Today is a guest post by Josh. He’s compiled a list of, well…inappropriate (?) songs that are surprisingly popular given their dark subject matter. I suppose it could be titled, “Inappropriate Radio Jams: A Showcase of Josh Lemay’s Knowledge of Absurd Pop Culture”. I am very grateful that he has provided me with some blogging material, because I’m up to my eyeballs in homework right now. Thanks Josh!
Inspired by a conversation about Andrea’s favorite misinterpreted songs, I told her I was going to come up with a list and she could post it on her blog. I have a (however prone to data loss and corruption) veritable database of movies, television and music stored in those spaces where I should have kept the foreign languages and math I never learned. How many opportunities do I really have to put it to some (however trivial) use?
So, here is my list of commonly misunderstood/misinterpreted pop songs. Some are pop the genre and some are pop only by virtue of being popular. I don’t even recommend all of these songs, they just happen to be the best representation of this phenomenon I can think of. Without further ado, in no discernible order, I present to you, a list:
Norwegian Wood: I thought I would start us off with something classic. This massively popular Beatles track is remembered for being the first use of sitar in western pop music. Frequently overlooked is the fact that not only is the song inspired by an affair John was having, but also that after the woman in question fails to give up the goods to our protagonist, he promptly burns down her house. The name is a reference to the cheap pine that was evidently all the rage in decorating and the hypothetical girl whose home was adorned in it. Moral of the story: John Lennon is not the kind of guy to force himself on a woman when she says no, ’cause that would just be wrong.
You probably know by now, it’s about female masturbation. Cyndi Lauper wants you to know it’s ok to double click the mouse. She also wants you to dance about it.
Semi-Charmed Life: Third Eye Blind bring us the first of our entires that I don’t really like. Really, it’s not a terrible song, but it played day in and day out for all of the summer before I was in eighth grade. So yeah, in case you didn’t get the memo: Crystal Meth is kind of a problem for people. I suppose not everyone, but for many folks it’s a drug they will literally scratch their face off for (or is that figurative since the scratching is because and not in order to? Hmm.) Well, in any case, if you ever heard it on MTV or the radio, they censor entire lines of each verse due to drug reference. By the end of the song it all ends up sounding like O.D.B.’s guest verse on Blackstreet’s The Fix, where you sit there wondering what the hell he could have even said behind all the bleeps and blank spaces.
He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss): Ok, so maybe this one is less misunderstood as it is surprising that it was popular. Anyway, this one time Gerry Goffin and Carol King (yes that Carol King) found out that singer Little Eva (who was the first artist to ever record The Loco-Motion) was being regularly beaten by her boyfriend. When they asked why she was still with him, she replied that the beatings meant that he loved her. They were thoroughly freaked out and proceeded to write a bitterly satyrical song about it. The title really says it all, but if for any reason you are doubtful let me give you another quote: “If he didn’t care for me, I could have never made him mad. but he hit me, and I was glad.” The popular cover by Grizzly Bear is worth your time, a less popular cover by Hole is not, and the original Phil Spector recording of The Crystals is possibly perfect.
99 Luftballons: Nena’s Cold War inspired song is about red balloons floating from Germany into Russia, being misunderstood as enemy planes and causing a nuclear holocaust. I’m not even kidding, that is seriously what it is about.
So I could have included most of the hit songs recorded by The Police, but the obvious choice was Every Breath You Take AKA the stalker song. Instead of that, I went with the love song about a whore. Honestly I like the sentiment and I like that by now many people know what it’s about. If you’re skeptical about its misunderstood factor, I can tell you right now people like my mother have no clue what Sting is saying and couldn’t care less.
Crash Into Me – It’s like a Prince sex jam written by an eleven year old. Not only do I not know how it ever became popular, I can’t even figure out how Dave Matthews avoids having to pay for sex after people hear this song. I imagine the way I feel when listening to this song is the way all those people on that boat felt when the DMB bus driver emptied the tour bus septic tank all over them.
Born in the USA: If there ever was a contender for the “Every Breath You Take” misunderstood world title, it is this, the most famous of jams by The Boss. I am including it in this list because: It is the only politically misunderstood song on the list. Like many Springsteen tunes, I like the concept better than the execution (but boy do I like the concept.) Lastly, because Andrea loves the Boss. So yeah, a song about becoming disenfranchised and losing connection with the American dream became the theme song for Ronald Regan. ‘Nuff Said.
“The game of life is hard to play, I’m gonna lose it anyway. The losing card I’ll someday lay, so this is all I have to say: suicide is painless”. Those are some of the lyrics from one of my mother’s favorite shows. The thousand times you flicked past this on any one of the million channels that show M.A.S.H. reruns, you never knew that the song behind that instrumental is brutal (and well harmonized). I told Andrea about this one ahead of the actual composition of this entry and she told me to profess her undying love of Alan Alda somewhere in the post. I would like to qualify that by saying it is in fact our love of Alan Alda that is undying. May he live forever, and may we both someday get to hang out with him.
Excitable Boy: When I said there was no order I lied. I saved the best for last. This is the song I think of when I think of a list like this. This is the tops for me. It is my favorite song on the list and it is probably the most fucked up. He rapes and kills his prom date, then he digs up her bones years later. All the while thousands of fans do the classic rock bop in a sold out arena. Warren Zevon is an un-neutered Springsteen. While The Boss writes a dope lyric about Vietnam, he still shies away from songs about horrible murder. Take away some of the epic grandeur of Springsteen and also remove any real sense that one could possibly give a fuck about selling records and you have Mr. Zevon. His most popular song is called Werewolves of London for shit’s sake, the man could care less if you listen or not.
Honorable Mention: Better Off Dead – Bill Withers writes from the heart, or the gut perhaps, if I’m honest. Some of his lyrics are a bit simple, but they are never trite or disingenuous. I include this track as a bonus because, much like He Hit Me, the song is not so much misunderstood as it is surprisingly harsh for a pop track. “Now I must die by my own hand, ’cause I’m not man enough to live alone” sings our protagonist, after his drinking damages his lover’s life enough for her to leave. We hear the downward spiral slowly churn and the track ends mid line with a bang.
Thus concludes Josh’s guest post. Walkabout Wednesday pictures will be posted tomorrow!