Friday, June 22, 2012

Song Lyrics That Make Me Wish I'd Said It First

As Fiona Apple recently reminded me with The Idler Wheel..., what you sing sometimes matters as much as how you sing it. A good beat will forever have its place (much like a memorable melody), but there's nothing quite so powerful as words -- words that make you laugh, words that make you cry, words that run through your mind -- sometimes a cappella, sometimes not -- as you run through the city. (I'm a journalist/writer/editor, so I'm particularly susceptible to word envy.)

When Kylie Minogue opens "Illusion" (from 2010's Aphrodite) by singing, "This situation's taking over me/ Can't you see?/ I'm in trouble," how can you not keep listening to hear what's coming next?

Sometimes the words that hook me are buried deeper in the text: "What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret," Patty Loveless reveals 2:30 into "Too Many Memories" (from 1997's Long Stretch of Lonesome, which should be retitled Long Stretch of Awesome).

Truer words have never been sung -- which might be why I continue to drop those pearls of country wisdom, courtesy of songwriter Stephen Bruton, into regular conversation 15 years after hearing them for the first time. On the antagonistic tip, although I preferred Lauryn Hill's Wyclef Jean slam "Lost Ones" when I thought she said, "Hypocrites always want to play in quicksand" and not "Hypocrites always want to play innocent," either way, it's a shrewd observation with which I can't really argue.

But man cannot live on shrewd observations and lyrical depth alone. One of the reasons why I loved Mariah Carey's last album, E=MC2, as much as I did was because over the course of its 15 songs, I found myself cracking up over and over, over her sly sense of humor. (I've interviewed her, so I can assure you, the woman is a semi-riot.) "'Cause they be all up in my business like a Whitney interview" (from "Touch My Body")? I mean, really, Mariah? Of course, that was before Houston's tragic passing, so no demerits for insensitivity.

Apparently also well aware of the power of humor, Apple wisely saved the lightest for last on the mostly dead-serious The Idler Wheel...: "If I'm butter/ then he's a hot knife... I'm a hot knife/ he's a pat of butter."

And speaking of sexy...

"The smell of your skin and I begin
To kneel and to pray to you
Your sensual caress makes me confess my love for you
As we're making love we can't get enough
The clock is never kind when we unwind
'Cause we don't have that much time together" -- Terence Trent D'Arby, "We Don't Have That Much Time Together"

What lover hasn't been there -- or here?...

"Baby, you're orally fixated. You've got to give your mouth a rest. So greedy, I wish you could have waited. But you just had to stuff your face." -- Róisín Murphy, "Orally Fixated"

And who hasn't lost in romance? After all, love is a losing game, according to the late Amy Winehouse, who might still be one of the greatest musical poets to emerge in the 21st century had she'd written only that one killer couplet -- "The only time I hold your hand/ is to get the angle right" -- in "In My Bed." So if you're going to come out on bottom, you might as well get a great extended metaphor that draws a parallel between learning your lessons in love and overhauling your walk-in closet out of it.

"So I'm a take him off my hanger
I'm thinking maybe I should donate him
And then someone else can deal with it
'Cause I'd done had my fill of it
And I think it's time for me to change it up" -- Toni Braxton, "Wardrobe" (songwriters Harvey Mason Jr., Dernst Emile and Taurian Shropshire)

Now excuse me, I think I have some shopping of my own to do.

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