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Lyric Poetry

Yesterday the fiancee picked me up from work, and we were driving home, the radio playing. Suddenly Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” started up, and I of course was mindlessly singing along, when I suddenly thought, “These are the dumbest lyrics ever.” Look:

Take your baby by the hair

And pull her close and there there there

Take your baby by the ears

And play upon her darkest fears

What? Oh, well. I’m nothing if not agreeable, so I did in fact grab my fiancee by the ears and then poured a cupful of live spiders down her shirt. Well, in my mind I did. But there’s more:

So take your baby by the wrist

And in her mouth an amethyst

Hot damn! So I released her ears and pried open the fiancee’s jaws. Jackpot! A shiny amethyst! I knew I had me a great gal.

Of course, these are not actually the stupidest lyrics ever. They’re just pretty damn stupid. The worst lyrics ever is of course going to be a pretty subjective topic, and everyone will have their own opinion. While thinking about this, I rejected the obvious choices, like Alanis Morrissette or (as was suggested to me) Leonard Nimoy just because their lyrics are so obviously witless and bad. I also passed over things like “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”–which I consider to be the most heinous song ever perpetrated on an innocent public–as well as skull-clutchers like the entire oeuvre of the Indigo Girls. So it’s all kind of arbitrary, but I just thought for a while about the relative terribleness of certain song lyrics that I think have gone unremarked on.

But before I leave off the Wanging Chungers, I do want to point out that I found a fucking great Mondegreen that someone had about that song. Someone posted somewhere that they had always heard the lyrics this way:

Take your baby by the ears,

and play upon her doggie spheres

Which is, you know, the best thing ever; it’s going onto my tombstone to baffle untold later generations. It’s like something out of the i ching.

Anyway. So I just was kind of free-associating with the idea of bad lyrics, when I remembered an old song from college days by that deathless old bastard Malcolm McLaren called, wrenchingly, “Something’s Jumpin’ in Your Shirt.” McLaren at his most winsomely affecting, don’t you think? Check out the lyrics:

No matter what I do, no matter what I say

My t-shirt’s changed since yesterday

I look into the mirror and my t-shirt’s got a mark

I guess it’s just because my life is falling apart

But I felt something hurting

And a boy said,

There’s somethin jumpin!

Jumpin in my shirt

Something’s jumpin, jumpin in your shirt

Something’s jumpin, does it really hurt?

Something’s jumpin, my hearts on red alert

Walk the body! Walk the body!

Oh my god! It’s like . . . Faulkner! I really, really like the t-shirt-as-life-barometer or whatever the hell it means. These lyrics are so awful, they really just make me very happy. Walk the body! Okay! I don’t even know what the fuck that means, but I’ll try it! Something’s jumpin’ in your shirt! Is it your heart? No, I think it’s clear that we’re talking about boobs. God, what a great, great bunch of horrible lyrics.

But that’s a pretty obscure song. How about MOR mainstay Toto? They had a pretty big hit with the chugging, faceless “Africa.” Read on!

I hear the drums echoing tonight

But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation

She’s coming in 12:30 flight

The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation

I stopped an old man along the way,

Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies

He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”

That’s not so bad. I mean, it’s insipid and meaningless, but not the worst ever, though you can see where Mr. Mister was getting inspiration from. It makes no sense, of course: if she’s flying in, why are the moonlit wings reflecting the stars guiding him towards salvation? Or is he on the plane? Is that where he stopped the old man “along the way?” Never mind, no time! Hurry, boy!

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

I bless the rains down in Africa

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless longing for some solitary company

I know that I must do what’s right

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

Oh, what dizzying poetic heights! I particularly like the total creative surrender implied in the “hundred men or more” line. Hmmm . . . what’s a big, big number? More than a hundred! Brilliant. What the fuck do the rains in Africa have to do with anything anyway, and why would you bless them? All you’re doing is irritating those wild dogs (huh?), restless for whatever “solitary company” could possibly be. I’d be restless too. But the final line brings it all home. You know what a beautiful mountain is like? Another mountain.

I know I’m not exactly going after big game here, but hey, like I said, I’ve just been brain-dumping. But I must say, it’s time to bring out the big one; I’ve been waiting to find something that competes with the next song in terms of sheer fucking awfulness. It so clearly shoots for straight-faced Bukowskian hard-knuckle poeticality, and so spectacularly fails, I really find it kind of breathtaking. It’s worth quoting the entire mind-ripping thing, starting with the ass-tastic title. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the lyrics of Live:

“Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe”

my brother kicked his feet to sleep

my brother kicked his feet to sleep

my brother kicked his feet to sleep

and i sang the dirge song

my brother never missed a beat

my brother kicked his feet to sleep, sweet feet

my brother kicked his feet to sleep

and i sang the dirge song

Angel, don’t you have some bagels in my oven?

Lady, don’t you know a man when you see one?

Crazy lady with the shiny shoes, where are you?

Kick you feet and calm the space that makes

you hollow

little swami’s got his bowl to eat

little swami always walks his beat, sweet feet

little swami’s got his bowl to eat

and i sing the dirge song

it’s amazing how they come to see

the little swami with his bowl to eat, sweet feet

the little swami only wears a sheet

and won’t sing the dirge song

anal, tight-assed soldier with that dogged heart

put down your gun

we are ready to explode, we gotta take it smart

and take it slow

Holy fucking good golly! Sing the “dirge song,” brother! I don’t know what other kind of dirges there are, but oh well! Not that anything in there makes any fucking sense at all anyway! “Angel, don’t you have some bagels in my oven?” I think we’ve all asked this at least once in our lives.

I mean . . . jesus. I really don’t know what to do with all that. What’s the cross-reference foot fetish going on with his brother and the hungry swami? Who’s the poor soldier that gets sucker-punched at the end with the anal stuff? Maybe he should have kicked the space that made him hollow.

I fold. I mean, I just can’t do any better than what Live has already done. I take my baby by the wrist. I sing the dirge song. Where have all the cowboys gone?

Africa.

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