MUSIC - IT'S ALL IN THE LYRICS, ISN'T IT?

It's All in the Lyrics

Modern Poetry

I've found that unless a song has a particularly strong melody and catches my attention, the lyrics are the thing that ultimately make or break it - whether is stands the test of time.  Whenever I hear a new song, of course it is the melody that initially attracts me to the music, but I can't help but really explore the message behind the music.  A great example of this is to listen to The Wallby Pink Floyd. The music is haunting; however, the lyrics are even more so.  I've found myself listening to this compilation before I go to sleep, and honestly, the music does help me sleep.  But the lyrics keep me awake.  

Of course, The Wall tells the story of Pink (never liked that name for the main character) who loses his father in the war and is raised by an mother who smothers him, not so much with love, but with notions of the pain he will experience as he grows older.

Take, for example, the following:

The Thin Ice

Momma loves her baby
And daddy loves you too.
And the sea may look warm to you babe
And the sky may look blue
But ooooh Baby
Ooooh baby blue
Oooooh babe.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice.

Mother

Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb? 
Mother do you think they'll like this song? 
Mother do you think they'll try to break my balls?
Mother should I build the wall?
Mother should I run for president?
Mother should I trust the government?
Mother will they put me in the firing line?
Mother am I really dying?

(EN:  Interesting questions asked by a young man about his future and the uncertainty of life, and his mother responds)

Hush now baby, baby, don't you cry.
Mother's gonna make all your nightmares come true.
Mother's gonna put all her fears into you.
Mother's gonna keep you right here under her wing.
She wont let you fly, but she might let you sing.
Mama will keep baby cozy and warm.
Ooooh baby ooooh baby oooooh baby,
Of course mama'll help to build the wall.


Mother do you think she's good enough -- to me?
Mother do you think she's dangerous -- to me?
Mother will she tear your little boy apart?
Mother will she break my heart?

(EN:  Again, great questions, and now the answers)

Hush now baby, baby don't you cry.
Mama's gonna check out all your girlfriends for you.
Mama wont let anyone dirty get through.
Mama's gonna wait up until you get in.
Mama will always find out where you've been.
Mama's gonna keep baby healthy and clean.
Ooooh baby oooh baby oooh baby,
You'll always be baby to me.


Mother, did it need to be so high?

 

I know Roger Waters always struck me as being eccentric, as "his" music indicates - the delivery of his songs - very melodramatic in his delivery, but I often feel a bit sad that my favorite David Gilmore sings the mother portion of the song above (see italics).  

  Pink Floyd circa 1979

Pink Floyd circa 1979

I want to stop here for just a moment to explain how politics of music.  In 1980, Another Brick in the Wall was banned in South Africa because of its views toward education.  Many songs, books, authors, etc. have been banned for one reason or not.  Rap songs usually contain two sets of lyrics - one to be played for the real fans, and one to be played on the radio or television. That's not what I mean. In this case, Pink Floyd was making a political statement about freedoms and the way adults influence the lives of their children. The entire album The Wall speaks to that.  

We don't need no education

We don't need no thought control.  

No dark sarcasm in the classroom.

Teacher leave our kids alone.

Just a song?  Yes, just a song.  However, if you read these lyrics in the context of the entire album, Pink Floyd is attempting to make several arguments about brainwashing, the way parents can oppress children, angry teachers who pick on students:

The Happiest Days of our Lives 

When we grew up and went to school 
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children in any way they could

"OOF!" [someone being hit]

By pouring their derision 
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness 
However carefully hidden by the kids
But in the town, it was well known
When they got home at night, their fat and
Psychopathic wives would thrash them
Within inches of their lives

Politicizing the harm done to children by parents who are overprotected and feel strongly that they know what their children want is huge political statement.  Of course, every parental generation has some disturbing cause to promote to their children.  Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Chubby Checker are only a few rock and roll idols who had to fight against parental disengagement and misunderstanding of their works.

However, the Pink Floyd issue carries much more weight.  Parents didn't like Elvis swinging his hips in a sexual way, parents of the sixties were against American Bandstand because it featured young people loosely and "provocatively" in front of the cameras.  A song or book being banned by a government is an entirely different issue.  Politically, when a government bans a song, it gives the political power structure control over their youths.  When this occurs, one of two things will definitely happen.  Some children will be stifled and be cowed into being "normal" and listening to the government and their parents.  The other side of this is a rebellious society of children who grow up to have scorn for society - rebels, if you will - and are more than ready to overthrow, figuratively, the status quo of government.

And try to wrap a political mind around the following

  Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

MOSCOW — Russian authorities sentenced three feminist punk rockers to two years in prison Friday, showing that protest will be punished even as they avoided the harshest penalty possible. The case against the women — who dashed into Moscow’s main cathedral to sing a song directed against Vladimir Putin — has inflamed the pro-democracy movement here and around the world and put the Kremlin in a dangerous position.

Putin, prime minister when the song was sung in February and now president, has made it clear that dissent here will have its limits. The two-year sentence appeared to be an attempt to reinforce that message without fueling more widespread protest.

Prosecutors had asked for three years — the charge of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred carries a maximum of seven years — but after nearly three hours spent reading a summary of the trial from a red, leather-bound book, the judge said each woman would get two years. The case was so controversial that the judge’s face was not shown on the video feed for those who could not pack into the crowded courtroom. The defense said it would appeal the sentence.

The women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, have been in jail since March. They are members of a feminist collective called Pussy Riot and were relatively unknown singers and activists until their protests coincided with a rise in anti-government sentiment over the winter.

Now they have become an international cause, described as prisoners of conscience and caught up in a show trial reminiscent of the days of Stalinist repression. A sentence of time already served would have been seen as a sign of Kremlin tolerance for dissent; a sentence of three years or more would have been interpreted as an indication that Putin wants to put down all challenges to his presidency, no matter the cost  (Kathy Lally and Will Englund.  The Washington Post.  August 2012).

BTW.  Just to make sure you understand that it is the politics, I've heard the aforementioned Russian band Pussy Riot, and they are horrible - just a bunch of screeching and yelling.  But, they are expressing themselves and Vladimir Putin's government didn't like the message. So he put them in jail.

This gets to the heart of the best of the best music that we listen to daily.  Take Adele for example.  Her entire first album contained songs about the tragedies of her love life.  That is a political message.  So much so that when she was expecting a baby, a joyous occasion, what would she sing about? This is a woman who blew off an entire tour because in 2009 her boyfriend wanted "her to stay with him" - sound familiar?

It's all about the message.  Bands and soloists such as Band of HorsesBon IverMorrissey and The Smiths, Bill Bragg, Crash Test Dummies, Indigo Girls, Passenger, Tanita Tikaram, The Cure, Tom Waits, Tracey Chapman, Joan Armatrading, and many others, too many to name in this space, have political messages in their songs - again, these political messages manifest themselves through views of relationships, parental relationships, societal occurrences, and love/hate/passion.  

That's why I feel it's important to look at the lyrics and really understand what the music is saying.  Some are obvious (Pink Floyd's The Wall) and some are not so obvious - take Band of Horses No One's Gonna Love You:

It's looking like a limb torn off
Or altogether just taken apart
We're reeling through an endless fall
We are the ever-living ghost of what once was

But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do

And anything to make you smile
It is a better side of you to admire
But they should never take so long
Just to be over then back to another one

But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do

But someone,
They could have warned you
When things start splitting at the seams and now
The whole thing's tumbling down
Things start splitting at the seams and now
If things start splitting at the seams and now,
It's tumbling down
Hard.

Anything to make you smile
You are the ever-living ghost of what once was
I never want to hear you say
That you'd be better off
Or you liked it that way

And no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do

But someone
They should have warned you
When things start splitting at the seams and now
The whole thing's tumbling down
Things start splitting at the seams and now
If things start splitting at the seams and now,
It's tumbling down
Hard

  Band of Horses

Band of Horses

Again, the politics of relationships.  The issue at hand, as I see it, is that all politics being local, we spend much more time on those events similar to the lyrics above than we do really thinking about the huge political stage.  What is more important AT THAT TIME for you is what matters most.  One could be caring very much about what is occurring in the Middle East; yet, if they are in the middle of a break up or broken relationship, THAT takes center stage.  Personal politics ALWAYS takes center stage.  Look at Mumford and Sons popular song The Cave:

  Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons

 It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker's land

So make your siren's call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called 

Check out The New Statesman published by Ian K. Smith and Jennifer Thompson.  In this article, they list the 20 Top Political Songs

http://www.newstatesman.com/music/2010/03/top-20-political-songs

Their list contains the following artists and songs:

1. Woody Guthrie - "This Land is your Land"
2. The Special AKA - "Free Nelson Mandela"
3. Bob Dylan - "The Times they are a-Changin'"
4. Billie Holiday - "Strange Fruit"
5. Claude de Lisle - "La Marseillaise"
6. U2 - "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
7. Eugène Pottier - "The Internationale"
8. Robert Wyatt/Elvis Costello - "Shipbuilding"
I 9. Sex Pistols - "God Save the Queen"
10. William Blake - "Jerusalem"
11. The Who - "Won't Get Fooled Again"
12. Rage Against the Machine - "Killing in the Name"
13. Tracy Chapman - "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"
14. Nina Simone - "Mississippi Goddam"
15. Marvin Gaye - "What's Going On?"
16. Gil Scott-Heron - "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
17. Bob Marley - "Redemption Song"
18. John Lennon - "Imagine"
19. Pete Seeger - "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"
20. Tom Robinson - "Glad to be Gay"

  Bob Marley 

Bob Marley 

REDEMPTION SONG

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly.
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfil de book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

[Guitar break]

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever had:
Redemption songs -
All I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.

And this only scratches the surface.  I would include in this list the entire Bob Marley collection on his album Confrontation.  You need only look at the titles of the songs on that album to understand how important music and lyrics can be.  It's one thing to listen to Jamaican music, the melody, the beat, the feeling of weightlessness, but looking into the lyrics of such songs as Chant Down Babylon, Buffalo Soldier, Jump Nyabinghi, Mix Up, Mix Up, Give Thanks and Praises, Blackman Redemption, Trench Town, Stiff Necked Fools, I Know, and Rastaman Live Up.

I think you see what I am attempting to progress.  The thought of music being more than music.  The idea that music does change lives, does inspire, does call to arms, and certainly does politicize our world.

Finally, to end this discussion regarding the politics of music, I am happy that Vampire Weekend has jumped on the bandwagon, also. Making a "grammatical" statement in their song Oxford Comma:

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
I've seen those English dramas too
They're cruel
So if there's any other way
To spell the word
It's fine with me, with me

Why would you speak to me that way
Especially when I always said that I
Haven't got the words for you
All your diction dripping with disdain
Through the pain
I always tell the truth

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
I climbed to Dharamsala too
I did
I met the highest lama
His accent sounded fine
To me, to me

Check your handbook
It's no trick
Take the chapstick
Put it on your lips
Crack a smile
Adjust my tie
Know your boyfriend, unlike other guys
Why would you lie about how much coal you have?
Why would you lie about something dumb like that?
Why would you lie about anything at all?
First the window, then it's to the wall
Lil Jon, he always tells the truth

Check your passport
It's no trick
Take the chapstick
Put it on your lips
Crack a smile
Adjust my tie
Know your butler, unlike other guys
Why would you lie about how much coal you have?
Why would you lie about something dumb like that?
Why would you lie about anything at all?
First the window, then it's through the wall
Why would you tape my conversations?
Show your paintings
At the United Nations
Lil Jon, he always tells the truth

  Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

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Writer's Note:  The Oxford Comma is the traditionalist usage of the comma in a series.  For example, the Oxford comma applies the use of the comma after all items in a series.  An example of the Oxford comma (traditionalist's view) is the following:

I play golf, tennis, baseball, and softball.  (Oxford comma is the comma before the "and" in this sentence)

I play golf, tennis, baseball and softball (This is the more modern, contemporary use of the comma which doesn't appear after baseball and before softball)

I can see VW lyricist Ezra Koenig arguing with his English professor at Columbia about the importance, or, as the song indicates, the unimportance of the Oxford Comma - and look how he was able to use that as an indictment.   

As an English major, I'm impressed with their nifty statement and way to tie a comma into a discussion of an uptight society.  Pretty meaningful. Read the first line of the song, and then see where it takes you as an indictment about relationships and more so communication. That's politics.  And you thought Vampire Weekend songs were just about having fun.   

NEXT UP:  WHERE HAVE ALL THE LEGENDS GONE?