Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Most Meaningless Recurring Lyrics in Pop Music

"Na na na na na na na na na na na"
- Lily Allen, "Air Balloon"

Huh? Na na na na what?

Modern mainstream pop doesn't get much catchier than Lily Allen's latest single (she's like a British Katy Perry, only better), but just what is she trying to say at the end of the chorus? Your guess is as good as mine. When the song is over, though, what's the first thing that pops into your head?

Yeah, right: Na na na na na...

No wonder "na na na..." has been, for decades, one of the lyrical refrains most likely to pop up in a pop song, perhaps second only to "I love you," and not to be confused with the equally insanely popular "la la la..." It's sort of the pop equivalent of the jazz scat, only it hardly requires any vocal virtuosity, which might be why it gets less respect than "De do do do de da da da" (from The Police's 1980 hit of the same name), "Mmm mmm mmm mmm" (from Crash Test Dummies' 1993 one hit wonder of the same name) or the choruses of J. Geils Band's "I Do" (1982) and Pat Benatar's "Ooh Ooh Song" (from 1985).

That doesn't mean the "la la la..." and "na na na..." treatment is wasted on bad songs. Listen (and read) on...

"Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)" Al Green But then, he can make anything sound like poetry.

"Take a Chance on Me" ABBA Of course, ABBA had to go there at some point, trading "L" and "N" for "B" and making it "ba ba ba ba ba..." on the quartet's 1978 No. 3 single (and second-biggest U.S. hit). Was that the Swedish translation?

"The Matador" Sylvia For those who thought country music was just about beer, heartache and trucks, Syvia's 1981 pre-"Nobody" Top 10 hit added love at the bullfight and a "na na na na na na na na..." coda to the genre's lyrical repertoire.

"It's Raining Again" Supertramp Love can build a bridge, and so can a melodica solo followed by one more round of "la la la la la la...."

"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" Bananarama A song with a "na na na na" refrain so undeniably catchy that not only did it become a hit at least three times (via Steam's 1969 original, Bananarama's 1983 cover and The Nylons' 1987 remake), but it also provided the basis of an enduring sports chant.

"La La Love You" Pixies Alternative rock gets into the "la la" act (on Pixies' 1989 classic Doolittle album).

"Let Me Love You" Peter Murphy And so does the Godfather of Goth Rock (on 1992's Holy Smoke).

"Can't Get You Out of My Head" Kylie Minogue The Aussie Madonna's penultimate UK chart-topper (as of this moment) sounds even better today than it did the first time I heard it at a Teen People Pink photo shoot in 2001, and that's in no small part due to that "la la la..." intro.

"Nah!" Shania Twain What she meant to say (sing) was "No," but the sound effect was basically the same.

"Air Balloon" Lily Allen You've got to give Allen props for working Miami, Timbuktu, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, an uncle with a monkey that ran away from the zoo, and "na na na na..." into the second great pop single of 2014 (after Beyoncé's lyrically literal "Partition").

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