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  • And Now, Something Completely Different

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on November 12th, 2018 (All posts by )

    I brought this forward from 2008 for reasons that are not clear, even to me. I just liked it. There is some actual cognitive science based on misheard lyrics, which I had fun with in 2008 as well. An additional bit. Texan99 over at Grim’s Hall has listened to the new release of the studio tapes of the Beathle’s White Album and assures me there is much of the same. People fooling with lyrics in order to get the rhymes and sound right, with actual meaning being secondary.

    There are websites devoted to misheard lyrics, for those of you who are interested. Some I suspect are hoaxes, intentional parodies of lyrics for comic effect: O Canada, we stand on cars and freeze…” Others seem like legitimate mishearings, especially by children: The ants are my friend and Blowin In The Wind.

    There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music. Some might think it is the volume, or the sloppiness of pronunciation, or the drugs, but I believe the main factor was that there were plenty of lyrics that didn’t mean anything. The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that’s it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics. Any crazy thing that someone might write could possibly have been correct. Why couldn’t Jim Morrison be singing “spiders on the floor (Riders On The Storm)?” Heck, he’d already written “Peace Frog,” and sung “our love become a funeral pyre.” How can you exclude the spiders for sure?

    The bands were named Electric Prunes,


    or Blues Magoos (I loved this album)

    Or for ? and the Mysterians, we gotta have the full effect. No one but the bassman can play. The keyboard work was tossed out from the John Thomson EZ-Piano series Level One as not challenging enough. This site doesn’t seem to take on video embeds, but the link to 96 Tears is here.

    Note from Wikipedia: The band’s frontman and primary songwriter was Question Mark. Though the singer has never confirmed it, Library of Congress copyright registrations indicate that his birth name is Rudy Martinez. His eccentric behavior helped to briefly establish the group in the national consciousness. He claimed (and still claims) to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life, and he never appears in public without sunglasses. He has also claimed that voices told him he would still be performing “96 Tears” in the year 10,000.

    Against that background, no wonder there are sites devoted to figuring out what Neil Young meant in all his songs For fun, the Buffalo Springfield.

    Mr. Soul by Neil Young

    Oh, hello Mr. Soul, I dropped by to pick up a reason
    For the thought that I caught that my head is the event of the season
    Why in crowds just a trace of my face could seem so pleasin’
    I’ll cop out to the change, but a stranger is putting the tease on.

    I was down on a frown when the messenger brought me a letter
    I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her
    Any girl in the world could have easily known me better
    She said, You’re strange, but don’t change, and I let her.

    In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
    Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
    For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
    Is it strange I should change? I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?

    It doesn’t mean anything. Young said specifically that he just liked the sounds and collage of images in his lyrics. He would write dozens of verses, then picked the ones that sounded best.

     

    19 Responses to “And Now, Something Completely Different”

    1. PenGun Says:

      “She said, You’re strange, but don’t change, and I let her”

      I’m pretty sure thats ‘left her’ but I could be wrong. I used to have a lot of his albums but Lets Roll was a shark too far. The middle stuff was his best.

    2. Grurray Says:

      It sounds to me like ‘let her’

      At around the 1:45 mark: https://youtu.be/EMRqN0m5c-M

    3. Anonymous Says:

      Try this one. He might have forgotten the words. Its not really distinct but I hear ‘left’. Trans is the album:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0Hfe8M-xdY

    4. PenGun Says:

      As well, that was me, ‘left’ makes the entire song make sense. ‘Let’ does reinforce the OP’s premise its true. ;)

    5. Christopher B Says:

      My wife cheerfully admits to being the Queen of Mondegreens. She’s a wonderful singer and has great feeling for rhythms but I think she’s just too literal minded for most lyrics, even ones that make some sense. One of our favorites is her thinking Steve Miller was signing ‘Big ole Jed and Lila’ (Big old jet airliner).

    6. Brian Says:

      Sounds like let to me. I don’t see how “left” makes any sense–he says he doesn’t even know this girl, no?

      At the risk of trying to make sense of what may be nonsense lyrics, I interpret them as actually fitting quite well the standard theme of a musician questioning the life and meaning of the popular rock star. In verse one he cynically notes that he has huge influence on complete strangers who love his songs, verse two describes him being depressed about this and then he gets a letter from a fan who knows nothing about him who tells him he’s strange and not to change, and he’s going to take her advice, though it’s self-serving and will justify him not having to assess whether his life means anything right now. Then in verse 3 he muses on the fleeting nature of his current fame and he wants to change, and then rhetorically says to ask her (the total stranger) if that would make sense or not (the listener of course is also a stranger, so how would we know?).

    7. CapitalistRoader Says:

      The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that’s it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics.—To this day people are still choking on American Pie.

    8. Grurray Says:

      In the biography written a few years back, the author Jimmy McDonough thinks that line represents a Faustian bargain and asks him about it. Characteristically reticent, Neil wouldn’t break it down any further. Probably because they were the bitter words of a kid who was, at the time, in over his head in the fishbowl, but it seems either “let” or “left” would fit just as well. Facing health problems and not feeling committed to playing in a band where he was just one of three other singer-songwriters, he was ready to quit. Maybe the ambiguity was intentional.

    9. Bill Brandt Says:

      There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music. Some might think it is the volume, or the sloppiness of pronunciation, or the drugs, but I believe the main factor was that there were plenty of lyrics that didn’t mean anything. The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that’s it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics. Any crazy thing that someone might write could possibly have been correct. Why couldn’t Jim Morrison be singing “spiders on the floor (Riders On The Storm)?” Heck, he’d already written “Peace Frog,” and sung “our love become a funeral pyre.” How can you exclude the spiders for sure?

      My late aunt used to say that so many of these singers sing “like they have mush in their mouth”. And I think you may be on to something with the nonsensical lyrics. Some people tout Jim Morrison as some kind of Rock God (and don’t get me wrong, I like the Door’s music) but just try to understand a lot of their lyrics. Gads, listen to the Doors Break On Through Jim had to be on acid when he wrote that.

      “You know the day destroys the night
      Night divides the day
      Tried to run
      Tried to hide
      Break on through to the other side
      Break on through to the other side
      Break on through to the other side, yeah

      We chased our pleasures here
      Dug our treasures there
      But can you still recall
      The time we cried
      Break on through to the other side
      Break on through to the other side”

      What I have found funny is that many non-English speaking foreign bands – such as ABBA, enunciate clearly.

      I have enjoyed this Norwegian-produced series called Lilyhammer, and they have had a few Norwegian bands that I have downloaded from Amazon.

      Listen to Ingrid Olava (from Oslo) sing her song “Jackie Kennedy”.

      To me the lyrics are still a bit nonsensical but you can understand her completely.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfO6NqmkgKw

    10. Brian Says:

      “There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music.”
      Could it be because of the shift to recorded music, rather than music to be performed by the people? Stephen Foster had to write music that people wanted to, and could, perform themselves. That wasn’t true anymore by the rock era.

    11. Tom G Says:

      I always heard “let her”, but was sure that Neil was singing about being a Rock and Roll Star.

      Like how the Byrds sang about it:
      https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/byrds/soyouwanttobearocknrollstar.html

      Then it’s time to go down town
      Where the agent men won’t let you down
      Sell your soul to the company
      Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware
      And in a week or two if you make the charts
      The girls will tear you apart

      Selling out — to the company, to the establishment, selling your soul.

      And if you get a hit (like Mr. Soul!), and you make the charts?
      Girls will tear you apart.

      They might even say, “You’re strange, but don’t change.”
      Just before they become
      one of the girls in the world
      who want to easily know you. Better.

      Would you have left her? Or would you let her?

    12. Tom G Says:

      Didn’t remember Electric Prunes, but now see their big hit “I had too much to Dream” while looking for the Byrds (similar), also the Zombies …

      LA Woman is my favorite Doors song.

    13. Grurray Says:

      The mother of all rock lyric controversies is Bob Dylan and the allegations of his plagiarism

      https://www.thedailybeast.com/bob-dylans-da-vinci-code-revealed

      The “Dylanolgists” claim that not only has Bob copied others in his book and songs, but he’s fashioned the plagiarized texts in such a way that they create subtexts and hidden meanings, like a postmodern cut-up technique.

    14. red 3215 Says:

      And let us not forget the classic,

      “There’s a bathroom on the right!”

      From CCR.

    15. OBloodyHell Says:

      “Left” makes perfect sense. He’s dissing her in the previous lyric, so they had the final exchange and he went elsewhere.

      “Let her” makes no sense at all. BUT, in both the versions, it SOUNDS like he says “let her”, particularly the acoustic one.

    16. OBloodyHell Says:

      On the other end is brilliant lyrics by Steven Stills, such as Southern Cross, written about his divorce from and his off-again-on-again romance with Judy Collins.

      F*** it’s an awesomely well-written song, both lyrics and the music carrying the tone of emotions… Right down to the wistful curliques in the instrumental parts…

      You can tell a song has done a good job when it makes you want to do the thing done in it…

      https://youtu.be/F3kImL2gDkI

    17. OBloodyHell Says:

      If you want a Norwegian band worth listening to, I recommend Madrugada

      Majesty
      https://youtu.be/rDIh3dsH1BY

      The Kids Are On High Street
      https://youtu.be/-Olh0R4m0Nw

      Bloodshot Adult Commitment
      https://youtu.be/RefjaTZDpjk

    18. Anonymous Says:

      She’s Icelandic, but silly fun…

      Hafdys Huld (Dirty Paper Cup):

      Tomoko:
      https://youtu.be/kUd1XqwyI5o

      Ski Jumper:
      https://youtu.be/3cnzM-I5zvw

      Ice Cream Is Nice:
      https://youtu.be/B4pUm3tsGhU

    19. Anonymous Says:

      OBloodyHell, I’ve always like CSN and Young. Have always liked Stephen Stills work, only recently though, watching a youtube video (filmed about 10 or 15 years ago, outdoors concert somewhere), did I realize that SS pretty much was the dominant creative force in the group.

      Something’s happening here
      What it is ain’t exactly clear…

      Ty18