when good songwriters go bad

If you’ve been watching commercials (instead of fast-forwarding through them like I usually do) You may have seen U2 stumping for a new Blackberry phone. I find that amusing since they’ve also lent their talents to Apple for an iPod commercial, and Blackberries are big competition for Apple’s iPhones. But there’s a peculiarity in the commercial, and the song they’ve used has got me thinking...

What the heck?

Here are a few songs with lyrical blunders that have left me confused.

Starting with U2. I must begin with U2, because I’m a fan. Bono is a talented lyricist with a golden voice. Furthermore, he is a model humanitarian and an inspirational leader. Yet the title (and chorus) of the song used to pimp Blackberries is a little befuddling. “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight.” Really? So, if he doesn’t go crazy he’ll go crazy because he didn’t go crazy. But if he does go crazy, he won’t have to go crazy because he is crazy. So either way, he’s going crazy. And if you can make any sense out of that, you might be crazy.

The mid 90’s brought us an onslaught of femininity in music, championed by artists like Sarah McLachlan, and Jewel. While many of these women artists trended to the folksy adult contemporary sound, Alanis Morissette gave us the angry girl-scorned rock tailored for post-grunge alternative radio. While she made a name for herself with a hate-mail in song ode to an ex, she could also create some infectious melodies that would glue themselves inside that spot in your brain that cannot resist the urge to sing along. For example, her single Ironic. While it is a pop-gem (musically speaking) it is an epic rhetorical device fail. Irony is an incongruity between expression and the understood result. The only thing ironic about the song Ironic is the title. Most everything Alanis sings about is inconvenient at worst – or at best a mild annoyance. Rain on your wedding day – annoying but not ironic. Irony would be canceling your wedding due to rain on a sunny day. A no smoking sign during your smoke break – inconvenient but not ironic. A no smoking sign in the designated smoking area – ironic… and funny. A flying phobic man ending his first plane ride in a crash – tragic but not ironic. A flying phobic airline passenger saying a little turbulence and an emergency landing cured his fear of flight…. You get the picture.

Speaking of women in song… Carly Simon is a timeless artist – the classic example of a singer/songwriter. Yet, her biggest hit, and most recognizable song is enigmatic and slightly illogical. “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you.” The identity of this vain subject is elusive – and one of Simon’s biggest secrets. That’s not what bothers me though, I’m disturbed by the notion that the person Simon calls vain is not really the subject of the song. Huh? Imagine a conversation between Simon and this vain person. “You’re so vain.” – “Yes I am… and I’m better than you.” – “I bet you think my song is about you.” – “Well, it is. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have called me vain.” – “But the song isn’t about you.” – “If it isn’t about me, then why are you addressing me in your song?” – “Because you think it’s about you.” – “But by saying ‘you’ you’re addressing me, making me the subject of your song. So yes, I am vain, and yes, the song is about me.” I’m sure Carly Simon did not think that through before she recorded the song.

There’s my top three “what were they thinking” songs. Did I miss any?


  1. I kind of can make sense of those lyrics, and that does scare me a little bit, yes...

  2. I think the Simon song is about irony. Stuff White People Like and all that.