Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Return to Sender

Ever get the feeling that all song lyrics are just there to give the singer something to do so that they don’t have to do that sort of half-dance whilst the rest of the band rock out? Unfortunately there are far too many songs that give that impression but a page of lyrics can be an interesting object in its own right.

There are lyrics that proclaim political or religious views or rants on modern life or heart-on-sleeve love overtures, and others that tell stories or even advertise wares. The possibilities are endless but there is one subset of all this that interests me and that is the ‘open letter’ type that appears to be a direct communication between two people with the rest of us eavesdropping whilst enjoying a good tune (or not of course).

The first of these is the acrimonious split as essayed by Lennon and McCartney. 1971 was the year following the Beatles’ split and tensions were obviously running high in an I’m-better-than-you-even-after-THAT-band type of way. McCartney opened on ‘Ram’ with the biting ‘Too Many People’ which many people saw as a direct accusation that his erstwhile partner was too big for his very expensive boots.

Lennon hit back on his ‘Imagine’ album with a typically acerbic reply, ‘How Do You Sleep?’ which cast doubt on Macca’s songwriting ability and business sense. Sorely aware that Yoko was blamed for the split, it even incorporated a pseudo-Japanese musical motif just to rub salt in the wound. All very entertaining.

Another musical correspondence was that between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Young fired the first shot with ‘Southern Man’, (and ‘Alabama’) which attempted to kill off a few misconceptions about the American South, but Lynyrd Skynyrd felt he had scatter-gunned too many indiscriminate targets and replied with their own South-affirming, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. The dispute rumbled on off vinyl for years afterwards.

On a more light-hearted note there is the exchange between Carole King and Neil Sedaka. In 1959 a young Sedaka wrote an impassioned plea ‘Oh Carol!’ to his ex-girlfriend, Carole King (it turned out to be his first big hit!) She eventually replied with ‘Oh Neil’ some time later and history does not relate what happened next but clearly the relationship foundered although both forged successful musical careers.

There don’t seem to be many of these at the moment and I miss the cut and thrust so I think we need more of them. Anyone fancy releasing a single entitled, ‘You Spice Girls are Complete Crap’?


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

This is a great post! I hope you get some comments from people that can think if some more of these back and forth songs. I can't think of any on the spot but will ponder it and be back if I do.

TR1-Guy said...

Well, you got my attention with the RAM album cover. That is one of my all-time favorite albums. I have the orginal audio cassette from 1971! My first pre-recorded cassette I ever bought!

As far as the back and forth songs, I'm not aware of too many of those, though I bet Van Halen and others who have changed major members like that have some zingers in there somewhere. George Harrison's "Wah Wah" is also pointed at McCartney as well as Ringo's "Back Off Boogaloo" single. Seems the Beatle lads were none too pleased with Paul. He was the cute one after all... :)

I'll keep an eye out for those types of songs and fill in any I find!

musicobsessive said...

Layla - thanks for the compliment! I hope to get a few more suggestions via these comments.

Tr1-guy - Seems I should've done the whole post on the Beatles' in-fighting! 'Ram' was my third ever purchase and still holds a place in my heart. My first cassette purchase was 'LA Woman' and I would guess it is now completely unplayable, but it is only a guess as I sold it many moons ago.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

My first music purchase was The Rolling Stones, Goat's Head Soup on vinyl :)

musicobsessive said...

Good choice! Most people's first purchases tend to be a bit less esoteric. However, I can't give everything away on this blog, so you'll have to read my book to find out about my first vinyl purchases!