go on and never die!

Not that I really pay that much attention to what songs are charting these days, but my impression is that (with the possible exception of some mewling coming from Hot Topic-vended black hairdye abusers) the lyrics’ general ethos is overwhelmingly affirmative…by which I mean, my sex is good, my beats are good, my shit is good, my dancing is good, etc.

Regardless, I don’t think there’s all that much that’s just plain a big ol’ depressing downer (except if quality is considered – but that’s a separate argument). Contrast this with the late sixties and early seventies – oh yes, you could chart with a miserably depressing set of lyrics then.

Here are a few examples, because, you know, it’s pouring rain outside and the temperature’s dropped like thirty degrees in the last day or so.

Perhaps the all-time champion in boohooism is Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” – made even worse by its unnaturally chipper melody. But just how sunny is a song about attempted suicide, being abandoned at the altar, feeling abandoned by a god you no longer believe in, a dead father, and a grieving wife who dies of a broken heart?

Okay, so maybe something a bit more humorous? Like, say, the Bee Gees – with “I Started a Joke.” That should be good for a, uh, laugh. No? (Not unless you look closely at some of the more belabored lyrics.) Really, say what you will, this one’s got a wonderfully mournful melody, delivered with appropriate achingness.

Jonathan King (who, according to him, wrote nearly every British hit for a decade, when he wasn’t busy seducing teenage boys) scored a major hit with the (intentionally) Dylanesque lyric to “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” The images may be absurd in places, but the music and tune convey a real melancholy.

King also wrote the rather more obscure (to us Yanks, anyway) track “It’s Good News Week!” recorded by four British Royal Air Force lads (!) under the name Hedgehoppers Anonymous (I gather “hedgehopper” is some sort of pilot slang). At last, a title that promises cheer and happy, smiling faces!

Or not (naturally).

Gilbert O’Sullivan “Alone Again (Naturally)”
The Bee Gees “I Started a Joke”
Jonathan King “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”
Hedgehoppers Anonymous “It’s Good News Week!”



Filed under noise

7 responses to “go on and never die!

  1. Tris

    i just went through the list of hit singles for the critics poll and counted. 43 songs are uppers, 37 are downers, and 31 are statements of sexual desperation that can’t really be classified as either uppers or downers. then there are other songs like “chicken noodle soup”, “white & nerdy”, “yadadamean”, etc. that don’t fit any category. well, i guess you could say the webstar song is vaguely positive, or gives off a vaguely positive vibe.

    you are right to guess that much of the rap is positive and almost all of the emo is negative. for the record i classified “myspace jumpoff” and stuff like that as positive, since the emcee is talking about what a good lay he is. but those songs could easily go in the sexual desperation column, along with “wanna love u girl”, “when you gonna give it up to me”, “promiscuous”, “london bridge”, etc. it’s pretty obvious that grafh is just saying what he’s saying because he’s horny. i’m not sure that’s really positive.

    i also put all of the hustle songs in the positive column. “throw some d’s”, “hustlin'”, “get your hustle on”, etc. but are these songs really uppers? the message is that the rapper will get his no matter how adverse his social conditions are, but in a way, you can see that as a downer. it depends on how much of an optimist you are. can a song in which juve raps “i lost it all to katrina” really be called positive? i think it can, but it’s arguable. if you move the hustle songs from the positive column to the negative column, the downers outnumber the uppers. oh, i put “ridin’ dirty” in the downer column, because no matter what you want to say about your car and how great you are, if the proximate cause of your rap is getting stopped by the cops, that’s no fun at all.

    there weren’t that many radio hits this year that were genuine, unambivalent uppers a la jigga’s verse on “crazy in love”. even something like “let your hair down” is addressed to a girl who is unhappy about herself. so is that really affirmative? indie rock crossover-style hits are almost *all* downers: “chips ahoy”, “benton harbor blues”, “oh valencia”, “never went to church”, “love love love”, “broken ship”, “worry about it later”, the kooks songs, etc. nothing new about that — indie rock is always a downer.

    i have no idea how this compares to previous years.

  2. 2fs

    Now all we need is glenn mcdonald to do a statistical analysis of the data you’ve provided, and we’re all set!

    Anyway: clearly, you’re far more familiar with what’s charting than I am (which is why my opening paragraph is more of an aside and, now that I think of it, I’m not sure why it’s there. I guess just to give me an excuse to post four songs that are thirty to forty years old). But from your description, even the getting-stopped-by-cops and ruined-by-Katrina songs aren’t wallowing in misery…which is more my point. I’m not advocating that in real life, of course – but if I’d wanted to make some sort of sociological segue, I’d be inclined to relate all of this to something that I do think is annoying and even harmful, which is the prevalence of the sort of “positive thinking” inanity exemplified at its most trite by “Successories” posters (I threw up in my mouth a little even typing that brand name) and the notion that anyone can do whatever they choose to if they just try hard enough. Ain’t true – and implicit is the notion that, therefore, anyone who fails is, inherently, a failure, a loser. And even the way “loser” gets deployed as the ultimate insult (as if everyone hasn’t lost once in a while) is part of this notion. So I guess my buried point, jutting up here in the comments, is that there’s actually something salutary in at least allowing our singers to wallow in misery, even melodramatic misery wherein their words cause head injuries due to falling out of bed. Not quite sure how that works – the falling out of bed thing, not the miserable thing.

  3. Tris

    i think i remember that some guy did a study just like that: he tried to analyze what it meant if all the songs from a particular year were uppers or downers or whatever. i think what he decided was that just before a recession, hit songs get very bleak. you could have told him that, right? but i always thought it was a strange enterprise, since most hit songs are ambiguous. and unless you’ve been in the game for a long time, it’s hard to tell whether a song in a particular genre is an upper or a downer anyway. all those emo hit songs sound like downers to me. but a true emo kid might say, wait a minute, you’re not understanding the significance of this track. you’re not listening to it the way a fan would, and it is the fans who made it popular. i cram to understand emo. i cram to understand rap, too, but i’ve been at that since ’82 (and i *still* couldn’t tell you whether “if i ruled the world” is an upper or a downer). with emo i just started a few months ago when i decided to try to get with the program.

  4. 2fs

    As some Greek guy named something like Eric Stoddard once wrote, tragedy is cathartic, among other reasons cuz hey, you and I are still here, singing about it and hearing about it.


  5. Dunx

    Jonathan King, who you discuss, was sentenced to 7 years in Belmarsh prison for raping a 14 year old boy.

    He was released in 2005, he is now held with the most contempt possible in the Uk and its generally believed his songs were shit, the people he discovered did write some good tunes but all Kings songs are bollox.

  6. 2fs

    King continues to claim it wasn’t rape – regardless, I’m not talking about his life but about his music. I don’t particularly care what’s “generally believed”; if I like a song, I’ll think it’s a good song even if other people (who, it must be said, seem to be projecting their disgust at King’s life onto his music) disagree.

  7. Tris

    funny, because r. kelly is associated with perhaps the most affirmative song of the nineties, “i believe i can fly”. the general tone of michael jackson songs is down, but he did do “man in the mirror”. child molesters are up people.

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