Monday, May 19, 2008

SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK 'N' ROLL STOOGE

[*From the STMcC Archive: 2007, Sept.]

I was a senior at Santa Monica High School during this country’s bicentennial (that was 1976 for my readers “educated” in our Federally-controlled public school system), and like most of my peers, I eagerly listened to the popular Rock ’N’ Roll acts of the day. There were a few exceptions: I never did like Rush, Yes, Ted Nugent or Jethro Tull (call me a homophobe if you must, but I just felt there was something unnatural about a longhaired man in tights prancing around on a stage with a flute in his mouth!)

One of the first Rock bands I fell in love with was Styx – this was before they became nationally and then internationally popular. Because band merchandise was not available at that time, I silkscreened my own T-shirt and often wore it to school. My classmates were forever asking me, “What is Steyeks?” Of course, my answer was, “It’s pronounced Sticks, and it’s a Rock band from Chicago.” (Who’d ever heard of Greek mythology and a river in Hades? Yeah, I too was “educated” at a Federally-controlled public school.) The first Rock concert I ever attended was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium where the unknown Styx opened for the headlining band, Journey. (Oddly enough, over the years, I saw Journey perform three or four times, but I was ALWAYS going to see the “other” band.)

I was raised on those two basic parental commands: “Comb your hair!” and “Turn it down!” And I was mystified by how my parents could listen to -- what they called -- “music” that didn’t contain nary a trace of electric guitar. “Where’s the guitar solo?!” I would shout incredulously whenever my Ma tried to get me to sit still long enough to listen to a Count Basie number. And forget sitting still, I couldn’t even “stand” Glenn Miller. The man was guilty on two counts: no electric guitar and a terrible last name. (I hated the surname Miller for some inexplicable reason, although it never dawned on me that I found it perfectly acceptable as long as it was preceded by the given name Steve. But then Steve Miller played an electric guitar.)

I suppose I’m a bit chagrinned now to admit that 31 years later, Glenn Miller’s instrumental, MOONLIGHT SERENADE, is my all-time favorite piece of music, and I don’t own so much as one musical note by Steve Miller anymore. So much for the electric guitar, eh? Somehow, when I cut my hair, my great fondness for that particular instrument was cut too.

I’m sure there’s nothing unique about the story of my gradually developing taste in music and the early disdain I felt toward my parents’ Old Fogy stuff. Coming to learn with time that our parents aren’t as stupid as we thought they were when we were teenagers is a pretty universal experience. For instance, it’s been said that the definition of “adolescence” is: “That period when a boy refuses to believe that someday he’ll be as dumb as his father.” Or to peek at it from the other end, as that Genius of Letters, Mark Twain, once wrote: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

And now when I sometimes contemplate the music of my teens and early twenties, I groan at some of the examples of fuzzy-brained lyrics that my prior rebel heroes wrote, recorded, and got wealthy from. (Like most kids between the ages of 15 and 24, I thought I had all the answers to the world’s problems – and I got ‘em mostly from listening to dunderheaded Rock ’N’ Roll dudes singing songs of idealistic protest while lacking even the slightest understanding of the reality of human nature, nor having any awareness of who really pulls the global and societal strings.)

Following are some of my favorite examples of dumb song lyrics from my youth. At this point in my life, I rarely listen to the artists from my younger days and I own just a few of these recordings. I’ll confess that America and Zevon (that’s A and Z but NOT everything in between) are still in my collection, but doggoned if I’ll admit to The Babys, baby!

Let’s start with the aforementioned Steve Miller, but I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t mind if a person butchers a word to make a rhyme, just so long as it’s funny. For instance, I get a kick out of it when in DANG ME, another Miller -- this one being Roger -- sings, “Roses are red, Violets are purple; Sugar’s sweet and so is maple syrple.” (But then I get a kick out of Roger Miller anyway. He’s one of the few non-Rock artists I embraced from a young age. My Pa used to wake me up for school by suddenly blaring Miller’s YOU CAN’T ROLLER SKATE IN A BUFFALO HERD. And people wonder why I turned out so goofy?)

But I find it intolerable when Steve Miller butchers his grammar (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to force a rhyme that isn’t even humorous. In his 1976 hit TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN he sings: “Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas; You know he knows just exactly what the facts is; He aint gonna let those two escape justice; He makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes.”

Boo! Hiss! Steve, TAKE THE TEXTBOOK AND RUN… to a remedial English class and don’t return until you’ve learned what the proper rules of grammar “is.”

And while we’re on the subject of grammar: I’d say that anyone who doesn’t dig Marvin Gaye’s classic Soul album “Let’s Get It On” is probably as soulless as HAL-9000, the cold ’n’ calculating supercomputer in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, however, Marv ends his song JUST TO KEEP YOU SATISFIED by singing, “It's too late for you and me, it's too late for you and I; Much too late for you to cry; It's too late for you and me, much too late for you and I; It's too late for you and me, much too late for you to cry.”

I guess he figured that if he sang it both ways he’d be right at least half of the time. Sheesh! Why didn’t he just ask someone how to sing it in a grammatically correct fashion? I could have told him, but then I would have insisted on an album cover credit: “Ebonics to English translation by Stephen T. McCarthy.”

On The Babys’ second album “Broken Heart”, there’s a song titled SILVER DREAMS in which the brokenhearted crybaby, John Waite, sings to the woman he is going to be missing: “For the next year, I’ll be traveling roads that take you far from me.”

Would someone please tell that big Baby that the roads he’s going to be traveling will be taking HIM far from her, not the other way around! I mean, for crying-out-loud, how can the roads be “taking” HER anywhere when she ain’t movin’ at all? It’s one of the fundamental laws of roadtrip physics: “He who travels the roads gets taken away from the people and places where he started.”

But some Rock stars are more mathematically than grammatically challenged: In the song THE FACTORY from his post-drug and alcohol rehab comeback album “Sentimental Hygiene”, Warren Zevon (ordinarily a clever lyricist) sings, “I was born in ’63; Got a little job in the factory; I don’t know much about Kennedy; I was too busy working in the factory.”

Got that? The reason he doesn’t know much about Kennedy is BECAUSE he was too busy working in the factory. Now considering that JFK was assassinated in 1963, this puts the singer working in a factory as an infant in diapers. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s talking about Robert Kennedy instead, this still puts him on the assembly line at the age of five when Bobby was murdered. Uhm… I don’t think so. I mean, there WERE child labor laws even back in the ancient ‘60s. Maybe the REAL reason he didn’t know much about Kennedy is because he was born in 1947 and by 1968 he was sleeping all day and partying with a fifth of Vodka every night.

In 1975, One-Hit Wonder Sammy Johns made it to #5 on the Billboard charts with the song CHEVY VAN which includes the line, “Her long legs were tanned and brown.” Wow! The ol’ double whammy: tanned AND brown! Is that when she lays out on the beach for a month and then dips her legs into Andy Gump portable johns, Mr. Johns?

A decade later, the former fashion designer and ex-model Sade also hit #5 on the charts with SMOOTH OPERATOR. Now Sade was not grammatically nor mathematically challenged… but she seemed to have a little trouble with her geography. In SMOOTH OPERATOR she sings of traveling “Coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago.”

Well now, I have gone “coast to coast” on a number of occasions. I’ve done it by car and plane. And in each instance, I either started at the Pacific Ocean and ended up at the Atlantic Ocean, or started at the Atlantic Ocean and finished up at the Pacific Ocean. But never once have I flown or driven “coast to coast” and ended up on the shore of Lake Michigan. Now, if Sade sang, “West coast to the shore of Lake Michigan, L.A. to Chicago” I wouldn’t really have a problem with it. I did mention that she was a former model, didn’t I?

Oh, but stupidity comes in all genders, colors and nationalities. Anyone remember the “Dirty (’N’ Dumb) White Boys” from England calling themselves Foreigner? Their first single FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME made it to #4 in ’77. With great passion, they sang: “It feels like the first time; Like it never did before.”

Now how can that be? How can it feel “like the first time”, and simultaneously feel “like it never did before”? I wish those Foreigners could have made up their minds: Did it feel like the first time? Or was this a completely new and “foreign” feeling? Obviously, models have no monopoly on Dumb.

Who remembers America’s #1, 1972 hit A HORSE WITH NO NAME? Well, is it just me, or does this strike you as a shade redundant?... “The heat was hot and the ground was dry.”

I always thought of cold and heat as being mutually exclusive, but I suppose that if we can have a Cold War, we can also have a cold heat, so it’s nice that America clarified that for us. It kind of reminds me of Orwell’s book 1984 and the three slogans of Big Bro’s Ministry Of Truth: “War Is Peace”; “Freedom Is Slavery”; “Ignorance Is Strength.” And Heat Is Cold… except for when America says it ain’t.

Newspeaking of politics, it’s often fascinating to see a Rock star, or any other type of celebrity, try to wrap their empty mind around a subject other than fashionable drugs, fashionable automobiles, fashionable fashions, or the latest Britney “Pop Tart” Spears meltdown. For instance, there was Mick Hucknall from England’s group Simply Red singing to us in the 1986 hit MONEY’S TOO TIGHT TO MENTION, that money’s too tight to mention. But if that was the case, then why did he mention it a total of THIRTY-FOUR times in the song? Mick also took a jab at “Reaganomics”, something I’m sure that he understood to the same degree that Englishmen comprehend baseball’s Infield Fly Rule. But perhaps being a “Mick” himself, he felt authorized to speak out about President Reagan’s “MICS.”

In 1971, another English band, Ten Years After, had a Top 40 hit with I’D LOVE TO CHANGE THE WORLD. Their big remedy for relieving global stress was to: “Tax the rich, feed the poor; ’Til there are no rich no more.” Where did they get such a revolutionary idea? Well, see, once upon a time there was a little political tract titled “The Communist Manifesto.” But what the Englishmen failed to recognize was that relative to the great mass of unwashed Middle Class, THEY were the rich. I didn’t see the boys standing on the corner passing out one hundred dollar bills to the po’ folks, did you? Maybe what they meant to say was, “tax those OTHER rich, feed the poor; ’Til there are no rich no more…other than us.” Or perhaps Ten Years After’s great acts of charity didn’t actually begin until Ten Years After they retired from Rock ’N’ Roll. Well, let’s face it, their two-faced propaganda was merely par for the “Bullshi-vik” Country Club course. Oh, to be young, rich and stupid!

But I think the gold medal winner in the combined categories of Stupidity and Hypocrisy (“Stupocrisy”) is John “Lenin” Lennon for his song IMAGINE, which went to #3 on the Billboard charts in the same year that Ten Years After was propagandizing the young.

John Lennon once said that his song IMAGINE "is virtually a communist manifesto." I guess it didn't bother him much that while he sang "Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can; No need for greed or hunger; A brotherhood of man", for tax purposes he owned a herd of Hereford cattle that he had never even seen. I'm OK with the cattle, but I detest the hypocrisy of a wealthy capitalist advocating Socialism for all “the little people" like you and me! But then, come on! -- any man who believes that Yoko Ono is a “singer” is bound to have faulty judgment on multiple fronts. (Yo! John! Didja know that Ten Years After wanted to tax you until all of the poor were fed? Awfully “liberal” with YOUR money, weren’t they? The poor? “Let ’em eat cake… or Hereford cattle!”)

OK, enough about politics. Let’s talk about that brilliant wordsmith Ted “Gonzo” Nugent and his tough guy anthem, STRANGLEHOLD. I used to get a chuckle out of the line: “If your house gets in my way, baby, you know I’ll burn it down!” I mean, REALLY! He had this problem often did he? …

Poor Ted’s just skipping down the road, minding his own business while softly whistling “Cat Scratch Fever” when suddenly a house leaps into the middle of the path to block his way, and the house pronounces in an authoritative voice like The Black Knight in the movie Monty Python And The Holy Grail: “NONE SHALL PASS!”

Well, look, if any of you houses are entertaining the idea of harassing Ted, you’d better rethink it, because Mr. Gonzo has put you all on notice that he’ll burn ya down, baby! When you see him coming, don’t even THINK about getting in his way!

Speaking of Elton John, I always hated his song CANDLE IN THE WIND, a weepy, wimpy denunciation of the public’s crass obsession with Marilyn Monroe’s carefully cultivated, self-produced, self-perpetuated, money and career-making sexpot image. At one point, the singer bemoans the media’s supposed monomaniacal interest in the condition of Monroe’s corpse. He sings: “Even when you died, Oh, the press still hounded you; All the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude.”

Now, I was only three years old when Monroe died, so I can’t state with unequivocal certainty that the newspapers reported on more than just her nakedness, but I’m prepared to go way, way out on a limb here in speculating that the papers probably had more to say about Monroe’s death than that she was found in her birthday suit. I mean, once a person got past that first salacious sentence, it would become a rather boring article, don’t you think? Can’t you just see it now? …

MONROE DEAD AT THIRTY-SIX
Hollywood –- Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Etc.

No, Elton, when you sing that “all the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude”, I think it is YOU who is not giving us the whole story. “Just the facts, Ma’am. But ALL of the facts, Ma’am.”

Speaking of Marilyn Monroe, on his program House Party, Art Linkletter once asked a nine year old boy, “Who would you pick as famous parents for a day?”
The little boy answered, “Jimmy Durante and Marilyn Monroe.”
“Why?” Linkletter pressed him.
And the nine year old replied, “Jimmy Durante is funny, and Marilyn Monroe ..... Say, haven’t you seen that calendar?”

With this Blog, I don’t mean to imply that Rock stars are incapable of writing high quality song lyrics. To the contrary, in August of 2005, I created an Amazon.com “So You’d Like To” guide titled “READ THE GREATEST SONG LYRICS EVER PENNED.” If you’re interested in seeing the other side of my perspective on this subject, you can check it out by accessing my SYLT Guides via the center column link on my Profile Page at Amazon.

But enough of bad song lyrics! Right now, I think that what I need most to cleanse my mental palette is a shot of Cannonball Adderley with a splash of Miles Davis and a Dave Brubeck twist. Or perhaps some Benny Goodman on the rocks. Or maybe even just some Satchmo straight from the trumpet.
Ma and Pa were right: their music was better’n mine!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

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12 comments:

marc said...

Now it's nice to see you back posting your stuffs again... There are those of us who shall follow thee over here...

marc

S.T.MC.C said...

Yo! BR'ER MARC ~

I wouldn't even follow me to the breakfast buffet line at Circus Circus. Follow at yer own risk, Bro! :o)

~ STMcC
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

marc said...

Well that explains the indegestion...

mousiemarc said...

Well I thought I would post on here again. With me's signed in under me's blogs. Dat way ya can come on over anytime you want. Eventually we shall figure out how to creat a link....

S.T.McC. said...

Uhm... I already WAS able to come on over just by clicking on yer name, Br'er Marc. Sounds to me like we're both a couple-a Maroons.

Oh well, we'll figure this system out eventually. (Just a few minutes ago, I discovered how to edit my Blog Bits even when the little pencil symbol has disappeared... again!)

~ STMcC
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

Arlee Bird said...

I wish there had been a collaborative release called "The Millers" in which Glenn Miller, Roger Miller, and Steve Miller with the album produced by Mitch Miller with a guest appearance by Mrs. Miller.
Are you doing Alex Cavanaugh's Top 10 Personal song list blog event?

Lee
Tossing It Out

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

r-LEE-boid ~
Ha! Yeah, I like that idea - "THE MILLERS". I'd pick up a copy for sure. Just one question: Who is Mrs. Miller?

Yup. You got it, Bro. I'm participating in Alex's Top Ten Songs blogfest. I've already put my list together.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Mrs. Miller was a flash in the pan fad singer who came out in the late 60s. She was kind of a novelty like Tiny Tim except she was really bad--at least I've never heard anything that sounded good like Tiny. Her voice was almost like Tiny's falsetto except I think she thought she was a serious opera style singer. There are several clips on YouTube that you can check out.
Looking forward to your top 10--I bet we won't have any that match--well maybe one.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

BOID ~
That sounds vaguely familiar. I was probably aware of Mrs. Miller at one time, but the late '60s was a lot of dead brain cells ago!

By the way, did you check out any of those URLs I posted to Tiny Tim videos at YouTube? Such as his version of "Stairway To Heaven" with Brave Combo backing him?

>>.....Looking forward to your top 10--I bet we won't have any that match--well maybe one.

Nah. With so much great music that's been recorded, and only 10 songs to choose from, I would be "Fall-Outta-Da-Chair" surprised if even one of our songs matched. I think you will be able to count on one hand how many song matches there are amongst ALL of the participants.

Neither Brubeck's "Take Five" nor Zep's "Stairway To Heaven" is on my list, and I can't imagine what other song you have in mind that we might match on. (In fact, now in my old age, I would choose Tiny's version of "Stairway..." over Zep's.)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Yes I listened to the YouTube clips of Tiny Tim and now I'm truly sold on his abilities as a musical artist.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Cherdo said...

Oh, Stephen, this is hilarious. Love, love, love it.

If I had to point out the one that made me snark out my coffee, though - it's "Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude.Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude. Marilyn was found in the nude..."

I laughed till I was crying. Well played, sir! Well played!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

I wish to thank the Academy, my ghostwriters, my law firm of CHERDO, CHERDO & CHERDO. But especially I thank all the bad lyricists in Rock 'N' Roll - without them, this would have been just another one of my blog bits 'bout nuttin'.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'