Is it just me, or is it a bit farcical how differently we judge song writers and book writers. I realize songs and books are different entities (duh) and that some will no doubt complain that I am comparing apples to oranges or plums or dried apricots, but I still find it intriguing how different the standards are (not counting some of those awful, cheesy romance novels). Let’s take a peek at excerpts from a few popular books, some classic, some recent.
“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” Paul Auster, City of Glass
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose.” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“Anything could happen when you were with Jimmy. If he was aware there were rules — in the subway, on the streets, in a movie theater — he never showed it.” Dennis Lehane, Mystic River
“This would be a slow death. Her father was right, she must have been the worst of sinners.” Jonis Agee, The River Wife
“What happened next transpired in seconds. Everything does, if you think about it” Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Great stuff. Now, let’s check out some lyrics from popular songs of different genres (with the artist, not necessarily the writer, listed for the sake of easy recognition).
“I’m attracted to ya ’cause you give me love, and sweetheart, Color Me Badd is gonna sex you up.” Color Me Badd, I Wanna Sex You Up
“In a second you’ll be wrapped around my finger
‘Cause I can, cause I can do it better
There’s no other, so when’s it gonna sink in
She’s so stupid, what the hell were you thinking?” Avril Lavigne, Girlfriend
“She can handle any champagne brunch
A bridal shower with Bacardi punch
Jello shooters full of Smirnoff
But tequila makes her clothes fall off.” Joe Nichols, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off
“Meat-eating orchids forgive no one just yet
Cut myself on Angel Hair and baby’s breath
Broken hymen of your highness I’m left black
Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back.” Nirvana, Heart-Shaped Box
“Everyone’s looking to see if it was you
Everyone wants you to come through
Everyone’s hoping it’ll all work out
Everyone’s waiting they’re holding out.” Loverboy, Working for the Weekend
“Nasty put some clothes on, I told ya
Don’t walk out your house without no clothes on, I told ya.” Destiny’s Child, Nasty Girl
“You see I feel sad when you’re sad
I feel glad when you’re glad
If you only knew what I’m going through
I just can’t smile.” Barry Manilow/Carpenters, Can’t Smile Without You
Before I go any further, let me say that I like
these a few of these songs. I know what some of you are thinking. Songs are just about having fun, being in a certain mood, or communicating plain old attitude. I get that; I love music. That said, come on people. Surely we can get some better lyrics without losing the fun and attitude.
Sex you up? This is an excellent example of a “music will have to do until I can get home to watch some porn” song.
Meat eating orchids? This brings to mind that weird kid in high school who liked to say nonsensical stuff because he/she was terrified to actually try to carry on a normal conversation.
Nasty put some clothes on. This one really needs no comment.
The Barry Manilow/Carpenters one? Did the credited writers really write that, or did they raid a stack of 7th grade poems from a teacher’s desk at Our Lady of the Divine Gag Me With a Spoon. Can’t you see a kid asking his dad what rhymes with sad?
I realize there are some really good lyrics out there, but you have to admit the radio dial is filled with drivel. Song writers of the world, I am pointing a finger at you and begging you to at least give an effort. I’m not asking you to hit the ball out of the park every time, but at least quit bunting.
What if our book writers had been allowed to live by the same standards? Would Romeo have said to Juliet, “I’ll take you to the candy shop; I’ll let you lick the lollipop?” Would Little Women instead be titled, Little Hos? Would those famous first lines of A Tale of Two Cities instead read: “It was fun, but it sucked at the same time. Some were smart, but some were just freaking numb nuts. Some people thought there was something to believe in while others were like, umm, I don’t think so.”
Maybe I’m asking too much, but I just don’t want to live in a world where an Anne Rice vampire sequel is called, “Oops, I bit it again.”