knock on Wood) - The Might Mighty Bosstones

Perhaps no one has ever really explained to the lead singer what it means to "knock on wood," because the "impression that he seems to get about it" seems to be the wrong one. "Have you ever been close to tragedy, or been close to folks who have. Have you ever felt a pain so powerful, so heavy you collapse... Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high you need a strength that most don't possess. Or has it ever come down to do or die, you've got rise above the rest? Never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has, which makes me wonder if I could... because I'm sure it isn't good. That's the impression that I get." Don't get me wrong, this ska-influenced band is a lot of fun, and I especially like the fact that they have a guy in the band who's only job is to dance around, but I feel almost like interrupting him in mid song if only to save him from the embarrassment of not making sense in front of millions of people. It is almost as if the song 'Ironic" and this one got together in order to follow the same pattern of lyrics that have nothing to do with the major premise of the song. "Knocking on wood" really isn't  meant to be some deeply foreboding act that one only commences doing at the darkest hour. To the contrary, it generally follows a spate of good luck, and is, in most cases, a light-hearted attempt to try to keep the winds of fortune blowing in the same direction. One does not generally knock on wood when one is in throes of some tragic situation- wherein one feels as if they will "collapse", rather it is the behavior of one who is simply looking for a little positive juju.

2. Sunglasses at Night - Corey Hart

The song starts in promising fashion, with haunting synthesizers as well as the description of a man wearing sunglasses at night; an image which may be pretentious, but may also be an opportunity for setting up some dramatic intrigue. However, intrigue is quickly transformed into lameness when these words are uttered; "I wear my sunglasses at night so I can, so I can, watch you weave and breathe your story lines..." But this is practically Shakespeare compared to what follows; "Don't switch the blade on a guy in shades, oh no." Oh no indeed! Did he just take poetic license with the word "switchblade"? "Don't masquerade with the guy in shades, oh no. I don't believe it, because you've got it made with the guy in shades, oh no." Oh my, I think is the expression. "I wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can forget my name while you collect your claim..." What makes this song so marvelously nonsensical is the fact that by the end of the song we still have no idea why he is really wearing those stupid sunglasses in the first place (other than some ill-conceived attempt to remain incognito at a party). OK, I can understand wanting to watch a crowd without having them watch you, but when it comes to "switching the blade on a guy in shades" that's where I have to draw the line. And no, I don't care if you've "got it made with the guy in shades", that still does not excuse the lyrical pablum that proceeds from this mid 1980's hit record.

1. The Hurdy Gurdy Man - Donovan

Let me first say that I am not quite certain that Donovan is actually from this planet- so that might, to some extent, explain the bizarre nature of this song. Secondly, I suppose it is somehow apropos that even the real words in this song sound like they are fake (the hurdy gurdy is in actuality a real instrument). It is almost as if Donovan set out to write a song about St. Francis (who was also known to play on stringed instruments "singing songs of love"), but decided instead to turn Francis into some trippy tie-dye wearing peacenik who walks around in a haze singing gibberish and telling people to be nice to one another. "Thrown like a star in my vast sleep, I open my eyes to take a peep". I half expect to hear about Santa Claus next. "Twas' when the hurdy gurdy man came singing songs of lo-o-ove." Making the song even stranger and more remote sounding is the fact that the whole piece is sung in such an ethereal way. If an album were recorded on a spaceship this is exactlywhat I imagine it would sound like. And then comes my personally favorite part; "Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang. Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy. Roly poly, roly poly, roly poly, he sang. Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy." And that goes on for a while. Indeed, just about the only thing missing from this buffet of weirdness is a backing track from the Swedish chef.


1 comment:

  1. 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' is one of my favorite songs of all time. It's SO underrated. It was way ahead of its time and sounds like an early grunge song. The guitar solo is amazing as well. I honestly don't understand why it gets overlooked so much. Heavy-sounding songs that came out at around the same time such as 'Helter Skelter' and 'Purple Haze' are always praised for being ahead of their time. I personally like whimsical and/or 'creepy' songs as well.