If the love light is in your eyes, you maybe need to see an optician

At last we have some codification of rock lyrics. But here's an alternative for you...

Share

Not before time, the music industry has begun to take seriously the effect of song lyrics on the way we communicate with one another. At the recent annual convention in America of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, a rule book for songwriters, covering usage, punctuation and grammar, was released.

The main reason for the campaign was practical. Sub-literate presentation can cause confusion when music is being sold online. According to the NARM, some lines, like that old favourite “Kill’em ’n’ grill’em”, are acceptable in terms of punctuation but the less well-known “a TIMe to love” are likely to be miscategorised.

The fact is that musicians have been out of step with the outside world for decades. It is not only online where lyrics have caused misunderstandings, but in real, practical life. Sometimes it is as if songwriters live in a parallel universe where a similar, yet weirdly skewed, version of our language is spoken.

Perhaps at next year’s convention the Association will publish a retrospective guide, taking a tough, corrective line on the lyrics of the past. There are some obvious contenders.

Little girl, pretty baby, baby baby: You do not have to be a gender activist to find these forms of address in the context of a love affair between adults misleading, if not downright odd in today’s culture.

The occasional request to be the pretty baby’s teddy bear, in songs by Elvis Presley, ZZ Top and others, compounds the confusion.

Mama, daddy: In 2013, it is no longer appropriate for a loved one who is not a parent to be addressed in this way. A song which brings together both these areas of confusion, like Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” (“Hey, little girl, is your daddy home/ Did he go away and leave you all alone?”) can easily be misconstrued.

And I don’t mean maybe: It is an odd fact that, in the world of music, when a man tells a girl that she’s his baby, he often has to reassure her that he don’t mean maybe. This not only breaks grammatical guidelines but is generally unnecessary.

Foolish pride: For almost as long as there have been popular songs, it has been an unwritten rule of songwriting that pride must of necessity be foolish. It was part of the 1933 classic “It’s the Talk of the Town”, and more recently was the title of an Eminem hit. The phrase is rarely if ever used in the non-musical world.

I’m gonna walk on down the line: What line? If it’s a railway line, why does the singer not ride a box-car like any self-respecting hobo? By contrast, the Johnny Cash song “Walk the Line” has a perfectly clear metaphorical meaning.

Cut me like a knife: There is a lot of pain in songs but it is a mystery why, whenever cutting is involved, there must be an entirely redundant mention of a knife.

I’m gonna rock you ’til the morning light: There is, of course, a crude euphemism at work here of the wrap-your-lock-around-my-key variety but it should be discouraged. A band may be able to rock you – it is part of the job description – but boys and girls, or even daddies and pretty babies, do not rock one another, except in particularly bad songs. And, in the real world, no one talks about doing anything “til the morning light”, even if it does make them feel all right.

I’ve been weeping like a willow: This simile reveals a woeful lack of natural knowledge. Willows do not in fact weep – the adjective is figurative – and the description adds nothing to a song beyond providing a rhyme for “pillow”. Trees can be occasionally used to good metaphorical effect in songs, as in “I was an oak/ Now I’m a willow/ And I’ll bend” from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go”.

Pickin’ like a chicken who’s pickin’ up corn: Similarly, in the context of a guitarist picking at his strings, a chicken provides entirely the wrong image.

Kisses sweeter than wine: As a description, these words are singularly poor, unless they refer specifically to dessert wines. For all other wines, many adjectives can be applied, but not “sweet”.

I’ve got a feeling deep down inside of me: Feelings are, by their nature, internal, and the addition of the word “of” may help scan the line but is ugly and incorrect.

The love light in your eyes: This image, beloved of songwriters, has no place in the real world. Has anyone seen one of these lights being switched on? Eric Clapton did in his song “Wonderful Tonight” but since that was about being too drunk to drive yourself home, his experience can be discounted.

’Cos I’m drowning in my own tears: This very rarely happens and, as an image, is more comical than tragic.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried