Just Listen to the Words
LTW recently ran an article about the London Olympics using “London’s Calling”Â by the Clash for next year’s games. Leaving aside one of the assertions of the article ”â i.e. is it right that a corporate event such as the Olympics uses a classic punk tune for advertising (ah so what ”â didn’t they use The Clash to sell jeans a few years ago??) ”â the more important issue for me is that no-one seems to pay attention to lyrics any more do they?
The BBC website picked this up in quite a bit more detail in relation to “London’s Calling”Â. Let’s consider some of the lines from the lyrics:
“War is declared / and battle come down”Â
“Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust”Â
“We ain’t got no swing / ”Ëcept for the ring of that truncheon thing”Â
And as if this isn’t apocalyptic enough ”â check out the chorus:
“The ice age is coming / the sun is zooming in / Engines stop running / and the wheat is growing thin / a nuclear error / but I have no fear / London is drowning and I / I live by the river”Â
I suppose the first thing to declare is that I bloody love this song, always have. It’s a classic ”â fantastic bassline, great backbeat from Topper Headon, fantastic choppy guitars, marvellous vocals ”â and the lyrics are the coup de grace. Of course, it’s not appropriate as an advert for London if you listen to the lyrics properly ”â so I personally think it’s simultaneously hilarious and somehow appropriate that those clowns running the Olympics have chosen this particular song. I look forward to 90,000 people in the Olympic stadium singing about Zombies of Death.
What about other songs though which are spectacularly misinterpreted? The original LTW article mentioned Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”Â ”â a song which was hilariously misappropriated by GOP Politicians in the 80’s, but is actually about working class people being sent to Vietnam “to kill the yellow man”Â and then returning to the States “to the refinery”Â to find that there is no work for war heroes. I think the major problem is that most people only really listen to the chorus of songs ”â in Springsteen’s case, a simple punch-the-air singalong about being Born in the USA.
Another classic example of this was in the 90’s, with “You’re Gorgeous”Â by Baby Bird. The amount of times I was out around town and saw couples singing the chorus to each other ”â “Because You’re Gorgeous / I’d do anything for you / Because you’re gorgeous / our love will see us through”Â. Sounds lovely doesn’t it. But the song appears to be about something quite different; it’s about a guy trying to get a girl, who appears to be hopelessly besotted with him, to do a pornographic photo shoot for a magazine. Consider the lyrics:
“You took me to your rented motor car / and filmed me on the bonnet / you got me to hitch my knees up / and pulled my legs apart / you took an instamatic camera / and pulled my sleeves around my heart”Â. (This is in the first verse, by the way.)
“You said my clothes were sexy / you tore away my shirt / you rubbed an ice-cube on my chest / snapped me ”Ëtil it hurt”Â
“You said I wasn’t cheap / you paid me twenty pounds / you promised to put me in a magazine / on every table in every lounge”Â
A marvellous, deeply twisted song. If you sang it to a girl during the 90’s, or at anytime, then you are a bad person.
Lastly though, one of my personal favourites. This is a song which is a bit more opaque than some of the others above, but the way it was wormed its way into the public conscious makes it a triumph. I am talking, of course, about “Perfect Day”Â by Lou Reed. Seemingly a paean to enjoying a very nice day in the company of a lover, it contains lines which would easily fool you if you weren’t aware of the author and context of the song:
“Just a perfect day / drink sangria in the park / and then later / when it gets dark we’d go home”Â
“Just a perfect day / problems all left alone / weekenders on our own / it’s such fun”Â
But there are hints of something darker going on:
“Oh such a perfect day / you just keep me hanging on”Â (hanging on? What’s he”Â¦..)
“You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / someone good”Â (made him feel different? Low self esteem”Â¦?)
And then the killer refrain in the coda”Â¦”Â¦.”ÂYou’re going to reap / just what you sow”Â.
Of course, Lou Reed was a habitual heroin user. This song is basically a love song to heroin use ”â how it makes him feel different person, makes him feel better, helps him enjoy his day. I have seen this song used on compilation albums for Mother’s Day ”â and advertised on TV! “Here, buy your mam this album featuring a song about scag.”Â But the best one for me was when they used this for Children in Need a few years back, with many guest vocalists. Lou himself kicks the song off and even appears in the last frame of the video, lifting his finger to his lips and going “sssh”Â, as if to say “don’t tell ”Ëem folks ”â I can’t believe I’m getting away with this”Â. Children in Need! One of the great works of satire if you ask me. Of course, great art should always be opaque ”â this for me is a classic example. Lou himself denies that this song is about Heroin ”â well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? I would imagine that all those Mother’s Day compilation albums and what have you have kept him in gack for YEARS.