Lyricisms

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.

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