They Don’t Write ‘em Like They Used To?

beyonce_freddie-mercury-2

by Steve Buschbacher

If you’re on social media, you may have seen a meme or two that takes a current song’s lyrics and juxtaposes them with lyrics to a song from 40 or 50 years ago. One in particular, that you may have seen, shows Beyonce’s “Run The World” and the fact that it took 6 writers and 4 producers  (Girls, we run this motha – yeah / Girls we run this motha – yeah)  with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was both written and produced solely by its writer, Freddy Mercury. (Is this the real life? / Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality) I completely and categorically reject these kind of narrow minded comparisons. In this case, one on one, there IS no comparison. Beyonce is no master song lyricist no matter how much help she gets and Freddy Mercury was a brilliant writer. But to hold these one-sided examples as a critique of the current state of song writing is, to borrow a term from a friend, “encroaching fogeyism”. In other words, you’re turning into your father and mother.

When I was a teen, I use to get a lot of criticism of musical tastes from my parents. They used to tell me that the songs to which I listened made no sense unlike the songs from their youth. One such discussion happened after they heard the mid 60s song “Google Eye”. OK, that song was not going to propel its writer, John Loudermilk, to a Nobel Prize but neither, as my counter argument to my parents went, was the 1940s song “The Hut Sut Song”. You know … the one whose prize lyrics went –

Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit,
Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla sooit.

I vowed to myself back then that I would never let myself get so close-minded as to believe that only the music of my youth was worth listening to.

To be sure, there was a lot of great lyrics written in the 60s. Bob Dylan spoke for us and he spoke better than most. As the Beatles matured as a band, so did their lyrics and insights to life and the world. Marvin Gaye gave us a landmark album in “What’s Gong On” with song after song that spoke to us all. I still remember how it touched me the first time I heard it. (Rockets, moon shots / Spend it on the have nots)

But the 60s were also a time of The Trashman. You know …. Their big hit, while an enormously fun song, had lyrics that were far from a masterful poem. (A-well-a ev’rybody’s heard about the bird bird bird bird/ B-bird’s the word oh well-a bird bird bird)

Every time you want to hold up Nicki Minaj as an example of why all contemporary music is bad –

You a stupid hoe 

You a 

You a stupid hoe / (stupid, stupid)

I will answer with John Legend –

How many times do I have to tell you
Even when you’re crying you’re beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I’m around through every mood
You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing, in my head for you

And, to close, I will give you this composition from the 1960s by the Fugs. A terrible song with crass and trashy lyrics –

Do you like boobs a lot?
(Yes, I like boobs a lot.)
Boobs a lot, boobs a lot.

(You gotta like boobs a lot.)

Keep your ears AND your minds open. You will be pleasantly surprised at what gets in.