Blinded by the light

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Lyrics? I love lyrics; I remember them, I recognise them, I sing along with them and would like to apologise for doing so, right now. I notice all the little lyrical twists in a good song. I like some singers whose voices, let’s be honest, aren’t really up to much – but they’ve made it because they know how to pen a good line, and keep getting away with it.

I also enjoy some truly dreadful old rope. The lines that should have been howled out the studio – never howled in it onto disc.

Andy Wilkes wrote about some of these in the Grapevine a while ago, but his examples didn’t ring my cringe bell. ‘Yo-yos’ in Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing? Well, ‘yo-yos’ as slang for the mad-and-lazy rich doesn’t sound so implausible. You might say ‘chancers’ just as well: it’s not that daft. And, oh god, I really hate to defend the Spice Girls, but I would be surprised if anyone over the age of consent, on watching the ‘Wanna’ video, wouldn’t be able to give a very specific meaning for ‘zigazig ah,’ though that’s mainly down to the puffing and panting that one of the girls (Scary-Spice or Zany-Spice or Chilli-Spice) is doing.

For contrast…well, pick your own favourite nonsense. I always notice ABC’s ‘Look of Love: ‘If you judge the book by the cover, then you judge the look by the lover’? That wretched line leaps out of the silly song every time M-80 radio torments their listeners with it: I can’t not hear it.

Or how about the permanently incomprehensible? Think Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the lyrics of ‘Come on Eileen’. Everyone of a certain age will have heard this dozens of times. Most will have danced to it. And loads of us have sung along to it. So what the hell are the lyrics? Does anyone have the faintest idea? It’s unlike that Kevin Roland (a very strange man) had much of a clue what they were, when he was singing them. Perhaps he was just doing what we all do: mumble along to the tune and then belt out the chorus, which is why none of us can make them out now, or at least, not while sober: somehow, they are perfectly clear after enough bottles of San Miguel.

But the best in bonkers song lyrics has to be Bruce Springsteen. I only know this because of a summer’s evening, a bottle of wine on the terrace, and a row of little candle lanterns that led my friend to say something about being ‘blinded by the light’. Somehow (don’t ask how; I did mention the two bottles of wine, didn’t I?) we got very interested in the details of the song. My fella being Mr Computer with his finger on the Internet’s pulse had them printed off lickety-split, in spite having been in on the three bottles of wine. We read them and wondered if the wine had gone to our heads. After a few choruses (“Blinded by the light, Cut loose, like a deuce, Another runner in the night,”) we hit the first verse, running with. “Madmen, drummers, bummers, Indians in the summer, with a teenage diplomat”. And that’s the most lucid line of the lot. After that it all got very strange and we fell off our chairs laughing (nothing to do, of course, with imbibing the alcohol in uncountable bottles of wine).

But it wasn’t just the wine. No, honestly. The lyrics are either completely and utterly loopy, out-there, whackoid and mind-bogglingly daft, or they are so deep into New Jersey cool-dude dialect, circa 1978, as to be incomprehensible to the rest of the human species. What can you make of lines like:
“In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat”, or
“Little Early-Curly came by in his curly-wurly”,
“With very unpleasen’ sneezin’ and wheezin’ The Calliope crashed to the ground”?

The next day, a very nasty hangover blurring the screen, I went back on the internet to find out if Will had the words off some joke site. As so often with the web I found there are more strange people in the world interested in the detail of song lyrics than I would ever have guessed in an evening of talking nonsense. There are debates about the meaning of ‘deuce’ (possibly a slang reference to some kind of American car), confused questions by people who had bad reception on their radio (“Lapped up like a douche? I don’t get it. Is this some kind of sexual reference?”), not to mention detailed discussion of various cover version alternatives, such as Manfred Mann’s “Revved up, like a deuce,” and the impact the new wording had on their chart position.

Which just goes to show, however weird the lyrics are, people are even weirder. But I still challenge you to find weirder lyrics than Mr Springsteen’s classic. Over to you, Andy.

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