Lyricisms

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by Oliver Wang


This is a tangent off of last week's Earworms post but I was recently at the dinner table with my wife, torturing our 5 year old by "singing" the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," but while the music of that song is hard to forget, I realized: "I have no idea what the hell Michael McDonald is singing beyond the song title." I would just adlib some scatting to fill in the blanks for the rest of the song, which is to say: everything but the title lines.

So I decided to look up the lyrics of the tune and *long whistle*. I'm not trying to bag on McDonald and Kenny Loggins for their songwriting talent, but for such a catchy tune, the lyrics are...well...a hot mess. As my wife put it, it's like they had a poem and they had a melody and they decided to make the two fit, no matter how convoluted the end product may be.

"No wise man has the power/to reason away?" Really? Have you ever tried to sing the word "power" in a way that sounds "lyrical"?

Yet, for all this, the song still works as a song, especially a pop song that will now be stuck in your head through the weekend (by the way: you're welcome). And it's not as if there isn't a gazillion other pop songs that are equally catchy yet with equally ill-fit lyrics. But delving into "What a Fool Believes" is like the proverbial trip to the sausage factory: sometimes it's better just not knowing all the details.

On that note, I also recently had to revise my opinion of a song I hated back in the day: What I once through heralded the death of hip-hop (one of many such omen songs) for its lack of lyricism now seems to me to be rather brilliant. Juve's flow isn't exactly scalpel-sharp but it plays well with the frenetic nature of Mannie Fresh's beat and more importantly, the way he keeps using that "ha," as a statement cloaked as a question, cleverly lets him off the hook of having to rhyme each line. 

You could say this is another example of forcing lyrics to fit a song but in this case, the more you dig into what Juvenile is actually saying, it only makes the end effort more impressive.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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