Monday, June 30, 2008

He's got the whole words in his hands.

I'm old now, so I can tell you youngsters – in confidence – that when we were young ourselves we used to make our own fun. What we used to do – on Tuesdays with no R in the month – is play "Guess what Mick Jagger is singing". We would get in the car, wind up the old Victrola and put on Black and Blue, or if we were feeling masochistic, Exile on Main Street, point the horn out of the window and drive slowly around the neighborhood annoying the street urchins with our "Beat Music" or "Maximilian R&B" as we called it in those days.

Every time Mr. Jagger sung a line, someone would attempt to translate it into English. It was quite hard to do and I well remember the day that it occurred to me that the line in Ventilator Blues that sounds like "some kind of ventilator" actually is "some kind of ventilator." That was a major breakthrough and enabled me to go on to more difficult "cuts" such as Hand of Fate and Crazy Mama. (Clue: In Crazy Mama Mr. Jagger is actually singing "crazy mother". It does make a difference when you know this.)

A Red Letter Day came when I figured out that some of the words in Hey Negrita that sound like garbled Italian ("come si chiama") are actually garbled Spanish ("come se llama"), and what's even better, it's sung without a heavily mannered accent so you can understand it first time around. I was able to take this knowledge across the entire "pop" spectrum and use it to understand the lyrics to "Spanish Bombs" by The Clash, which, once you realize they too are in Spanish, are quite easy to follow. This made me a bit of a superstar in the Wednesday games "Guess what Joe Strummer is singing", I can tell you!

I can hear you wondering out there in "cyberspace" why I didn't just look up the lyrics on the interwebs like a normal person. There's a story behind that. You see, I was born in 1965, and in those days we didn't have the Internet. Actually, we did; it had been invented, but logons were only available to Peers of the Realm, the Ministry of Defence and a type of war veteran called Pearly Queens. It ran on coal gas, which was shipped to the computers using big canvas bags on top of butchers' vans. I could tell you a good story about the day in 1968 the MOD sent my Granddad to Ongar in Essex to fix a broken link. I'll save that terrible tale for later but I will always remember the way he cried if he saw cracked Linoleum after that.

Not only that, but the Committee for Making Sense of Mick Jagger (C4MSOMJ) had not yet been formed. In fact, they had not yet been born! All of those web pages where you now see rock music lyrics were just empty pages with ads down the side, Lorem Ipsum where the words should be and viruses hiding in the Javascript. For years I thought the words to Brown Sugar went:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,
Consetetur sadipscing elitr,
Sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor
Invidunt ut labore et dolore magna
Aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua.

At vero eos et accusam et justo duo
Dolores et ea rebum.
Stet clita kasd gubergren, no sea
Takimata sanctus est
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

(Later I found out those actually were the words.)

I've recently learned that the "tater tots" (as today's youth is called) play exactly the same game. Instead of looking the words up on the internet where they have been transcribed by fourteen year old "rock" fans with attention deficit disorder, poor hearing and cognition issues, the tater tots listen to a piece of music and then draw cartoons representing the words. Instead of drawing them on paper, folding them over to hide their work and passing them on to the next person to draw the next line, they use a service called "YouTube" and "cut and paste" the cartoons into a box on the webpage. This means that they can share their guesswork with the rest of us.

I'd just like to point out the following two people got the words entirely wrong. Wrong wrong wrongity wrong. But I will publicize their laughable efforts nevertheless.

Joe Cocker, With a Little Help From My Friends - video sadly removed by copyright owner.

Led Zeppelin, Immigrant Song

And I believe there are more misheard lyrics where they came from!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Plenty more misheard lyrics at
although the best one is missing: Bat Out Of Hell's 'Cilla Black fan'.

Whoopi Goldberg struggles with Jumpin' Jack Flash :-

The sheet music racks at our local instrument shop were a useful public library.


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