Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Musical Interlude

The final part of the ANCIANT European Travel Divine Comedy will probably not arrive until after the holidays.  In the interim, I'd like to ask everybody to respond to this question:  what is the single worst lyric that occurs in a hit song of the 1980s? (The 1980s part is key: we have to limit our search, a little.  Plus, this way we have an excuse to think about songs from the 80s).

I think I already have the winner.  It occurs in an otherwise fantastic song--"Africa" by Toto.  (Please note, that we're using the word 'fantastic' in a very specific way when we talk about 1980s Pop.  Nevertheless, I will happily argue for hours with anyone mad enough to claim that "Africa" is NOT a great song.  Because it is.  GONNA TAKE A LOT TO DRAG ME AWAY FROM YOUUUUU)

Toto in the 80s.  How I Miss Them.  (The Band and the Decade)

This is not to say, however, that it doesn't contain an absolute disaster of a lyric.  I refer, of course to this little doozy:
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I was sure, last time I heard this song that lyric was "as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a LEPRESS above the Serengeti."  I'm still not convinced that ISN'T the lyric, but I'm going to bow to the many sites on the Internet that claim it's Olympus.  It's still awful.  Way too many words have been crammed into the music, the simile is confusing, and the allusion to Olympus only confuses whatever is at stake in the song.

All right.  That's my submission.  The floor is open.  I await to hear from all my fellow 80s music loving fans.

Wait, first.  I can't help it--this lyric begs to be mentioned right away.  This way, we can get it out of the way.
He sees her, he starts to shake and to cough.
Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.
This should be a reference point for would-be poets on what constitutes a forced rhyme.  To pick at just one of the lyric's many many problems--the protagonist of Lolita, Humbert Humbert, is not an old man; he's middle age, at the oldest.  Also (need to stop--don't go down the rabbit hole) he is NOT at all embarrassed or ashamed of his love for young women.  He revels in it; he would never start to 'shake and cough' on seeing a young girl; that suggest guilt.

Man.  I'm wondering if we should just limit this discussion to Sting lyrics.  Because that is a rich vein to mine.

Anyway, now the floor really is open.  Let's hear 'em!


Saxo Philologus said...

I just read something to the effect that 'Africa' is about someone who has never been to Africa trying to envision what it is like. So maybe that explains it. It is a great song, though I think 'Hold the Line' is slightly better.

There is a correct answer to your question, however, namely Van Halen's 'Why Can't This Be Love" from 1986, which features the line: 'Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.'

There is your winner.

Dezmond said...

Dammit, Saxo. You stole mine. As I was reading the post, "only time will tell if we stand the test of time" immediately came to mind. And then I see Saxo already grabbed it. Competition over. It is a stunningly bad line, made all the worse by Hagar's over earnest delivery, as if he is revealing something profound.

I've always loved/hated this one from Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl": "You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute / I wanna tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot." Using "moot" in a pop song. That's ballsy.

Dezmond said...

Or Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" from 1989. A list is not a song.

ANCIANT said...

I thought about the Rick Springfield one when I put this post up. You're right, entirely, Dez. Horrible.

I actually had never even noticed the Sammy Hagar line. Very interesting. I'll have to listen for that, next time the song is on.

Another one that was on the radio (also by Billy Joel): "you turned the tap dance into your crusade…." (from "Pressure." Weird, and kind of upsetting. Who could turn the tap dance into a crusade? What does that mean??

Saxo Philologus said...

I am honored that someone of Dez's encyclopedic musical knowledge agrees with my choice!

Cartooniste said...

I'll get shouted down for breaking the rules here, but the extra "in" in "Live and Let Die" - "but in this ever changing world in which we live in" - has driven me batty since the 1980s. And you know how I feel about Bond films, so you know I've been driven very batty indeed.

Dezmond said...

"You've got to give the other fella hell!" The word "fella" should never be used in a song. Even more unseemly in a Bond song.

JMW said...

I'll break the rules, too, and go to the 1970s. You know I love Billy Joel, and this song, but this lyric in "Summer, Highland Falls" has always driven me nuts: "For all our mutual experience our separate conclusions are the same." What? Wouldn't the lyric really have meaning if it said "for all our separate experience, our mutual conclusions are the same?" Maybe it's just me.

Dezmond said...

"C'mon and Love Me" by KISS:

"She's a dancer, a romancer / I'm a capricorn and she's a cancer."

Later in the same song: "I'm a man, I'm no baby / And you're lookin' every inch a lady / You're good lookin' and you're lookin' like you should be good."

Dezmond said...

I posted those KISS lyrics as an example of something totally awesome, by the way. Not bad at all.

Cartooniste said...

This isn't relevant, but were any other Houstonians driven to irritated paroxysm by the Eugenides story in a November New Yorker?


It was just me, then.

Jack Massey said...

ANCIANT is right to identify bad geographic references as a major failing in many 1980s pop songs. He's just wrong in choosing Africa's as the worst offender. Far, far more troubling is Smooth Operator: "Coast to coast - LA to Chicago / Western male - across the north and south to Key Largo / Love for sale."

An appalling lyric in an appalling song. Africa, Jessie's Girl, We Didn't Start the Fire -- these songs rule. Or at least they're better than Smooth Operator. Which should count for something.

Jack Massey said...

ANCIANT is right to identify bad geographical references as a major failing in 1980s pop song. But he's wrong in identifying Africa's as the worst offender. That dishonor belongs to Smooth Operator: "Coast to coast - LA to Chicago / Western male - across the north and south to Key Largo / Love for sale." Offensively bad for many reasons. While Africa, We Didn't Light the Fire, Jessie's Girl, etc. rule, Smooth Operator blows. Surely that counts for something?