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Weird and Wonderful Song Titles, Lyrics and Band Names

Dylan's Lyrics: Sublime Lyrical Poetry? - Jean-Luc
Some big music hits have come from the most unlikely words, the strangest titles and by the oddest named groups; but if they strike a chord, who cares?

In 2009 self-confessed ‘failed musician’, Johnny Sharp, published Crap Lyrics, (Portico Books, Annova), dedicated to “thousands of songwriters over the years who’ve sweated blood in the pursuit of song writing excellence”. It’s catalogued “humour”, but raises serious issues about how lyrics are written, titles chosen and bands name themselves.

Where Do Those Lyrics Come From?

Lyrics.time identifies several thousand weird, out of left field or just plain bad lyrics. Words in the cold light of a printed page, may seem strange; but married to melody, bizarre words can make hits.

Johnny Sharp includes Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man in his “crap” definition: “Now you see this one-eyed midget shouting the word now/And you say for what reason? and he says how?/And you say what does that mean, and he screams back, you’re a cow/Give me some milk or else go home”. Deliberately unfathomable or pure poetic genius?

Rockers AC/DC used: “let me put my love into you babe/let me cut your cake with my knife” in Let Me Put My Love Into You; while The Killers took a more existentialist line in Human: “I’m down on my knees, searching for the answer/are we human or are we dancer?” Still obsessed with knees, Morrisey in King Leer cried: “Your boyfriend he went down on one knee/Well could it be, he’s only got one knee?”

Freddie Mercury explained Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, as “operatic parody”: “I see a little silhouetto of a man/Scaramouche! Scaramouche!/will you do the fandango?/Thunderbolt and lightning….” at one end of the scale, while Jennifer Lopez in Jenny From the Block urged listeners “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got/I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block”.

Did They Think That Song Title Would Sell?

Best and Worst Song Titles suggest the “worst”, but others in the poetic/amusing category are country & western songs. Too Much Month At the End of the Money, written by DiPiero, Robbins and Sherrill, has appropriate lyrics too: “I paid the bank note, the car note and, yes, I paid the phone bill too/And then I turned around and I found that the house note’s due/Well I’d love to take you out like I said I would honey/But there’s too much month at the end of the money.”

Somebody Always Paints The Wall has lyrics that unravel the title: “If my old truck was a horse, I’d have to shoot it/Lord, the day my ship came in, I was waiting for a train/Every time I get some news there’s nothing to it/You’re my only pleasure from the pain….seems like every time I make my mark/Somebody always paints the wall.”

If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me? is the clever title of a country style song made by the Bellamy Brothers, which goes on, “If I swore you were an angel, would you treat me like a devil tonight?” Mickey Newbury wrote Kenny Rogers’ 1968 hit, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), reputedly set down as a warning against LSD experience and has been covered by other artists.

1971 Bubblegum pop, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was an unexpected UK Number 1 for Scottish group Middle of the Road. Building on the inexplicable title, the lyrics shed little light: “Last night I heard my momma singing this song/ooh wee chirpy chirpy cheep cheep/Woke up this morning and my momma was gone/ooh wee chirpy chirpy cheep cheep…” and so on for several minutes.

The Small Faces had a hit with the Kenny Lynch/Mort Shuman penned Sha La La La Lee, while Manfred Mann took similarly titled Sha La La with the memorable refrain, “sha la la la la la la la sha la la la la la la la” and made it a hit in 1964. It was the follow-up to their R&B, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, that topped the charts either side of the Atlantic.

From the same year, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, written by Curtis Mayfield was first a hit by Major Lance, covered in Britain by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders who took it to Number 5. In the early 2000s, Fontana faced bankruptcy, was imprisoned after an altercation with bailiffs and later sectioned under the Mental Health Act!

Who Would Listen to a Group Called ‘The Grateful Dead’?

Grateful Dead came from the rockier hippie 60s; The Lemon Pipers and The Lovin’ Spoonful from the gentler end, but The Dead Kennedys confirm a fascination with sickly tags. The Sex Pistols as the arch-voice of punk may have been deliberately provocative, while Rage Against the Coffee Machine and Rebel Without Applause are literary/amusing examples.

The clever/amusing part of the genre is exemplified by Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators. A comprehensive list of strange group names is at the Canonical List of Weird Band Names, the Peculiar & the Profane.

There is even a website for generating random group names and a sample using “random” itself produced: Random Tsunami, Quad Random & The Shifty Stamp, Random Fellow, Random Jerk, Random Charcoal, Random Connection and Random Faith.

All potentially good, judging by a century of band names and song titles, and as valid as sitting round drinking waiting for inspiration to strike, randomly.

First published on Suite 101, 22 June 2010.

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