Rock star grammar is a subject very dear to me, and woe to the Chicago-style Nazis and prescriptive word-wardens, the Creative Writing teachers and literalist listeners; woe to ‘em.
Sometimes the demands of the melody outweigh the goal of making sense or even expressing meaning to your audience. Sometimes the song just writes itself, and it don’t got nothing to say; it’s a beautiful nonsensical mess. As a general rule, when lyrics are written to music you get bad poetry, and when poetry is sung you get cheesy music.
Elton John, the Pizza Man himself, never writes any lyrics to his songs, so he probably uses food-related placeholders in the chorus, as well as random refrains of twinkydinks and other jibberjabberwockycocks, the very jive and scribble speech of our dreams, before his lyricist turns “Tony Danza” or “Can You Feed Me Pizza Pies?” into a Grammy win. Mac Culkin geniusly appropriated the raw pizza tracks as art-rock set-pieces.
As legend has it, Paul McCartney dreamt up the song “Yesterday”, and lest he be Kubla Khan’d in his sleep, he hastily recorded a demo version in the middle of the night with the subbed in lyrics “Scrambled Eggs.”
All my bacon seemed so fried today
We now know that Sir Paul’s bionetic doppleganger-stalker symbiote—Faul McCartney, the even cuter Beatle—wrote the song “Yesterday” the day after he buried Paul.
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Probably the most iconic instance of rock star grammar is found in Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I won’t Do That).”
But I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight
And I would do anything for love, oh I would do anything for love
Oh I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that, no I won’t do that.
There are a few different readings of this line and all are troublesome. If the “that” is to be interpreted as infidelity, then why does he phrase it with the conjunction “but”, when it doesn’t contrast with his declaration of doing anything for love, and later in the song he directly challenges the accusation of “screwin’ around” with “NO I won’t do that.”
On VH1 Storytellers, Meat used a pointer and chalkboard (with the lyrics backwards as if to befuddle the fans) to explain the “that” in the song is contained in the lyric right before each chorus. That = “I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight.” However, a literal substitution is problematic.
I would do anything for love, but I won’t never forgive myself if we don’t have sex tonight.
While the song gives many examples of what “that” could be, the lyrics imply it is something Meat would not do for love, while the “thats” of the song are all things that further Meat’s love and deepen his commitment to Mrs. Loaf, except for cheating, which still doesn’t make sense using “but,” when Meat really means “so” as in “SO I won’t do that.” Or “And I won’t do that” works. But “but” sounds better, I guess, which is why the song goes like that. What need have you for proper grammar when you rock star?
The best interpretation of the “that” in the song, as is the case in Sir Elton’s songs, is Sodomic Sex Magick (S&S&M).
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Another irksome example of rock star grammar is found in Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. The catchy chorus goes “If I lay here / If I just lay here”, which sure sounds good, but the correct inflection should go “If I lie here / If I just lie here.” Sorry brogues.
Likewise, Bobby Dylan’s classic should go: Lie Lady Lie; lie upon my big-ass bed.
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For some reason, I usually don’t hear lyrics in Music, like I don’t speak the language, and that might explain why Los Doggies sings about farts and shit. And to let my plebiness show some more, I don’t really care for poetry either.
But I’ve always like this verse by Austrian painter and Patron Saint of Hebephiles—Egon Schiele.
I am in myself,
the other ones are marked by thirthy longings and
all is for them through me.
They are in theirselves with me.
Because all the otherones I love too.
I love the noble ones in accepting in my heart
by giving back what I received.
I am human loving death and life.
That’s a nice one there and the grammar is neat too, although it might just be a bad translation.
I may not like poetry, but when it comes to bad grammar, I am the fucking Lizard King. And I’ve always liked starting sentences with “ands” and “buts” so I can sympathize with Meatloaf’s buts.
But can you think of more examples of bad grammar that serves a musical purpose? Please share them in the comments section below.