With three appearances (twice solo, once as a member of Genesis), Phil Collins deserves this place of honor at the top of the post.

With three appearances (twice solo, once as a member of Genesis), Phil Collins deserves this place of honor at the top of the post.

80’s music has been on my mind lately.  To be fair, it’s taken up a considerable portion of my brain since the 80’s.  But I just made a pile of CDs for my sister’s birthday, all of them 80’s.  And then, driving to work, a song came on the radio which reminded me of a conversation from college:

“Lyrics today just aren’t very deep,” said one person at our table.  “Songs used to have so much more to say.”

“De do do do de da da da is all I have to say to you,” replied someone else at the table, very slowly.  And that was all that needed to be said.

So, while I try to write more posts about film, here’s a brief bit about lines of various 80’s songs that made no sense then, that make no sense now, and in spite of that, I sing them anyway.  Because, while some of the ideas for this might have been sparked with Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs (which is hilarious and should be read by any who love rock and roll), the point of this post is that I actually like these songs.  All of these songs.  It isn’t that these are bad songs.  These are songs that I really enjoy, in spite of the fact that some of them make no sense whatsoever.

Now, as I said, this is specifically about the 80’s.  So, Steve Miller is getting a double pass: “the pompatus of love”, one of the most inexplicable phrases in rock history is from “The Joker”, which is from 1973; likewise his award for the worst rhyme in rock history (“Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas  /  You know he knows just exactly what the facts is.”) also doesn’t apply because “Take the Money and Run” is from 1976.  Nonetheless, he will be down below.

I’m gonna go ahead and tackle these in chronological order, with several notes at the beginning and a winner at the end.

Note #1:  While early in the process of writing this post, I mentioned it to my college roommate Jon.  Jon has more vinyl than a good size record shop and a lot more digitally and has a copy of every single song that made the Top 40 in the 1980’s.  Yes – I said every single Top 40 hit for the entire decade.  He then proceeded to deluge me with texts for the rest of the night.  Some of them will be mentioned down below, but three of them bear mentioning right here because they’re from songs I didn’t know.  The whole point of this is that these are bad (or bizarre) lyrics from songs I like.  But these three have lines that are so bad, I feel compelled to mention them even though I don’t know the songs.

Jon Lyric #1:  “Did the earth move for you Nancy” from “Money’s Too Tight” by Simply Red.  Good god, that’s an awful line.

Jon Lyric #2:  “Now we’re up to talking divorce and we weren’t even married” from “On My Own” by Patti LaBelle.  That’s even worse.

Jon Lyric #3:  “My name is Ted and one day I’ll be dead.  Yo yo yo.” from “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” by Boys Don’t Cry.  This was the first text Jon sent me.  I consented to a quick listen of this song and realized I did know this song.  But it’s so incredibly awful that it doesn’t belong.  Though, it might be the worst lyric in history and certainly the worst from a Top 20 song, I don’t like the song, so it doesn’t count.

Note #2:  These are real lyrics, not misheard lyrics.  So, not appearing will be “Downbound Train” by Bruce Springsteen, which has great lyrics.  One of the last lyrics is “Now I swing a sledge hammer on a railroad gang, knocking down them cross ties; working in the rain.”  The problem is, he sings it so fast and low that it’s utterly incomprehensible.  In spite of listening to this song hundreds of times over the last 30 years, I had to look up the lyric in the liner notes because, even knowing what he is saying, I can’t tell what he’s saying.  Likewise, I will not include the Phil Collins version of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”  First of all, it’s a 60’s song that he was covering.  Second of all, in spite of what Veronica might have thought as a kid, the song has nothing to do with cable tv.  Likewise, nothing like “Sweet dreams are made of cheese” or “Sell me fries, sell me sweet little fries.”  These are real lyrics – not the ones you think you heard.

Note #3:  This is about the lyrics themselves, not the pronunciation.  So, Sting gets a pass for guaranteeing that most of my generation would mispronounce Nabokov.  For the record, the accent is on the second syllable.

Note #4:  Songs that are designed to make no sense don’t count.  So “Mashed potatoes can be your friends”, one of the most inexplicable and bizarre lyrics ever to appear in a song isn’t on the list below even though I love the song because the whole point of “Dare to Be Stupid” and many other Weird Al songs is that they don’t make any sense.  No They Might Be Giants either for the same reason.

Note #5:  New Order.  Great band, one of the best ever.  For the most part, pretty good lyrics.  Interesting titles.  But they deserve a mention here because what song of theirs bears any connection to the lyrics?  If you didn’t know what the song was, could you listen to “Ceremony”, “Shellshock”, “Thieves Like Us”, “Temptation”, “Blue Monday”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Love Vigilantes” or “True Faith” and tell me what the title was?  That’s a fantastic list.  I should have asked Peter Hook when I met him what the deal with that was.

THE CONTENDERS

Dedododo“De do do do, de da da da, is all I have to say to you”

  • “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”  (The Police, lyrics by Sting) – 1980
  • Now to be fair, the whole point of this song was that we are attracted to simple songs.  You can even find a quote from Sting (originally from Rolling Stone, but I found it on Wikipedia) that explains it: I was trying to make an intellectual point about how the simple can be so powerful. Why are our favourite songs ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’? In the song, I tried to address that issue.”  That said, it is still a completely ridiculous lyric.  Plus, it brought up the whole issue to begin with.  Great song though.

 

Private_Idaho_single“You’re living in your own private Idaho”

  • Private Idaho”  (B-52’s, lyrics by B-52’s) – 1980
  • What the hell does this song even mean?  I must admit that I didn’t know this song in the 80’s, had indeed never heard of it before Gus Van Sant stole the title for his film (which, to be fair, also doesn’t make much sense).  This isn’t even a question of a ridiculous line.  The whole song doesn’t make sense.  The movie made sense but the title didn’t.

GenesisAbacab7InchSingleCover“When they do it you’re never there  /  When they show it you stop and stare  /  Abacab He’s in anywhere”

  • Abacab”  (Genesis, lyrics by Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford) – 1981
  • This song at least has an explanation: it was originally a chord progression A-B-A-C-A-B.  They dropped the progression but kept it as the title of the song and the album.  Yet, as a word it makes no sense and leaves you wondering what the hell the song is about.

Tom_Sawyer“Today’s Tom Sawyer / He gets high on you / And the space he invades / He gets by on you”

  • Tom Sawyer”  (Rush, lyrics by Geddy Lee, Neal Peart, Alex Lifeson, Pye Dubois)  –  1981
  • I think this is the favorite Rush song of many people.  I think it is also the least favorite song in history for many people.  My best friend, John, insists that this song is a distillation of Rush’s love for Ayn Rand and he may be right.  That still doesn’t make the line make any sense.

Toto_-_Africa“I know that I must do what’s right  /  Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”

  • Africa”  (Toto, lyrics by David Paich and Jeff Porcaro)  –  1982
  • I checked something like seven different sites on the web to confirm that the word is actually Olympus.  Because, after 30 years of listening to the song I still had no idea what they were saying.  This line has always reeked to me of desperation – hey, we wrote a song about Africa, so maybe we should put something explicit in there to make it clear.  Not that it’ll make any sense or that any part of the song will make sense, but let’s reference Mount Kilimanjaro because people know where it is.

Abracadabra_Steve_Miller_Band“Abra-abracadabra  /  I want to reach out and grab ya”

  • Abracadabra”  (The Steve Miller Band, lyrics by Steve Miller)  –  1982
  • This is for Veronica.  She hates this line.  Every time the song comes on she reaches out and grabs me.  It’s a contender for “stupid line in there just to make it rhyme”, although Depeche Mode is about to win this one.

Depeche_Mode_Everything_Counts“The turning point of a career in Korea is being insincere”

  • Everything Counts”  (Depeche Mode, lyrics by Martin Gore)  –  1983
  • Now, I love this song.  I have multiple versions of this song and I recently re-bought Construction Time Again on CD so I could get the extended mix of this song (my favorite version).  But, hands down, it wins the “stupid line in there just to make it rhyme” award for this decade.

Synchronicity_II_singlecover“Many miles away something crawls from the slime  /  Of a dark Scottish loch”

  • Synchronicity II”  (The Police, lyrics by Sting)  –  1983
  • In a sense, the title may explain it.  Since, unlike the song “Synchronicity”, this song never uses that word, we can take it to mean that the two seemingly unrelated events – the suburban melodrama and the creature rising from the depths – must have a symbolic synchronic connection.  But it still boggles the mind the hear it in the context of the song.

220px-Mr._RobotoDōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto”

  • “Mr. Roboto”  (Styx, lyrics by Dennis DeYoung)  –  1983
  • Now, at this point, is there anyone from my generation who doesn’t know what Dōmo arigatō means?  It’s the one Japanese phrase us soon-to-be-40-year-olds are guaranteed to know.  The rest of the song makes sense in the context of the concept album which it was written for.  But why on earth is Kilroy thanking Mr. Roboto in Japanese?

 

Pride_(In_the_Name_of_Love)_(U2_single)_coverart“Early morning April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky”

  • Pride (In the Name of Love)”  (U2, lyrics by Bono)  –  1984
  • As anyone who knows me (or who read my Top 100 U2 Songs post) knows, this is my favorite song of all-time and has been since I was 10 years old.  But that does not change the fact that Martin Luther King was shot at dusk.  And it wasn’t morning in Dublin either (even if they heard about it in the morning, which, as kids, they probably wouldn’t have noticed, it would have been the morning of April 5).  And “early evening” would have worked just as well for the cadence.  It hurts that they messed this up.  In U2 by U2 Bono acknowledges the error.  Still my favorite song of all-time.

Do_They_Know_It's_Christmas_single_cover_-_1984“And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom  /  Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”

  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas”  (Band-Aid, lyrics by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure)  –  1984
  • If you thought Veronica hated the line in “Abracadabra”, that’s nothing to her hatred of this line.  It colors her notion on the whole song, in spite of the fact that this song is utterly brilliant and proves that the Brits can do this kind of thing much better than we can (“We are the World” may have outsold this, but this is miles away a better song).  There’s a point to this line – be thankful for what you have no matter what it might be, because it could be a whole lot worse.  But to Veronica it (understandably) just sounds like an awful idea – being thankful it’s them instead of you.

 

Careless_Whisper_UK_single“Guilty feet have got no rhythm”

  • Careless Whisper”  (Wham, lyrics by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley)  –  1984
  • The first of four straight songs on this list that were Billboard #1 Singles in 1985 (it was released in 1984 but hit #1 in early 85).  While this might not be the grand winner of most bizarre lyric of the decade (see the bottom of the post), it might be the winner of the worst lyric in this post.  It doesn’t boggle the mind because it’s confusing.  It boggles the mind because it’s mind-numbingly stupid.

Phil_Collins_Sussudio“I feel so good if I just say the word, Sussudio”

  • Sussudio”  (Phil Collins, lyrics by Phil Collins)  –  1985
  • The second 1985 Billboard #1 Single.  If you read the Wikipedia page on the song it gives an explanation as to how it came about in the first place and why he ended up using it in the song.  It doesn’t make it boggle the mind any less (or, I’m certain, make Veronica’s skin crawl any less when she hears it – she loathes Phil Collins).

StElmosFire“Take me where my future’s lyin’, St. Elmo’s Fire”

  • “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)”  (John Parr, lyrics by David Foster and John Parr)  –  1985
  • The third 1985 Billboard #1 Single.  The title of the song and the line itself make limited sense if you know it was written for the movie St. Elmo’s Fire.  Of course, that movie is called that because action revolves somewhat around St. Elmo’s Bar.  But really, it was a dumb title for a film (The Medium-Sized Chill is the most accurate title).  And in the context of the song it made no sense whatsoever.  By the way, watching the video for this song is more worthwhile than watching the actual film.

 

WeBuiltThisCity“Marconi plays the mamba”

  • We Built This City”  (Starship, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, Martin Page, Dennis Lambert, Peter Wolf)  –  1985
  • The fourth Billboard #1 single.  Jon had actually suggested a line from this song: “We’re the ship of fools  /  Looking for America  /  Coming through your schools”  But I had already decided on this line.  There is a whole beef about this line in this article, which references the song’s choice as the worst song ever by Blender.

Phil-Collins-Dont-Lose-My-Number“Billy, Billy don’t lose my number  /  Cause you’re not anywhere  /  That I can find you”

  • “Don’t Lose My Number”  (Phil Collins, lyrics by Phil Collins)  –  1985
  • Unlike some of the other songs on this list in which most of the song makes sense but one line makes no sense at all (like “We Built This City” for example) nothing in this song makes any sense.  Who is Billy?  What number did he lose?  And why are the verses written in third person but the chorus in first person?  The video, which is, by the way, brilliant, answers none of these questions.  It viciously parodies a number of big videos at the time and is hilarious but it makes the song make perhaps even less sense.  Still, it’s one of my favorite Phil Collins songs and I was very bitter when it was left off his 1998 greatest hits collection.

 

Bryan_Adams_-_Summer_of_'69“Those were the best days of my life  /  Oh yeah  /  Back in the summer of ’69”

  • Summer of ’69”  (Bryan Adams, lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance)  –  1985
  • It’s a great song.  And without some context, it sounds like a great reminiscence of growing up.  With just one problem.  Bryan Adams was 9 years old in the summer of ’69.  Even without the internet to tell us that it was obvious at the time he wasn’t old enough for any of these events to have happened to him in 1969.  Which lead to the obvious conclusion – this was a reference not to nostalgia but to sex.  Which lead to many awkward conversations in the Beck household concerning various family members who were, at the time, 20, 17, 14, 11 and 8.  When one of my brothers explained it to me and my older sister, my other brother was so embarrassed he left the room.  And oh, the painful memories of my mother asking about the song.  I can’t imagine we were the only household to have such an awkward conversation.

Sledgehammer_Cover“I wanna be your sledgehammer”

  • “Sledgehammer”  (Peter Gabriel, lyrics by Peter Gabriel)  –  1986
  • Another Billboard #1 Single, but from 1986.  Jon suggested a line from “Big Time”, the other hit single off So: “And I will pray to a big god  /  As I kneel in the big church.”  I declined, partially because one of my all-time favorite lines comes from that song: “And my heaven will be a big heaven  /  And I will walk through the front door.”  But he followed it up with “Or anything from Sledgehammer.”  To be fair, this song, while a huge hit (it spent four weeks at #1) drove a lot of people nuts.  It was that bizarre song that had the amazingly awesome video.  And no one ever understood the point of the meaning of any of the lyrics (they seem a bit more obvious now that I’m older but no less mindboggling).

 

R.E.M._-_Green“Late spring and you’re drifting off to sleep  /  With your teeth in your mouth”

  • You are the Everything”  (R.E.M., lyrics by Michael Stipe, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills)  –  1988
  • Honestly, Green could have provided quite a bit on this list.  Veronica thought I should include “Orange Crush” (yes, it’s about Agent Orange, but what does “I’ve got my spine” have to do with it?) and there are definitely lines in “Stand” that could go on this list (why exactly if wishes were trees would the trees be falling?).  But I wanted to focus on this song for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it is a hauntingly beautiful song, one of the best songs that R.E.M. ever recorded and still one of my favorite songs of all-time (when I made a mix tape in 1992 of my all-time favorite songs it was third behind “Pride” and “Born to Run”).  That said, look at the line (or, if you know the song well, hear it in your head).  “With your teeth in your mouth.”  When the hell are your teeth not in your mouth?  What does this have to do with the rest of the song, which all makes sense?  Could they just not find a good line to put there?  I’ve always found this line so inexplicable.

Loveshack“My what?  /  Tin roof rusted”

  • Love Shack”  (The B-52’s, lyrics by Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson)  –  1989
  • Surprisingly, this was not a #1 (it peaked at #3).  I wasn’t a huge fan of this song when it came out, much preferring the follow-up “Roam” (I actually first got the song because it was the b-side on my tape single of “Roam”).  But I eventually came around on it and it’s a fun song.  But even when it was being played on VH-1 constantly (it was such a big thing in 1988 and 1989 after it came out because it actually played videos – I remember sitting around at Academic Decathlon meetings on the weekends watching the Top 20 countdown so we could catch the video for “Veronica” yet again – a song, I should point out by the way, that Veronica hates) one line never made sense to me.  Or, to be more precise, was never comprehensible to me.  I just couldn’t understand what the hell Cindy Wilson was saying.  Then, last year, I finally mentioned that when the song was on and Veronica told me what the line was.  And then it went from being incomprehensible to utter perplexing.  I mean, I understand that shacks often have tin roofs, but really, why on earth was the line there?  Especially when it’s such a key line in the song (the music literally stops).  Just bizarre.  But then again, it’s the B-52’s, so bizarre is kind of the name of the game.  And having come full circle from “Private Idaho” this would be a good place to stop, except we have to crown our winner.

THE GRAND WINNER

Duran-Duran-Hungry-Like-The-W-14123“I smell like I sound”

  • “Hungry Like the Wolf”  (Duran Duran, lyrics by Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor, Simon Le Bon)  –  1982
  • Seriously, what the hell does that mean?  I love this song – it’s got a great riff and it’s great to sing along to.  But whenever it plays I am forced to ask people what on earth that line means.  Over 30 years of listening to this song and please, somebody, tell me.  What does it mean to smell like you sound?
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