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Posts Tagged ‘fun with song lyrics

Fear not: this is not the usual long-winded post about nothing in particular, although there will obviously be more of those to come in the future, sporadically though they may.

Instead, a housekeeping note: I noticed recently that the Fun With Song Lyrics posts seem to be taking over here. And, while I enjoy those quite a bit, it seems like maybe not the sort of content the 3 of your signed up for when you subscribed to this blog. So I’ve decided to branch those out into their very own blog – funwithsonglyrics.wordpress.com, which you can choose to subscribe to or not in whatever fashion you choose.

To get with the times, there’s even a twitter account – @funwithlyrics – you can follow for updates, or send me requests if there’s a song you desperately want me ruin for you. In a couple of years, there will probably be an Instagram presence, and maybe a while after that, I’ll look into Periscope. Oh, and Reddit! Because that I’m sure will always be a thing. Just like blogging.

Anyway, there’s new content there right now – a close look at the weirdly bleak depiction of love in The Power of Love, by Huey Lewis and the News.

One other housekeeping note, which goes for that blog and this one too:  if you get the content sent to you in some fashion – like a reader or something – I’d appreciate it if you could still at least click over to the actual site  so I know someone besides me is reading this. I know I’ll always be my own biggest fan, but it would be nice to know that someone else is out there too.

Okay! Back to your Tuesday. Wait – Wednesday; back to your Wednesday.

It’s the showdown between the ubiquitous ’70s country crossover hit versus an indie acoustic ’90s song that you’ve never in your life heard! Which Am(ie)(y) will end up being amazing?

The contenders: “Amie” by Pure Prairie League, and “Amy” by Baby Flamehead (which I would have linked to, but the song doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the internet).

Which song has the better title?

Points off for spelling, Pure Prairie League.
Winner: Amy

Which band has the better name?

Although everyone can sing the song, or at least the chorus, of “Amie”, few of you could probably have named the band without having to look it up. Such is the inevitable the fate of a one-hit wonder, but it’s not like Pure Prairie League just rolls off the tongue.

Additionally, while I’m sure it was intended as a perfectly innocent if slightly nonsensical name back in the day – equivalent to today’s “Florida-Georgia Line,” or “Blake Shelton” – 40 years later there’s something about the name that, while I can’t quite elaborate why, strikes me as vaguely racist, in much the same way that always made me avoid the “Boston Cleansing” laundromat even though it was closest to my house.

Baby Flamehead, on the other hand, is a band I only discovered because of their name, as my friends and I would occasionally buy albums (which is what we called cassettes) by bands we’d never heard of, based only on their names. Sometimes this worked – Voice of the Beehive remains a peppy delight, even to this day; other times it didn’t go so well – you will always be terrible, Lolita Pop.

In addition to an interesting name (which is potentially a reference to something? I always assumed Flamehead was another way of saying Arsonist; I may have always watched too many crime shows), Baby Flamehead’s album had a nun on the cover. You may not know this, but Jewish kids, raised in a Jewish neighborhood, with no idea what the world is like outside their Jewish enclave, find nuns hysterical. Throw in a song with my name, and there was no way I wasn’t going to buy this album.

Winner: Amy

Which song had the greater cultural impact?

“Amie” reached number 27 on the Billboard charts, and can even today be sung by everyone who had any awareness of their surroundings in the ’70s. Which I know because, at one point or another, all of them have sung it to me; people don’t realize how hard it is to get in on the ground floor with the name-based references. You didn’t need to click on that link up there to remember how at least the chorus goes, but I bet you were surprised to find out that the song has a couple of verses, too.

On the other hand “Amy,” as I mentioned above, doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on the internet; the band doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, let alone the song. I’m pretty sure the only people who’ve ever heard it are me, Scott and Stacey, who were with me at the Sam Goody when I bought the album; the members of Baby Flamehead; and possibly their significant others, although I suppose if there were any bad break-ups in there, the others would have made an effort to forget the songs of their exes first thing.

Winner: Amie

Which song presents a more lyrically positive image of Amie/Amy?

Let’s start with “Amie.” As you know, the chorus goes like this:

Amie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
for a while, maybe longer if I do.

First, though I know that this song was not written about me, having had it sung to me so many times (which we will get to), it’s a little difficult not to interpret it a little personally. Additionally, having heard it so many times, it’s a little difficult not to notice that this is not exactly a flattering sentiment; in essence, you’re weighing the possibility of spending an indeterminate amount of time with me, and even though “for a while, maybe longer,” is certainly more realistic than songs that might promise eternity or span the universe, it’s hard for a girl to get swept up in the notion that she might do for now. Also, she might not; who can say?

As I said, there are also verses to this song, but let’s skip them since no one remembers them anyway, to get to the end the song, which repeats this:

I keep falling in and out of love with you.

Um, thanks? That’s like the Neanderthal to a compliment’s Homo Sapien: people tend to mix them up even though they having nothing at all in common, and one of them literally died out because they sucked so bad.

“Amy,” starts out on a seemingly positive note – Amy is very smart, very pretty, all of the boys like Amy. As we listened in the car on the way home from Sam Goody, Scott commented from the driver’s seat “Oh, this sounds nice!”

To which I, in the back seat, thought “…. No. It doesn’t.” But I didn’t say it, because sometimes you don’t want to be the only one who knows something, and in this particular instance, I didn’t want to be right. But then the chorus kicked in, and I was, because this happened:

Amy can make a sunny day gray.
Amy can make everyone in the whole room leave.
Nobody likes you.
Nobody likes you.
Nobody likes you.

Oh, Baby Flamehead; you’ll never get invited to the Lilith Fair with that attitude.*

Verdict: Ooof, you guys; this is a doozy. On the one hand, Pure Prairie League clearly does not think that Amie is the worst person in the world; on the other, Baby Flamehead is maybe painfully direct, but at least they’re not playing any kind of mind games with Amy. Of course, Baby Flamehead, as their name suggests, is somewhat adolescent in their belief that because they don’t like Amy no one possibly could, and also their habit of leaving any room she enters. Whereas Pure Prairie League is at least willing to engage in a dialogue with Amie, and recognizes that she has the power to determine what she wants to do.

Winner: Amie

Which song would I rather hear again?

It probably helps that Amy was not a popular song; it could be a fun in-joke with friends, without becoming a song that people would immediately break into upon meeting me, despite the inappropriate content. Which is what happened with Amie. And, while it probably would have been upsetting in high school to have to deal with people singing how nobody liked me, it was definitely creepy, as a six year-old, to have strangers singing me a love song, however lacking in romance it might have been.

And though there was undoubtedly nothing at all untoward intended, it was so uncomfortable to stand there with a wan smile on my face, trying to appreciate the 100th rendition of a song I didn’t like, not anymore, while all other action in the room ground to a halt so everyone else could watch it happen. Sometimes I’d be sitting, sometimes everyone else would join in the song, but constant was the feeling of “Oh, not this again,” every time it started, followed by a strained agreeability for that absolutely unique and not at all awkward experience, so thank you.

Winner: Amy

Final verdict

This is a classic David and Goliath battle. On the one hand, there’s a power hit from the ’70s that, even if it was never followed up by another, has enough staying power that I actually heard it this morning while I was in a coffeehouse writing this. (Really – that happened). On the other hand, there’s a song that you’ve never heard, and apparently can’t even if you wanted to do, and is thus impossible to measure on its own merits.

But, of course, Goliath always loses the battle. Not, in this case, because he underestimated the little guy, but because he underestimated his own strength. The crushing popularity of that song was enough to not only ensure that I would never like it, but occasionally make me wonder if I had only been born a few years later, after the height of Amie’s popularity, the prospect of people talking to me wouldn’t fill me with dread and exhaustion.

Winner: Amy

*Right – I totally forgot that you haven’t heard this song, and are therefore unaware that it’s sung by a very earnest female. But it was, and that’s why the Lilith Fair joke is funny.

As I’m sure is typical among the kids today, I first heard about Sting’s new album The Last Ship when I caught the music being performed on PBS. I was immediately intrigued. Not only does the music fall into the very specific sub-genre of Songs About Ships Being Built and On the Water that I love*, it also, as I discovered after buying the album, seemed to be a sequel to The Soul Cages. Which, truth be told, is the last of Sting’s previous solo albums that I was interested in; everything after it, though skillful, was a bit too committedly Adult Contemporary for my tastes. It was nice, then, with The Last Ship, to hear Sting return, if obliquely, to some of the more interesting diversions of his youth. Or perhaps it is simply that, in the intervening years, I have become more of an adult. Which, while there are a lot of things about aging that I disagree with, that I am now a contemporary of Sting’s is an unrestrained positive.

Either way, when I  legally purchased the cd, again following in the footsteps of today’s kids, I discovered that The Last Ship was not just a concept album but was also the basis of the stage show. Which was a little exciting, even though I am not generally a fan of the theatre. Primarily because embracing it would mean having to leave my house, but also because it tends to be expensive. It also takes a lot more planning than staying in, or even a trip to the grocery store, which requires a list. Too, what comes to Boston seems primarily to the Lion King, which I did not care for as a movie; or The Book of Mormon, which always has discounted tickets available so it seems like a good idea, until I remember that it’s probably going to be incredibly smug, and then I lose interest.

The Last Ship, though, does not suffer from being either of those things, and so, despite my aversion to the thea-tah, I decided to see it. Fortunately, because I am an overwhelmingly lazy person,I did not act on that decision for quite a while, a delay which allowed me, when I finally got around to purchasing the tickets, to see the show with Sting himself in the cast. And so it was that I took a bus to New York last weekend (as opposed to a plane to Chicago several months ago, as originally planned) to see my peer, Mr. Gordon Sumner, fret and strut his weary hour upon the stage. Oh, and also sing.

And the man can sing. Not that, at this point in time, anyone needs me to point that out. He actually opens the show, singing the very first line of “Island of Souls,” which was delightful and unexpected; when I read that he had joined the cast, it said that he was taking a rather small part. I don’t know if that reviewer, being a more experienced theatre-goer, has different definitions of “small” and “large” than I do, or if perhaps Sting had changed roles since that article was printed, but the show was basically the two leads, and then Sting. So I got an unexpected abundance of Sting in matinee, and that was unequivocally great.

So the show starts off on a high note (pun unintended but not regretted), and throughout, the music is quite good. I was familiar with most of the songs from the album, but I still appreciated the novelty of seeing them fleshed out with perhaps a bit more of the stories that inspired them. “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance,” already a favorite, was especially well-served by the context of the play, and vice versa; while “August Winds” was just so lovely as sung by a woman whose first love has finally returned that I actually payed attention to all the lyrics instead of just the chorus.

There were also a few original numbers included in the production. Far and away, the best of these featured the aforementioned woman. The first, “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor” was a fiery rebuke to her returned first love about why she’ll never trust a seaman; the second was the lovely “What Say You, Meg?”, sung to her, which succeeded as an earnest and heartfelt declaration despite being sung by someone with an almost complete lack of charisma. Although, as the third leg in the central love triangle, and the sensible option at that, perhaps that was a deliberate actorly choice.

Despite it still being stuck in my head almost a week later, “What Say You, Meg?” points up the major, and considerable, problem with The Last Ship, which is that the story itself is just not very good. Tonally, it was a bit all over the place: many of the scenes played like they were straight out of the British sitcoms that I’ve also seen on PBS (I swear this blog is not sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), and though they were actually quite funny – Sting himself lands a very good punchline as the head of the shipbuilding crew who has serious seasickness – the play itself is not a comedy, making these scenes seem jarring when juxtaposed with those of the young man who ran away from his abusive father, or the woman he left behind and returned to, who has maybe not entirely moved on with her life.

I understand not wanting to make an overwhelmingly bleak show. The album, according to the liner notes (which I finally read after returning from New York and before I started writing this, so: just about a week ago) was an attempt to portray a more balanced view of the shipbuilding life than in The Soul Cages, an attempt to capture the joy and successes in many people’s lives, even if those things were absent from the Sumner family itself. And while that effort comes across very well on the album, I think the play suffers from trying to integrate too many disparate stories into one cohesive telling. In my mind, the play would have worked much better as whatever would be the theater-equivalent of a series of stand-alone short stories. The son who ran away and then returned 15 years later can have his story, but make it separate from the father who teaches his teen-aged son to dance; and maybe allow someone who had not been absent for 15 years to speak at the priest’s funeral. Not just because the kid who ran away still returned as a bit of a brat, but because, if you want to present a picture of life in an industrial town – a dying industrial town, at that – show us more about the people who actually live there, instead of focusing on the one who’s just passing through.

That being said, I am very glad that I saw the show, even if it is now closed. There were a lot of very impressive things about the staging of the production – which I feel like sounds like faint praise, to say that the sets were impressive after busting on the story – and maybe people who see more shows would not be as impressed as I at the use of lighting to make it seem that the last ship they build actually sails into the sea. The songs were very good, and the cast – even those with both a first and last name – are obviously very talented. Mostly, though, I’m very glad that, after all this time, I’ve found some new music from a(n slightly) old(er) favorite. It’s comforting to know that, even as we both mature, Sting and I can still find things to talk about.

 

*I tried really hard to make a reference to my wheelhouse here, but it just couldn’t work. Please don’t think I cast aside a nautical pun on purpose; I would never do that.

A few months ago, I wrote about two songs that are not particularly good. And while that piece is undoubtedly the best press either of those songs has gotten at this late date in 2014, and is also undoubtedly considered long enough by anyone who actually read it, it does not include a few major points that I’d intended to make but unfortunately left out due to scheduling issues and poor time management on my part.

Point the first is that having a hit song, be it on the radio, the local music video station, or wherever it is music gets played these days (Youtube, I guess? I honestly have no idea where music happens anymore), takes a tremendous amount of effort. Even a truly terrible song represents sometimes years of hard work, of commitment to practice, of prioritizing the band, of just showing up, day after day after day, to play music or sing or perfect a chord progression (those are things, yes? chord progressions?) in front of a small audience of people you know and a handful of strangers who aren’t paying attention but are raising their voices so they can talk over you and all of your hard work. While we, the end-user, might be under the impression that the song we just heard for the first time ever is from a brand-new band, the truth is that the band existed long before we the public ever heard of them, and the fact that we’re hearing from them at all is an exceptional achievement on their part.

I admire the hell out of that. Even when I don’t like the end product at all, I have to recognize that these people have achieved something that I probably never will be able to do. I mean, I fully intended to write this follow-up post months ago, but didn’t get around to it because I’m so lazy. And even today, I’ve already taken about 5  breaks since I started 2 hours ago. Which, for those of you who did not flee to Kentucky to study math, means it’s taken 2 hours to write 2.5 paragraphs. That there are people – many of them! – who can sit still and focus on writing, every day, over and over and over again, is just amazing to me. That what they’ve written is terrible is utterly besides the point, because their terrible actual writing surpasses my brilliant imaginary writing, simply because it exists. Which is not to say that actual things can not be measured on their quality; it is only to say that there are real-world applications to getting an A for effort, just as there are to not living up to your potential.

Point the second is that while I will go to my grave insisting that those songs are no good (in a scenario where I am murdered by a crazed Deep Blue Something fan who, distraught that they can’t secure funding for a shot-by-shot remake of the video starring Avatar-style animated versions of the cast of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, holds me responsible for the failure of their Kickstarter but then, in turn, meets their own tragic end when my death at their hands is avenged by Oola, as is foretold), I never actually said that I don’t like them. In fact, the reason Breakfast at Tiffany’s was declared the winner of that particular scuffle is because I happen to like the song quite a bit : it’s catchy, the singer’s voice is pleasant, and I like thinking about breakfast. That might seem like faint praise, and it is; however, the point is, the song being objectively bad has no bearing on whether or not I like it.

In many circles, this would make Breakfast at Tiffany’s my guilty pleasure. Guilty pleasures have become increasingly popular over the past few years, for reasons I can’t begin to suppose although I do imagine some enterprising young cultural studies major will be writing a thesis on it. Guilty pleasures have become a niche market, especially on television, or at least it seems so to me because I read a lot about television, where, every season, some new show is being touted as “your new guilty pleasure”. And while I appreciate the level of effort that goes in to making these shows a success, I must admit it’s to finding it extremely interesting when they fail, as that usually generates at least one “Your new guilty pleasure – why did it fail?” article, as though the answer can not at least in part be found in a marketing campaign that considered the show being so terrible that liking it would be embarrassing a selling point.

To me, though, the concept of a guilty pleasure is a little weird. I’m not embarrassed by liking a particular song, or television show, or movie, or book, or whatever. Enjoying something that is definitely terrible is not the sum total of my taste, and even if that something is completely without merit, if I like it then I like it; it doesn’t make sense to feel bad about it, in the same way I don’t at all regret not liking something overflowing with merit. Which, considering how I don’t like just about anything (like Death Cab for Cutie; talk about your dumb band names), is really for the best.


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