Sunday, February 05, 2017

Songs with spelling in the chorus

With ubiquitous spell-check options, tiny keyboards, communication doled out by our bulky thumbs, and a public-educational system in constant flux, I'm concerned that our ability to spell is falling by the wayside. Case in point: I just had to look up how to spell "ubiquitous." I hope next time to get it right the first time.

Will songs that spell out their choruses help? I don't know—couldn't hurt. Let's celebrate spelling in song, spelling the lyrics out the R-E-S-P-E-C-T-take-care-of-TCB way.

Bo Diddley - "I'm a Man." Who is the man? Bo Diddley is the man. He spells it out succinctly right here. The originator of seriously rhythmic rhythm guitar, he influenced an untold legion of rock n rollers, especially mop-topped 60s-era British fellows who needed a healthy outlet for their pent-up class angst. The Rolling Stones revere him, as should we all.

Bay City Rollers - "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!" I'm sorry but no one gets out of here without some bubble-gum rock by Bay City Rollers. Partly because this was a huge hit that hugely featured spelling in its chorus. But also because when I was ten and taking piano lessons from our opera-fan neighbor, Mr. Nicholson, I went out and bought the sheet music to this song and made Mr. Nicholson listen to my solo-piano efforts with it. He was very patient with me but we soon parted ways after I followed up with Sweet's "Fox on the Run." That was pushing it with Mr. Nicholson.

Tammy Wynette - "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." To protect the kids from the emotional onslaught of a marital split-up, Wynette spells out the word. A very sad use of spelling.

Patti Smith - "Gloria." I'm featuring Smith's version here because she builds a mighty momentum before unleashing her spelling power. It isn't just about Gloria; it's about the spelling of her name, as part of some goddess ritual of pagan dimensions. At least that's how I see it. Them's "Gloria" is great in the earthy sense, as in "Hey, did ya hear? Van Morrison's got an awesome girlfriend and her name is Gloria."

The Cure - "Fire in Cairo." Young prodigy Robert Smith had the urge to spell and it works in great new-wave literary cheerleader fashion. The best musical geniuses mash all their influences and elements together and with careful editing and taste, create something new. I love his nervous, catchy guitar-work here too.

Kate Bush - "The Dreaming." Apparently Bush is spelling out the chorus and it goes something like this: Dree-ee-ee-ee-ee A-a-a-a-a (woomera) / M-m-m-m-m / Ti-ti-ti-ti-ti / I-i-i-i-i / Me-me-me-me-me / Dree-ee-ee-ee-ee / A-a-a-a-a / M-m-m-m-m / Ti-ti-ti-ti-ti. I had to look it up. She always did things her own way, and that includes spelling.

Cameo - "Word Up." The 80s were the golden age of pop-music spelling. Technically this is more like spelling out the bridge of the song, and it's a late-arriving bridge but a crucial one. Just when Cameo runs out of praises for the phrase, "Word Up," the chorus saves the day, chanting "W-O-R-D Up!" A good time is had by all.

Pixies - "Velouria." My theory of Pixies has altered over time. Studying their early releases, the art, the sound, the liner notes, I concluded that they were a band fronted by a genius guy who called himself Black Francis, with Kim Deal adding nuanced, fresh vocals and bass lines that resulted in elevating his songs to a higher level. That would make her the assistant genius. Over time and many listens to her discography, and after reading various biographies and interviews with Deal, I've come to realize that she was the innovative musical prodigy and genius, and Frank Black was therefore Pixies' assistant genius, who grabbed that genius mantle for himself, early on and often (my emphasis). And this led to tensions within the band, as you can imagine.

I will not post my findings here, but all you have to do is listen to every Pixies album in their release order to notice how Deal's haunting, melodic voice is, over time, shoved into the deep, deep background before disappearing completely in the mix, leaving us with some undistinguished Frank Black material. I'm not down on Frank Black material per se and perhaps Deal stepped aside at some point and wasn't always present for rehearsals and recording sessions. But if you accidentally find yourself in a newly formed band and the bass player alongside you turns out to be a musical genius, here's what I recommend: you step aside and let her do her thing. You contribute too, of course, but she's the innovator in the pure sense. Recognize and abide by that. You'll save your band and our ears.

Also, being in a band is hard—like a marriage but with multiple partners and little-to-no makeup sex to make the arguments go away. Anyway, she spells out the chorus here, and shortly thereafter, they broke up.

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