Cutting Artists Some Slack

How many of you care deeply about the messages within the songs and films you enjoy?

Do you often pass up songs because of the lyrics or the ridiculous antics of the songwriters? Or do you, like I do, regularly listen to the works of talented morons? Do you, like I do, struggle to ignore the inanity of those lyrics in your attempt to enjoy the musical qualities?

Once upon a time, I ignored lyrics with the greatest of ease. This comes as a shock to some people, but there are indeed music fan…

  1. genferei

    When it comes to popular music, it’s the performance and not the content that is important. The Clash couldn’t sing, play instruments, compose music or write lyrics terribly well. But they are still the greatest band of all time. (From this statement you can probably date me very accurately…)

  2. Lord Humungus

    Fact: “Glenn Danzig….truly understands it”

  3. DrewInWisconsin
    sawatdeeka: What a great question.

    I’ve always paid a great deal of attention to lyrics, and do so even more now that my children are listening, too.

    Same here. I may have been even more scrupulous about it in my youth than I am today. Though as my friend states above, having young offspring about has increased my sensitivity.

    We don’t typically have a radio on in the house (and the kids always make me turn the radio off in the car) but the other day they were messing with the radio, looking for music to listen to. Because I am pretty clueless (but certainly suspicious) about what’s currently in rotation on the pop stations, I decided to haul out a bunch of “approved” CDs from my own collection, and let them just go crazy with them.

  4. Rachel Lu

    Sometimes lyrics ruin a song, sometimes not. As an example, I can’t stop liking the Indigo Girls’ “Closer To Fine”, even though it’s basically your run-of-the-mill dismissal of philosophy, organized religion and authority in favor of “just living your life”. Obviously, I do not dismiss philosophy or organized religion, but I still like the song, partly for personal-history reasons and partly because of the mood. Feels like late afternoon sunshine.

  5. Rachel Lu

    On the other hand, I’ve never been able to listen to U2 without contempt ever since they joined the Obama-promotion tour (not that I was a huge fan before, but they were part of my college environment). Springsteen, to a lesser extent, is also tainted.

  6. dash

    … or just-plain-dumb messages?

    Off topic, but my mind wanders: Just saw this via Drudge. 

    What’s wrong with your tee-shirt, is clearly not the message printed on it, but simply that you’re wearing a printed tee-shirt on a public aeroplane. Must I remind you that although you may be on route to your vacation destination, you have not arrived yet, and therefor your attire is wholly inappropriate.


    This is proper attire for a gentleman traveler  And unless you are a Homicide dick, the hat comes off at the terminal door.

  7. Colin B Lane

    I have two different thoughts about the “just-plain-dumb” v. the “liberal and condescending.”

    As for the very cool song that’s just-plain-dumb, I recommend you simply sit back and enjoy. Example: 

    Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower.  Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna.  Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.  I am the Eggman, They are the Eggmen.  I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob.  Goo goo g’joob goo

    As for the very cool song with a liberal and condescending message — example:

    “I saw cotton and I saw black Tall white mansions and little shacks. Southern man when will you pay them back? I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking How long? How long?”

    . . . there’s always the opportunity to rebut with another very cool song.

  8. Paul Dougherty

    Ted Nugent and Stranglehold come to mind.

  9. Paul Dougherty

    With Tool, the lyrics can be repulsive and yet accurately convey complex issues with strange quality.

    Tool vexes me.

  10. Aaron Miller

    All I have to say to that, Paul, is…

    Learn to swim! ;)

  11. Misthiocracy

    I listen to Rage Against The Machine.

    Clearly, I give artists a LOT of leeway when it comes to lyrics.

  12. EJHill

    Yeah, that Cole Porter was definitely subversive. To this day I am strangely tolerant of closeted gay Ivy League rich guys from Indiana. And don’t get me started on that Irving Berlin guy…

  13. sawatdeeka

    What a great question.

    I’ve always paid a great deal of attention to lyrics, and do so even more now that my children are listening, too.

  14. Aaron Miller

    One of my favorite musicians is Ozzy. His lyrics are schizophrenic.

    On the one hand, there are songs like “I Just Want You”:

    I think I’ll buy myself some plastic water I guess I should have married Lennon’s daughter yeah, yeah, yeah

    On the other hand, he has written lyrics like “Mama, I’m Coming Home”:

    You took me in and you drove me out Yeah, you had me hypnotized, Yeah Lost and found and turned around By the fire in your eyes You made me cry, you told me lies But I can’t stand to say goodbye Mama, I’m coming home I could be right, I could be wrong Hurts so bad, it’s been so long Mama, I’m coming home Selfish love yeah we’re both alone The ride before the fall But I’m gonna take this heart of stone I just got to have it all

    PS — Zakk was a better guitarist when he was with Ozzy.

  15. Scott R

    Green Day’s “Holiday” is one of the cooler sounding songs of recent times, imo, but the anti-American lyrics just spoil it. Really too bad because it’s a clever tune.

    Raunch has come to be a turn off, too — much more so than when I was younger. Might have something to do with having a teen daughter.

    The Allman Brothers are a pretty good combo of great music and harmless lyrics (or sometimes no lyrics at all). 

  16. Scott R

    Btw, Aaron, here’s my brother-in-law jamming with someone you might know.

  17. Paul Dougherty

    For some oldies but goodies, here is some Duke Ellington , the dog!

    True, I’ve been seen with someone new, But does that mean that I’ve been untrue? When we’re apart,  The words in my heart  Reveal how I feel about you. Some kiss may cloud my memories, And other arms may hold a thrill, But please, do nothing till you hear it from me– And you never will.

    (Edward “Duke” Ellington, Bob Russell)

    Shorter version- its wasn’t me!

  18. Foxfier

    I pay attention to lyrics when the message is too strong to ignore. *grin*  Horrible habit, not being able to turn off my mind… a lot of the songs I enjoyed as a kid were ruined once I figured out that most of the boiled down to “sleep with me, and don’t expect anything more, or you’re a bad person.”

  19. Rosie

    I did always like a good tune and at least in English language I didn’t pay much attention at first but I became less interested over time.  I realized that most so called lyrics really suck and the music itself isn’t very good anymore.  Having also grown up with various Spanish genres the ones that have and still have my attention are the ones where the industry songwriters have maintained a level of lyrical quality to their tunes.  Generally speaking modern Spanish has maintained a  variety of emotive words that are used to describe various feelings.  Modern American English seems to have lost that great quality found in classic literature.  The Spanish language songwriters appeal to the masses but thank god it is still expected that the songs be catchy in lyrical fashion.  Many of the risque songs still use allegorical and/or tongue in cheek language.  The more erotic songs use expressions of deep love and passion, the use of vulgar language is not considered kosher.  This type of tradition also applies to other languages so I wonder if it all has to do with culture.

  20. Raw Prawn

    It’s surprising how little attention is paid to lyrics of pop songs.  One of my favorite examples was when a radio station that was, at least at its origins, protestant and currently pitches to an older, more conservative, audience included John Lennon’s Imagine in its Christmas play list because it talked about heaven and peace.

    Sometimes the rot is not immediately apparent.  I challenge any boomer who loved The Times They Are A’Changin’ to listen to it today and not think of Pol Pot.  My own favorite Dylan song, these days, is Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat.

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