Since the turn of the last century, there are three types of lyrics in music:
Witty, wordy and waspish: (this is something of a lost art, best exemplified by Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, Stephen Sondheim with current practitioners thin on the ground – perhaps Neils Hannon and Tennant, Jarvis Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Dylan (on a good day), Morrissey, Joni Mitchell and, at a pinch, Alex Turner.
Nonsensical: Doo-Wah Diddy Diddy Dum-Diddy Dooh. Obla-di-Obla-dah. Who put the bomp Iin the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?
Nonsensical masquerading as deep and meaningful: John Lennon’s Imagine, Robbie Williams’ Angels, most current bands who are best epitomised by Sting’s couplet from Don’t Stand So Close To Me: “He starts to shake and cough. Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.”
The second category is infinitely preferable to the third. The collective members of Keane, Snow Patrol and Coldplay, for instance, have never crafted a line in pop history as perfectly formed as “Stop. Hammertime”, “Whoo Hoo, well, I feel heavy metal” or “Who let the dogs out?”
There is another type of lyric, which is almost unclassifiable, unless you’re that tiny band of muso who listens to lyrics in their entirety. These are the songwords which do not stand up to scrutiny because they are factually inaccurate.
You may have your own suggestions – do add them below – but some artistic licence must be allowed. No-one of any note called Freddie Mercury “Mr Fahrenheit” and clearly he was limited by the laws of physics from “travelling at the speed of light”, but listeners went with it. Young MC in 1988’s Know How says “I make no errors, mistakes or blunders”. Young MC in 2005 took part in Celebrity Fit Club 3 with Chastity Bono and Kenickie from Grease, which suggests the opposite. Jay Z’s claims that “I’m the new Sinatra…yeah, they love me everywhere” are so far unverifiable.
What are verifiable are the lyrical errors, mistakes and blunders contained on the next ten records. In this age of the internet, every pop pedant can feel free to tut under their breath at the following:
1 The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Tokens/Tight Fit sang: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle/the lion sleeps tonight.” Tigers sleep in jungles. Lions don’t.
New Order said: “Here comes love/It’s like honey/You can’t buy it with money.” £1.72, 454g of ASDA Clear honey = New Order fail.
3 Smooth Operator
Sade: “Coast to coast, LA to Chicago.” Someone needs a new Rough Guide to the US, pronto. The “windy city” is 700 miles inland, luv.
“And that’s a good line“ Robbie v sings, “to take it to the bridge.” It’s not.
Alanis Morissette: “It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.” This is not ironic (as comic Ed Byrne has pointed out). It is, like this lyric, just unfortunate.
“You would not believe your eyes/
If ten million fireflies/
Lit up the world as I fell asleep/
‘Cause I’d get a thousand hugs/
From ten thousand lightning bugs/
As they tried to teach me how to dance.”
You wouldn’t believe your eyes … while asleep? Fireflies lighting up world? Insects giving hugs … and dance classes? Suppose they don’t make songs No 1 on account of logic. If they did, no Ernie The Fastest Milkman in the West.
7. Year 3,000
Busted: “And your great, great, great granddaughter is pretty fine.” Based on Busted’s 2003 hit, only if she’s been cryogenically frozen.
8. Nine million bicycles
Katie Melua: “We are 12 billion light-years from the edge.”
Scientist Simon Singh has taken care of this one – insisting on 14 bilion. He was last seen counting individual bicycles in Beijing to further his argument.
8 ½. Jailbreak
Thin Lizzy: “Tonight there’s going to be a jailbreak/ Somewhere in this town.” Not strictly a factual error but there are craftier ways of fooling the local sheriff.