25 December 2009

The Beach Boys: Little Saint Nick

So Merry Xmas to one and all!

True story: I was going to start this blog sometime after the turn of the year. But then i realized that if i waited until January to start this i’d have to wait a full year to deal with this song, which would easily be deserving of a Grammy nomination for Worst Non-Comedic Xmas Song Ever. (Worst Comedic Xmas Song Ever? “Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania” by the otherwise-amusing Count Floyd, no question.)

So no, i’m not a fan of this one. At all. And yet it remains in heavy rotation every year when top–40 stations across the country switch over to Xmas music sometime in November (maybe in October in some markets, the way things are going). At least it’s only two minutes long.

(By the way, if you’re not familiar with the song, you can have it burrow into your brain, as well, by following this link. If you absolutely must.)

What makes this song even worse, though, is that it was written by Mike Love and Brian Wilson. Yep, that’s right, universally acclaimed musical genius Brian Wilson was part of writing this utter horror of a song. Now, i’ll admit that i’m not a huge Brian Wilson fan—i don’t get what was so great about Pet Sounds, to begin with—but even so i can see (hear?) that Wilson was pretty good putting at together a single.

On “Little Saint Nick”, though, his genius took a holiday.

First of all, it’s a blatant act of self-plagiarism, since it essentially steals the tune of the really amazing California-surf-rock “Little Deuce Coupe”. This wouldn’t be so bad if Wilson and Love had been able to come up with decent lyrics to fit the tune.

What’s that? You don’t think they did all that bad a job? Well then—let’s go to the lyrics themselves, then, shall we?

Well, way up North where the air gets cold
There’s a tale about Christmas that you’ve all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends the whole year workin’ out on his sled.

Not the greatest opening ever, but not the worst. I mean, some of the lyrics are weird (Santa works out on his sled?—were the Rocky movies actually some sort of elaborate homage to this?), but nobody outside of Motown could do harmonies like the Beach Boys, and so we can let a little bit of that sort of thing slide just to listen to them.

For now.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

In all fairness, we learn later that “the little Saint Nick” is Santa’s sleigh. However, given the preceding verse, you’d be forgiven for thinking it refers to Santa himself—and, for those of you who aren’t up on your English grammar, English grammar doesn’t allow articles (that is, a, an, or the) before proper names or phrases standing in for proper names. For example, you wouldn’t be able to say “Hey, mom, look! It’s the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!”

Like i said, it resolves itself later (in the very next line, in fact), but there’s a moment of grammatical whiplash there. Cracks are starting to appear in the fa├žade of Brian Wilson’s lyrical talent, i fear—and they’re only gonna get wider.

Just a little bobsled, we call it ol’ Saint Nick

Just for the record, here’s the disambiguation on the name of the sleigh. Weird name, but fine. Whatever.

But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick
She’s candy apple red with a ski for a wheel
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel.

This isn’t just an example of your basic, garden-variety stupid lyrics. This is mind-bogglingly, insanely stupid. I mean, what? The whole street-racing thing went well for you, so you decided to throw random automotive descriptions into the mix?

Let’s go through this logically, shall we?

First, we have a line that makes no sense to me at all—and it’s not a matter of misunderstanding the words, since this is one of the most clearly-sung lines in the entire song: “But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick”. Huh? I mean, i get that it’s got a four-speed manual transmission (keep that in mind, by the way—it’s important later on), but “But she’ll walk a toboggan”?! You can’t make up incomprehensibility like this!

And even if i actually am mishearing things, the only alternative i can come up with is “But she’s like a toboggan with a four speed stick”, which makes nearly as little sense, since as far as i can find toboggans are not normally outfitted for manual transmissions, let alone transmissions of any kind, as would be necessary for such a simile to work.

In comparison with that line, the second line is amazingly clear: “She’s candy apple red with a ski for a wheel”. Well, the color makes sense (and fits traditional descriptions of Santa’s sleigh), but “with a ski for a wheel” is, well, lacking. First of all, cars have four wheels, not one—so does this sled have one ski, or three wheels plus one ski (that is, one wheel having been replaced by a ski)? Maybe it’s a unicycle that’s been retrofitted with a ski for winter maneuverability. Oh, and a transmission.

At least the last line there lets us know it goes fast—and apparently there’s an engine there, since Santa Claus “hits the gas” to make it go.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

More on the name of the sleigh.

By the way, did anyone else notice that the refrain calls it “little Saint Nick”, but the preceding verse said they call it “ol’ Saint Nick”? Well, which is it, Misters Wilson and Love? You’re being inconsistent here!

Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer ahhhhhhhh
Run run reindeer

This is a pointless little lyrical interlude, but it’s got the Beach Boys providing us meaningless but sweet, sweet harmonies, offering us a respite from the semantic train wreck that is the rest of this song.

But then…

Run run reindeer (we don’t miss no one)

…it gets a little creepy.

They’re talking about driving fast, and reindeer running, and they throw in “we don’t miss no one”?

Remind me to stay off the roads when Brian Wilson or Mike Love are driving. Or maybe they’re saying that they’re driving around, gunning for Santa’s reindeer? Either way, this is just weird.

He’s hauling through the snow at a frightenin’ speed,
With a half a dozen deer with–a Rudy to lead,
He’s gotta wear his goggles ’cause the snow really flies
And he’s cruisin’ every pad with a little surprise.

I’m not even going to comment on the “with–a Rudy” issue, ’cause there are larger problems here.

Consider: If Santa’s sleigh has that powerful an engine, mated that well to its transmission, and it moves that fast, the reindeer in the lead are, by this point in the song, dead—and, most likely, Santa’s windshield is shattered and his radiator is punctured.

At least we know why they don’t miss no one. Run, run reindeer, indeed.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

This little refrain isn’t sounding nearly as innocent any more, is it?

Ooooooo, merry Christmas Santa

I do like the fact that they’re wishing Santa a merry Xmas—he doesn’t get a lot of thanks, despite all he does for the holiday—but it does lead into…

Christmas comes this time each year!

…the dumbest line of the song—and this song has a lot of dumb lines.

Apparently Misters Love and Wilson think we’re too stupid to look at our calendars and realize it’s time to buy gifts for our friends and relations, so they feel the need to remind us. (Hey kids! All the cool kids are giving their friends The Beach Boys Christmas Album, now for sale!)

Well, either that, or they decided to give up before they came up with some sort of more meaningful sentiment to fill in the same meter. But that can’t be it! Brian Wilson’s a musical genius, right? He’d never be troubled by something like rhythm and meter gettin in the way of him saying exactly what he wanted to, right? (Pay no attention to the “with–a Rudy” behind the curtain, above.)

Ooooooo, merry Christmas Santa
Christmas comes this time each year!

And just to prove what they think of our collective intelligence level, they remind us one more time that they think we can’t be trusted to remember when major holidays happen.

It’s almost enough to make me want to sign on to the Kwanzaa thing.

18 December 2009

Benny Mardones: Into the Night

For this week’s entry, we’re going to review a song that hit the top 20 twice, in 1980 and then again in 1989. As a result of this, it was actually in the top 20 longer than any other song in the 80s.

Lots of people like to believe that the 80s were the lowest point of all American cultural history. Factoids like the above make me start to believe them. Then i’m reminded that Benny Mardones had no other hits, and i start to think that history is actually self-healing.

Anyway, this is a song that slightly drunk people still like to call in to the radio to dedicate to each other. I am unaware of anyone using this one as a first dance at their wedding, which is really rather fortunate.

Why? you may well ask. Well, let’s go to the song, shall we?

She’s just sixteen years old
Leave her alone, they say

Let’s do some math, shall we?

When this song first hit the charts in 1980, Benny Mardones was (according to his Wikipedia site) thirty-three years old. I can’t find an exact birthdate for Robert Tepper, the guy who co-wrote the song with Mr. Mardones, but he was born in 1965—so let’s say that he was born near the end of the year, making him twenty-four when this song was first released.

Hmmm…A pair of guys, thirty-three years old and twenty-four years old, writing about how people are telling them to stay away from a sixteen-year-old girl. You know, i can guess why they’re telling you to stay away from her. You wanna hear it? Okay, here it is:

     Ick! Ick! Ick! Ick! Ick!

Or, in other words, she’s underage. Give it up already.

Separated by fools
Who don't know what love is yet

You call them fools, i call them the police. Either way, you touch her, they’re gonna throw you in jail. Have fun in the showers!

But i want you to know
If i could fly
I’d pick you up

So Mr. Mardones is saying that he’d pick her up? At first i thought this referred to the fact that he can drive, always an important consideration when you’re courting an underage girl, but she’s sixteen and so probably already has her own license, maybe even her own car.

With the flying thing in there, though, i guess what he’s boasting about his pilot’s license. “Yeah, the guys in your high school have fancy cars and all, but they don’t own an Embraer Phenom 100, do they?”

The proper term for this sort of person is, according to xkcd, a class–hole.

I’d take you into the night
And show you a love
Like you've never seen, ever seen

You know, in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the main character Humbert Humbert at least had the (weak) defense that Lolita wasn’t a virgin when their sexual relationship started. Our friend Benny doesn’t even have that defense, according to his description of the situation.

Mr. Mardones, when you’re willing to broadcast that you’re not even able to deliver the vague self-justification that the most hideous character Nabokov could come up with was able to offer, well, you really ought to give up now, you know?

It’s like having a dream
Where nobody has a heart

Did we suddenly end up on the set of the latest Twilight sequel? That’s the only way this makes any sense to me.

It’s like having it all
And watching it fall apart

Apparently he’s expecting to be arrested any day now.

And i would wait till the end
Of time for you
And do it again, it’s true

Yeah, except that if you waited until the end of time she wouldn’t be sixteen any more, and then you wouldn’t care any more, would you? Be honest here.

By the way, my basic rule of thumb on whether an age difference is large enough that it rises to the level of creepiness (though it only really works when the older of the pair is twenty-one or older) is to take the older person’s age, divide it in half, round down if necessary, and add nine. If the younger person is at or above the number that results, you’re good, go for it!

So let’s do the math here. Mr. Mardones’s age when this song was released: 33. Divide in half: 16.5. Round down: 16. Add 9: 25. Is the girl 25 or older? Nope. This isn’t a May-December romance, it’s a February-December romance!

Well, let’s project this forward to the second time this song was a hit. Mr. Mardones’s age: 42. Divide in half: 21. Round down: still 21. Add 9: 30. By now the girl would be 25, so even if Mr. Mardones—or, as the boys in the house like to call him, “Inmate 674832”—were still interested in her as a non-teenager, it’d still be icky.

If you keep going, it stops being creepy when Benny “Little Stuff” Mardones turns fifty-one (and his would-be girlfriend is thirty-four). So apparently the end of time came in 1998. I hadn’t realized.

I can’t measure my love
There’s nothing to compare it to

There’s repetition of the chorus after this, but this is basically the end of the song. There’s nothing left to really say, though, except to point out that there are a myriad of tiny-penis jokes to make in response to this couplet, but i don't have the energy to do so myself. I’ll just leave it the guys at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution come up with their own thoughts about the man they call “Stubby” themselves.

(And if you need some brain bleach after all this, dear reader, might i suggest a Unicorn Chaser?)

11 December 2009

Vanessa Williams: Save the Best for Last

On the one hand, this song is a great bit of evidence for second chances—Vanessa Williams lost her title as Miss America in the mid-eighties (and no, i’m not posting links to the particular naughty pics at the center of that scandal), but by the early nineties she effectively owned the soul and mellow pop segments of the airwaves. This song, “Save the Best for Last”, has become her signature song and is considered by some in the blogosphere to be symbolic of her public redemption.

I could buy that if the song weren’t so, well, horrible.

True story, though, before i get to the song itself: This was the “first dance” song at the wedding of someone i grew up with. It struck me as a wildly weird choice at the time, given its lyrical content, but different people have different stories behind their relationships, i guess. Also, i’ve been told that this was a fairly common “our song” in 1992, after it had seeped into countless teens’ and twenty-somethings’ brains as it spent five weeks atop the Billboard charts.

If you’ve managed to expunge the memory of this song from your memory, I commend your wisdom and suggest that you do not follow this link to the video for the song. If you can’t keep away from it, though, make sure to actually watch it rather than just listening, particularly for the cheesy sets (for once the snow really does look like soap flakes!) and the even cheesier overacting (hard to do when so much of the video is in close-up, but Vanessa Williams manages it).

So, on to the song:

Sometimes the snow comes down in June

Okay, i’m going to have to interrupt right here.

I recognize that there most certainly are places where the snow comes down in June. I live in Alaska, and there are a number of places up here where snow falling in June, while noteworthy, is not utterly rare.

Such a meteorological occurrence, however has nothing—i repeat, nothing—to do with the rest of the song. It merely serves to provide the first of two kind of weird images.

Well, and (according to the song’s Wikipedia entry) it provided a hook for reframing the song as a Christmas single. Yes, i know, she specifically says “in June”, but that didn’t stop PolyGram from successfully marketing the song as a wintertide holiday single to gullible teenagers.

Let us all weep for a moment for the future of the world.

(Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, of course. Then it would be really freaky to care quite so deeply.)

Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon

Okay, i promise that i’ll let her get more than a single line out, but at least it actually sometimes does snow in June. This, on the other hand, doesn’t ever really happen. Besides, if it did, the Sun would have to pass closer than a quarter of a million miles to the Earth, which would be close enough to vaporize all life on the planet, and i suspect (but don’t want to take the time to do the math) it would vaporize the entire planet.

Of course, then we wouldn’t ever run the risk of hearing this song again, so it wouldn’t be all bad.

I see the passion in your eyes
Sometimes it's all a big surprise
’Cause there was a time when all I did was wish
You'd tell me this was love

This part confuses me. She’s surprised that the guy’s feeling passion because she wanted him to be in love with her? Or maybe she’s surprised at the passion because she used to want him and her to be in love with each other, but now she doesn’t? That last one makes more sense, but it doesn’t work with the rest of the song.

Is it too much to ask for a little thematic consistency here?

Oh, wait—i forgot. This is a melodic soul song. The answer, then, is yes.

It’s not the way I hoped or how I planned
But somehow it’s enough

Ms Williams is really portraying herself as a desperate type here, and as we all know, desperation isn’t a good way to land a meaningful relationship. Just sayin’, you know?

And now we’re standing face to face
Isn’t this world a crazy place
Just when I thought our chance had passed
You go and save the best for last

This is actually a pretty sweet set of lines, and i’m not going to really be able to mock it. It’s pretty clear, though, that the writers of the song came up with this chorus, recognized that it was really, really good, and threw together a ramshackle structure on top of a solid foundation.

You want proof? Consider the very next verse…

All of the nights you came to me
When some silly girl had set you free

Yes, that’s right, this great guy that Ms Williams is singing this song of desperate love to? She was his fallback when other women said no.

Yep, that’s a great way to avoid showing desperation—be a guy’s on-demand booty call.

It’s also where this song as a first dance at a wedding starts to make me slightly queasy.

You wondered how you’d make it through
I wondered what was wrong with you

Vanessa, he’s gonna make it through because you’re helping him avoid epididymal hypertension.

And what’s wrong with him is that he’s willing to use you this way. C’mon—you’re a beautiful woman! What are you doing putting yourself through this? You deserve better! Get rid of the guy and get on with your life!

Sorry about that—i started slipping into my inner Oprah there.

Let us continue.

’Cause how could you give your love to someone else
And share your dreams with me

Maybe she’s actually singing to Tiger Woods. That would explain this, i suppose.

Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for
Is the one thing you can't see

Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for casual sex, then it would appear the object of your affections can see it perfectly well, at least when the lights are on at your place.

We then get some repetition, so i’m going to skip it.

Well, except for pointing out that along the way…

Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon

…we get more bogus meteorology and astronomy.

Seriously, songwriters—just let the scientists do their job, and they’ll let you do yours. No matter how badly you botch it.

Anyway, this song still bothers me. A song about how a woman so desperate for love lets herself be used by a guy for occasional no-strings sex, and isn’t it just oh so romantic?

Next time, be more careful picking what songs you declare your undying love for each other to.

05 December 2009

Why? No, really—why?

Yes, yet another blog mocking really bad lyrics.

And that brings up what’s actually a good question—why start a blog on a tired subject, especially when the blogosphere is saturated and people are likely never to read it?

Completely valid, so i give two answers. The first is: ’Cause i want to.

The second is: There are an uncountable number of really bad songs out there, and it’s going to take as many of us as possible to deliver the mockery they deserve. I’m just answering the call.

So, from now on, i’ll be posting my comments on song lyrics here on this blog, with a lean toward the eighties. And i’ll be posting these on Fridays, in honor of the only way many of us children of the eighties first experienced many songs in their complete, full-color glory: Friday Night Videos.

So as next Friday rolls around, sit back, relax, and enjoy the weekly tour through some of the weakest lyrics ever to make the charts.