Friday, June 20, 2008

Telephone Blues

I'm no big fan of telephones – I can't stand 'em. I'm looking forward to the day when cellphones do something useful, because then I can get one and talk about calling plans with my friends and not feel left out. I too will be able to wag my finger at someone I'm with to shut them up while I answer a call from a complete stranger. I will be able to have the loudest ringtone - I'm thinking I'll buy "America - Fuck Yeah!" - for when I'm in a cinema. And when I'm in a bar with friends, I'll fiddle with the buttons and light up my chin with that eerie telephone glow. And take pictures of cute people of the relevant sex surreptitiously while pretending to call my broker at the gym.

For an instrument of communication, the telephone does seem to inspire a great deal of angst. Do you know any songs featuring telephones where the parties actually make contact? I can only think of songs where the parties are unable to connect.

Hanging on the Telephone – Blondie

I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall
If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall
I know he's there but I just had to call

Memphis, Tennessee – Chuck Berry

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee

Rikki Don't Lose That Number – Steely Dan

Rikki don't lose that number
You don't wanna call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself

Operator – Jim Croce

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

The first verse of Operator has me sniffling every time - and I can't stand singer-songwriters.

I think the lack of communication is the key to the songs. The inability to connect makes for conflict and conflict is the soul of drama. That is, if you can get through the whole song without your cellphone ringing.


STB said...

"My Telephone", Coldcut with Lisa Stansfield, edited lyrics. And yes, this is my ringtone...

Got me hanging on the line
Wasting all my time
I can live without my telephone

Can't you leave it till I'm through
We've got better things to do
I can live without my telephone
My telephone

It don't matter where I am
Telephones are in a jam
Can't finish anything
The telephone is always ringin'
Got no job, got no pay
Don't let them take my phone away

Now I'm seeing red
Can't make out what you said
I can live without my telephone

Janel said...


"I Just Called To Say I Love You"

No New Year's Day to celebrate
No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away
No first of spring
No song to sing
In fact here's just another ordinary day

No April rain
No flowers bloom
No wedding Saturday within the month of June
But what it is, is something true
Made up of these three words that I must say to you

I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care
I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart



I remember when they played that annoying song on the radio!
Anyway it is a song about a phone call that went through.

Mike said...

Examples of successful long distance communication (but not two-way dialogue) :-
'Tie A Yellow Ribbon' - Dawn
'Message in a Bottle' - Police

Duets demonstrating successful two-way communication have no need of a telephone :-
'I remember it well' - Gigi
'Baby, it's cold outside' - Loesser

However, failed telephone conversations are a handy metaphor for songs describing isolation, loneliness and missed opportunities :-
'Telephone Line' - ELO
'Sylvia's Mother' - Dr Hook
'Space Oddity' - Bowie

'My Telephone' - unwanted intrusions.
'I Just Called To Say I Love You' - message left on an answer phone.

Peromyscus said...

This topic certainly brought out some good comments! Thank you all.


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