Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wait, Are They Singing About This Or That?: 10 of Music's Greatest Extended Metaphors

Like cleanliness is next to Godliness, in the mind and ears of this writer, among the literary techniques that thrill me most, a great metaphor is right up there with alliteration. If you're not so sure what a metaphor is, don't worry, you're not alone. Rose Nylund had trouble with it, too, on The Golden Girls -- twice. Blanche Devereaux's explanation the first time -- "It's when you say one thing to mean something else, like when I say men are blinded by my beauty. They're not really blinded. They get their sight back in a few days" -- remains one of my favorite throwaway jokes of the entire series.

Fortunately for non-metaphorically challenged songwriters, you don't have to be able to call a metaphor a "metaphor" or pick one out of a line-up of literary techniques to appreciate a good one.

"Pulse" Toni Braxton (writers: Charles Harmon and Christopher Jackson) Giving new meaning to the phrase "This relationship is on life support."

"One on One" Daryl Hall & John Oates (writer: Daryl Hall) Quite possibly the only time I ever really cared about anything involving sports between my short-lived phase as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, circa 1979, and the time I interviewed David Beckham in 2003.

"Like a Drug" Kylie Minogue (writers: Mich Hedin Hansen, Jonas Jeberg, Engelina Andrina, Adam Powers) In the world of pop similes (metaphors using "as" or "like," the latter of which might warrant a blog post all of its own, along with love as an addiction -- oh, wait, that already got an entire paragraph in a previous post!), they don't get much sexier than Minogue's 2007 X album cut, which she performed live in Buenos Aires the following year from inside a red box.

"Juicy Fruit" Mtume (writer: James Mtume) Sex and candy has been a lyrical cornerstone of pop for years, with Madonna taking it to its logical conclusion in the 2008 Hard Candy track "Candy Shop," in which she actually sang about the goodies in her vagina. But Mtume vocalist Tawatha Agee's milkshake was already bringing all the boys to the yard (in 1983) when Kelis was barely out of diapers.

"My Colouring Book" Brenda Lee (writers: Fred Ebb, John Kander) Less a strict metaphor than a very elaborate form symbolism in pop, this classic has inspired some of music's greatest performances (including ones from Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield and ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog), my all-time favorite of which remains Lee's album track from her 1963 All Alone Am I LP.

"Jump (for My Love)" Pointer Sisters (writers: Steve Mitchell, Marti Sharron, Gary Skardina) I don't know what it was about 1983. Mtume was powering sales of chewing gum with a suggestive R&B No. 1 smash, and Dazz Band (via "Joystick," to which I already gave due props here) and Pointer Sisters were offering odes to the power of the penis. What, did you think the Pointers were singing about actual jumping? (Fun fact: When it was released as a single in 1984, the song peaked at No. 3, behind Prince's "When Doves Cry" at No. 1 and at No. 2, "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen, a superstar who, like the Pointers, never had a No. 1 hit on Billboard's Hot 100 and who wrote the trio's first Top 10 pop hit, 1979's "Fire.")

"Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart" The Supremes/The Good Girls (writers: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland) Boy, that's got to be uncomfortable!

"I Don't Wanna Play House" Tammy Wynette (writers: Billy Sherrill, Glenn Sutton) A metaphor (a little girl likening her parents' stormy relationship to a children's game) behind a metaphor (the declaration of the title itself) that, along with The Marvelettes' "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" (which I previously raved about here), is one of music's most sophisticated extended metaphors of the '60s. Kids, as Wynette would sing some six years after scoring her first No. 1 country hit with 1967's "House," really do say the darndest things.

"World Leader Pretend" R.E.M. (writers: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe) A beautiful intersection of political language and personal meaning for the emotionally isolated everywhere, from my favorite R.E.M. album of the '80s (Green, released on Election Day in November of 1988).

"White Flag" Dido (writers: Dido Armstrong, Rollo Armstrong, Rick Nowels) Pat Benatar and Sade declared love and war in the '80s, respectively, with "Love Is a Battlefield" and "War of the Hearts" (as did Tamar Braxton with her 2012 single "Love and War"), and on her 2003 hit, Dido, though clearly no match for the power of love, refused to surrender and concede defeat. By the way, am I the only one who blinked and missed the March release of Girl Who Got Away, her fourth studio album?

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