I’ve something of an affliction to own up to. I need only hear a song once or twice and (give or take the odd embarrassingly misheard line) I can remember the words. It’s an affliction because nursery rhyme pop all too easily haunts me for days. And moreover, it’s the words I focus on and contradiction winds me up.
I was only three when Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain charted at number three, so it must have been a few years later when I demanded my mother unravel it for me. ‘You’re so vain,’ Carly whines. ‘I bet you think this song is about you?’ How could the subject of her song be so vain when it clearly was about him? Mum argued that he only thinks it was about him. But if he’s right, it is about him and he’s wrong she accusing someone else… et cetera. This is all discussed, rather tediously, at Carly’s official website and, rather obtusely, at Song Meanings, which sounds like an interesting site, but isn’t.
According to Wikipedia, king of the indecipherables is Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale. But this is nonsense. The meaning, though not to be talked about openly in 1967, should be obvious to anybody who’s ever been drunk.
Anyway. I’ve been brought here by John Harris’s demolition of modern lyrics in the Guardian, with particular emphasis on Coldplay. I didn’t like Coldplay at first, but I do now and prefer them when they’re at their most meaningless. Harris sort of takes the opposite view. I think he’s looking for songs with something to say and that aren’t afraid to say it.
I suspect John Harris will get his wish, but not too soon. Since the 1990s, popular music’s concentrated on often lyricless dance. It fitted a ‘I don’t care and can’t change anything anyway’ mood. People are so used to meaningless music, many just don’t get Live8. That is, they don’t understand that music can have something to say about the world and that’s tragic. But with Live8, we might see some meaning slip back into our pop culture. After all, charity wristbands are so trendy schools are banning them. Serious pop stars do take a stand. At this rate it’ll soon be trendy to vote.
Pop culture politics: Live8 & U2