April 16, 2007

"Songs with a secret."

Rolling Stone picks the top 25. After all these years, the #1 mystery is still what the hell were the Kingsmen saying in "Louie, Louie."

26 comments:

Andy said...

So does this mean that *everybody* knows exactly who "You're So Vain" refers to, so it's no longer a secret?

Gary said...

I really didn't need to know that about "Please Please Me". Who told them? I was so naive at 13. That wasn't so bad, being naive, was it?
At this point in my history and our history it would be nice if we could just enjoy the feeling that a cute little teenage love song gives. The world has become so serious, so sad.

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

The writer has a crush on Nirvana (Cobain really wasn't all that mysterious, surely), and I thought that the story behind One was fairly widely-known. Surely they could have found space to wonder what Tori Amos was taking when she wrote some of her lyrics. Great music, but frequently unhinged.

With that said, I would maintain that the meaning of a song is in its resonance with the listener. You lose control of the meaning of art as soon as you show it to someone else. Music has to stir feelings to be worthwhile, and to the extent it's filtered through every listerner's individual damage, it arrives at every heart with a different meaning. One was written about HIV, but if people feel it as a one world anthem about Africa and the universal human spirit, or if they see it as a wedding song, then that's fine too. Maybe I've totally misundertood Doughnut Song, but maybe I have as much right to decide what it speaks to as did the writer.

Beth said...

Who thought "Lola" was about a women? There's no mystery; it's coy, not cryptic.

Beth said...

grrr. Make that "a woman." Near the end of the semester, I lose command of our language.

Beth said...

Okay, this is not impressing me. I agree with Simon that meaning is at least in part the domain of the listener. So interpretations are fine. But some of these so-called mysteries are just not mysterious. "Alison" about murder? That's really, really stretching it. "Watching the Detectives," sure. "Everybody Must Get Stoned" -- of course it's defined by its repeated, verb phrases of "they'll stone you...," but the playful twist is just as much of its substance as the literal meaning. "She Boy"? Do they mean "She Bop"? And most of the others are just songs with obscure narratives or inspired by personal, thus little-known events and experiences. Why call these secretive?

Sloppy!

MadisonMan said...

Did anyone actually not know that She Bop was about masturbation? I mean, she's singing about Blueboy magazine, for God's sake.

And anyone who thinks Born in the USA is a gee-whiz rah-rah anthem never listened to the lyrics (not that you can really understand Bruce Springsteen, but still!)

Who put the bop in the bop shebop shebop? Who put the bang in the ramalama ding dong?

Steven said...

I remember when NBC was trying to launch their search engine. They ran an ad where Louie Louie was playing, and had text appear on the screen along the lines of, "We're not sure what they're saying, but maybe it's use NBCi.com"

So I went over to the computer, put "Louie Loiue lyrics" into Google, and hit "I'm feeling lucky". Instantly, the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" showed up.

I always thought this was a quite simple illustration of why Google is a huge behemoth today, while NBCi.com is dead.

MadisonMan said...

I think I'm agreeing with Beth here. There's no particular mystery here at all, save that put in by the author. Thought to be by whom?

Seven Machos said...

Yeah, this is a silly list. First of all, several of those songs aren't univeral enough to be talked about. Pennywhatever Tea by Nirvana? Come on.

Second of all, pith works against the author. A better article would offer, you know, explanations.

Third, if you can't spell She Bop correctly, I question your ability to write on this topic.

Simon said...

Beth said...
"Okay, this is not impressing me. I agree with Simon that meaning is at least in part the domain of the listener."

Michael Stipe has basically predicated virtually every lyric he's written on this theory, seems to me. I mean, some songs are obviously very specific - Sunday Bloody Sunday or Two Minutes to Midnight don't leave much scope for personal interpretation, but something like High Hopes is an invitation to gaze into the mirror.

Internet Ronin said...

I believe that "Louie, Louie" is the official state song of Oregon (or some such nonsense). What I know for a fact is that the One More Time Around Again Marching Band, the world's largest permanent marching band composed of about 500 high school or college marching band veterans (some in their 80's) performs an amazing rebdition while marching in downtown Portland during the Rose Festival parade. The echo through the canyons of buildings has to be heard to be believed and appreciated.

The precision lawn mower and brefacse teams were pretty awesome, but that never-ending sea of band members belting out Louie, Louie while the crowds alternately roar and try to sing along is unforgettable.

Jennifer said...

Totally agree with Elizabeth. Who thought a song called Good Riddance was a love song!?

blake said...

I don't know who "You're So Vain" is about. And I'm pretty ignorant of pop music, but...

I never heard of that interpretation of "Please, Please Me". It's possible, but back then, even the Beatles weren't into understanding their own lyrics. ("F&ck the words" as Lennon said.)

Speaking of which, why do people find it so unplausible that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is just about a drawing? To quote Lennon again, "I've shown you everything, I've got nothing to hide." Why would he be up front about everything but that?

I've never even hard all of Lola but the first lines make it pretty clear what's going on.

"Pictures of Lily" isn't even coy. And I don't think "Lily" was a "porn star" since "she's been dead since 1929". It doesn't rule out porn but it seems to me burlesque star might be more likely.

I don't think I've ever been able to make out the words to "Born in the USA" but I've never thought it was an anthem.

"She-bop" was never a secret. On the flip side, "turning Japanese" may not really have been meant as a metaphor for, uh, she-bopping.

Agreed with previously cast votes: Lame.

Internet Ronin said...

I thought everyone knew Lily was Lillie Langtree, the Jersey Lily!

Internet Ronin said...

Steven: As I read somewhere that even the Kingsmen aren't really sure exactly what the lyrics as recorded, I'm glad to hear that the all-knowing Google has the answer. Just as they track every click and every site the almost every person who comments anywhere on Blogger, unless they sign out every time, and sign out of Google itself.

Our friend Google: Like Big Brother, Google is always lurking, always watching, recording every move for posterity (and targeted advertising). Soon, undoubtedly always responding to subpoenas for all that detailed information. Guess they really did learn something when they agreed to be paid informers for the Chinese government.

Steven said...

If you match up what the Kingmen sang to what Richard Berry wrote, it matches just fine. You have to actively want to believe the myths to pretend otherwise.

Chip Ahoy said...

I used to cringe when I'd see little girls act out the words to YMCA.

Internet Ronin said...

Thank you, Steven.

Dr. NeoCon said...

IIRC, There were two versions of "Louie, Louie". The first recording (which my 7th grade classmates and I feverishly worked at deciphering) was about having sex - a very risque thing in 1965.

The second version substituted phrases such as "we gotta go" for "way down low", and mumbled some of the risque phrases of the earlier version.

I think The Kingsmen stoked interest in the song by disingenuously stating that they were not sure what they were saying. They knew. They also had the very real threat of censorship in those days.

It was all quite exciting for 12 year old adolescents - not quite as exciting as holding hands with your girlfriend. My Lord! We were so innocent then.

TMink said...

So this is what Rolling Stone has become? I am an out of it 47 year old, I like one current band, The Flaming Lips, and I listen to vinyl records. Even I knew all the "secrets" to the songs I recognized. How unhip has RS become? More unhip than me.

Trey

sonicfrog said...

Here's a mystery:

What the hell is Elton John or Bruce Springsteen or Michael Stipe singing in half of their songs.

sonicfrog said...

PS. About that last post. I do allot of vocal work in my bands and have to figure out what the lyrics are. It's easier now since the Google came along. But still.

We used to perform Chris Isac's "Wicked Games" and didn't know what the backing vocals were, so we improvised. We would sing the chorus "And I wanna fall in love", then in a very low muddled tone we sang "somebody tell us what we're singing now". It was so indiscernible no one caught on. One night at a gig in the Kohl Center in downtown San Diego, I guess we were not muddled enough 'cause halfway through the song some in the audience started laughing as we realized we had sung the line way too clearly. We barely made it through the song without busting up ourselves. Rock and Roll is fun!!!

Seven Machos said...

Youth will be served, people. That's what rock is. That's why, just for example, the lyrics of, say, a newer Sting song or a newer John Mellencamp song are pretty insightful, but the overall song is an unlistenably lame piece of elevator sap.

It's the energy and the vitality that makes the thing go. The lyrics have always been secondary, if not tertiary or worse.

sonicfrog said...

But I love good lyrics, which is why I'm a HUGE fan of Paul Simon, Niel Finn and the like. Of coarse I'm also a Toto fan, so I diverge for musicianship.