Lyricisms

More

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.

Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In