10 September 2010

Boys Don’t Cry: I Wanna Be a Cowboy

And so this week, Lyrics, Weakly travels back in time to 1986.

You know, 80s music is big on the radio right now—there are lots of radio stations playing all 80s music, all the time. And if you listen to these stations, you could be forgiven for thinking that that was a really great decade for rock music—i mean, you’ve got everything from the new wave of the Cure and the Smiths and the Police to the synth-pop of Soft Cell and Tears for Fears to classic rap and hip-hop from Run-DMC and A Tribe Called Quest to really excellent straight-ahead pop from Michael Jackson and Duran Duran and Madonna when she made good music. (I mean, even the hair metal of bands like Poison and Twisted Sister is fun in a campy sort of way.)

But then you hear a song like Boys Don’t Cry’s “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” and you remember that this was a top-twenty hit back in the day, and you figure out the secret to why 80s radio stations sound so good—it’s because they can pick and choose from an entire decade to flesh out their playlists, and they can just pretend that horrors like that song never existed.

So how much of a horror is it? Well, first i’d suggest clicking through the link above and watching the video if you haven’t already, and basking in the amazement of the flat, tuneless delivery on the part of “singer” Nick Richards (co-writer of the song with bandmate Brian Chatton) along with the complete disregard for the intricacies of meter and rhyme. (And that’s not to mention the whole “What the [insert expletive of choice here]?”-ness of the video itself.)

And then, after that, we can get to the actual words of the song.

Riding on the range
I’ve got my hat…on
I’ve got my boots…dusty

So Mr. Richards is telling us about his day, going through all the normal stuff—you know, where he is, what he’s wearing.

I like the pauses, by the way—evidence that he’s checking to make sure that he’s telling the truth. I imagine that in concert he might singchant I’ve got my hat…off/​I’ve got my boots…actually, i’m wearing sneakers up here.

I’ve got my saddle
On my horse

As opposed, of course, to having his saddle on his cat.

He’s called…T‑t‑t‑t‑t‑t‑trigger
Of course

Yes, yes, of course. But i’m thinking that “Hi-yo, T‑t‑t‑t‑t‑t‑trigger, away!” might be kind of hard to consistently say, and that could be a problem. I mean, what if you’re in a hurry and you accidentally say “Hi-yo T‑t‑trigger, away!” and somebody else’s horse takes off, leaving you sitting in place and about to be caught by the posse? Yeah, sure, it sounded like a cool name when you came up with it, but it’s gonna get you stuck in jail one of these days, mark my words.

I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl
I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl
I wanna be a cowboy

Wait a minute—you only want to be a cowboy? So you bought the outfit (and horse), figuring that then you could make a better case for it? Well, most people would have just sent out a resumé, but whatever works for you, i guess.

And i have to admit that i’m really struggling here with the whole “cowgirl” motif—i hear that word, and all i can think of is the movie with perhaps the worst trailer in the history of cinematography, Mad Cowgirl. (If you wish, you can view the trailer here, but i’ll warn you that, aside from being vaguely unsafe for work, it’s…disturbing, and not in a good way. The rest of you can read the synopsis at its Wikipedia page.)

Alternately, maybe Mr. Richards is suggesting that the woman he’s singing to would be happier if affiliated with the Monster Raving Loony Party? Yeah, that makes more sense—this whole song is actually a political manifesto.

And now we get an interlude in which the speaker is female. I’ll mark these lines by underlinging them, so that you can tell them apart from the lines Mr. Richards singshaltingly speaks. (Background vocals are in parentheses, as you’d expect.)

Riding on the chuck wagon

A woman’s place being in the kitchen, even out on the range, eh?

Following my man
His name is Ted
Can you believe that?

Why yes, yes i can. Ted is most certainly a name, a fairly common name in fact, and it is also a man’s name. Therefore, yes, i can believe that your man’s name is Ted.

Also, this is even more believable when i consider that Mr. Richards’s first name is Nick, and by identifying your man’s name as Ted and not Nick, you are showing the sort of wise judgment i would expect of any woman.

(Ted, on Ted, fighting off danger)
Camping on the prairie
Plays havoc with my hair

Semi-random pop culture note: There are actually multiple places on the interwebs where you can find the traces of people seriously discussing the hairstyles from the series Little House on the Prairie. I don’t know what this says about our world, but it can’t be good.

Makes me feel quite dirty
Though we all do sometimes

You know, i realize that this is supposed to be a double entendre, especially since it’s delivered in a breathy and supposedly-seductive voice, but i can’t help but giggle a little inside every time i hear it—and while i’ll admit to liking a good laugh now and again, I’m really not the sort of person who gets all hot and bothered by it. (Warning: That last link is unsafe for work, and could raise some serious eyebrows if your significant other sees you there.)

(Ted gets so dirty)

Well, the unnamed woman already told us they all feel quite dirty sometimes, so this isn’t much of a surprise. But thanks for working to keep us informed, background singing Greek chorus!

I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl
I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl
I wanna be a cowboy

We already knew this, Mr. Richards. Repeating it over and over makes you just seem desperate for the position—and that’s not likely to be helpful.

Looking like a hero
Six-gun at my side
Chewing my tobacco

Really? Imagine this in your mind’s eye, folks. I don’t know what you get, but i get something like this, but holding a pistol. Not my particular image of a hero, but your mileage may vary, i suppose.

Out on the horizon
I see a puff of smoke

Apparently, while Mr. Richards is into the use of smokeless tobacco products, others around him are smoking cigarettes.

Indians on the warpath
(White man speaking with forked tongue isn’t it?)

So that last line wasn’t sung by the background singers, but rather it was spoken by someone who was supposedly speaking like an Indian—and all i can really say is “Wow”. I mean, dude, i’m not an American Indian, but even i feel insulted by that line.

Or not

No, no, after you’ve portrayed them that way, i’d argue that they have every right to head out on the warpath after you.

I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl
I wanna be a cowboy

More desperation from Mr. Richards.

My name is Ted

No, it’s not—we’re already aware that your name is Nick. Also, i don’t care how much of a ditz the woman who sang earlier is, she’s going to figure that out, too. Just give it up.

(Oh yippee yippee-yo-yo)

If you listen to the track, you can hear that this is the point where the background singing Greek chorus got into the helium.

And one day I’ll be dead yo yo

But sadly, not before producing this song.

But, to its credit, i think we can all agree that the yo yo appended to the end of this line makes it the worst-delivered line in all of 80s music.

Well, okay, so i guess that’s not much of a compliment—but after a song like this we take what we can get, right?


  1. The horse's name in the song isn't Trigger (as in Roy Rogers), but rather Champ (as in Gene Autrey's Champion). Have you ever actually listened to the song?

  2. Yes, and the horse’s name in the song most definitely is Trigger. Perhaps you were listening to a different song?