Pop lyrics


Occasionally I find myself listening to a song and thinking, ‘That makes no sense’. That’s what happened today while listening to In quintessence by Squeeze. In it Glenn Tilbrook sings,

Sitting up in bed, transistor on his chest, in quintessence

He may be lying in bed with a transistor radio on his chest or sitting up in bed with a transistor in his lap but unless the transistor is glued to his chest it must surely fall off.

Then there’s Handbags and Gladrags where Chris Farlowe sings:

Sing a song of six-pence for your sake
And take a bottle full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds in a cake
And bake them all in a pie

So someone put 24 blackbirds into a cake and then baked them in a pie? What’s the point of that? Did the person change his mind and decide that blackbirds were better suited to pies than cakes? Did he fish them out of a Victoria Sandwich, dust off the sponge-crumbs and then re-bake the birds in pastry? Isn’t it unwise to even re-heat poultry, let alone fully cook it twice?

Still, I love the line:

The handbags and the gladrags
That your granddad had to sweat so you could buy


The upkeep of the girl has somehow fallen to the grandparents. Old people in those days earned very little and lived frugally and in the song any money that could be saved was passed on to the granddaughter, who blew it thoughtlessly on worthless tat.

It’s hard to know who to feel more sorry for, the granddad whose hard-earned wages are wasted on fashionable clothes for his shallow granddaughter or the girl herself, whose thoughts revolve solely around the approval of others. She will probably never know the satisfaction of a life well lived, as her grandparents have. Still, my sympathies are wholly with the grandfather: he is admirable while the girl isn’t, though perhaps not through any fault of her own. They’re just the times she lives in.

All this made me think of a news item I saw about ten years ago. Three South American children, two sisters and a brother, who were looking for their father who had disappeared after some kind of disaster. The children were distraught and I felt so sorry for them, mainly because they were clearly lovely children who had once been part of a nice family but no longer.

I suspect Social Justice Warriors would worry just as much, or even more, about glue-sniffing children in the Brazilian favelas who never really stood a chance from day one. For a reason I can’t really explain, the plight of these children just doesn’t move me in the same way as those nice children did. For me to be bothered about someone it seems it not enough for them to be merely unfortunate; they have to unfortunate and nice. I feel this way, despite knowing that the favela children might also have turned out nice had they had the chance. I guess it’s the old Adolf Hitler problem: under different circumstances Adolf too could have been a nice chap but circumstances weren’t different, so he didn’t turn out nice I don’t like him. Knowing that we are all largely at the mercy of fate changes nothing for me. The beautiful are still beautiful and the ugly still regardless of the fact that neither could do much about their looks. Same goes for personality.

But back to the music and Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens. This song makes complete sense from a leftist point of view but not from mine, which is that of the free market. In this song Cat laments the hardships of working life:

Up at eight, you can’t be late
For Matthew and Son, he won’t wait.
Watch them run down to platform one
And the eight-thirty train to Matthew and Son.

Well no, of course you can’t be late because companies have to open for business and if one person is late you’ll have to let everyone be late. And yes, the office opens at 9am. That’s hardly Kolyma-mine early.

Matthew and Son, the work’s never done, there’s always something new.

That’s a good thing, otherwise the employees would be made redundant.

And they’ve been working all day, all day, all day!

Yep, that’s what people who aren’t pop stars do, Cat. Some people actually like it that way. It gets them out of the house. Ever read Philip Larkin’s Toads Revisited?

There’s a five minute break and that’s all you take,
For a cup of cold coffee and a piece of cake.

I’m not sure about how true to life this is. I’ve never heard of a company, even in 1960’s England, that allowed it’s workers only a five minute lunch break. And cold coffee? That’s not the boss’s fault. Buy yourself a decent thermos for goodness sake! And get your wife or your mum to pack you a sandwich. No one can survive on a piece of cake.

He’s got people who’ve been working for fifty years

Great! Satisfied workers!

No one asks for more money ’cause nobody dares

Oh, so not satisfied. Did none of these long-term employees ever think of changing company? That’s what I would have done if I thought I was being underpaid. Or could it be that other companies were paying the same as Mr. Matthew? And why should he pay more than others? If he did, he would end up having to put up his prices to cover the extra cost. This would reduce the competitiveness of his products, which would lead, first to decline, then to bankruptcy. That’s neither in his workers’ interest nor in his. And anyway, businesses are profit-making concerns, not philanthropic undertakings. Employer and employee enter freely into an agreement and unless one party cheats the other there is no reason for complaint. No one is forced to accept a job offer.

Even though they’re pretty low and their rent’s in arrears.

That the rent is in arrears is hardly Mr. Matthew’s fault. If he had never set up his company there would be no jobs at all so no one has lost out through his actions. Perhaps the workers should rent smaller houses, stop smoking and drinking, not have bought that Sony Entertainment Centre or just generally live within their means. Wanton profligates.

Incidentally, why is it that pop stars always write pro-worker, anti-business owner songs? It could be that they are all lefties, which I think very likely. It could also be that the record-buying public consists overwhelmingly of workers rather than business owners. It would therefore be in Cat’s financial interest to pen a pro-worker song. Just saying.

And so to Brandon Flowers’ song Crossfire, which begins:

There’s a still in the street outside your window

which for me always conjures up the following image:

images (2)

Later in the song Brandon sings:

Tell the devil that he can go back from where he came.

That’s classy, placing the preposition ‘from’ in the initial position rather than at the end. Even so, I still think it would be classier still if he had gone for:

Tell the devil that he can go back whence he came.

but I suppose that messes up the meter.

I recently watched Brandon Flowers and Richard Dawkins on a Scandinavian talk show. Brandon Flowers pointedly looked away from Dawkins as the latter spoke not, I think, out of hostility but in an attempt to keep his emotions under control. You see, Brandon is a Mormon, a religion even more ridiculous than the three old Abrahamic ones. It is quite specific in it’s claims, one being that at some point Jesus visited America; Missouri, I think it was. Mormonism was created by the convicted fraudster Joseph Smith and Mormonism’s holy text is written in ‘ye olde worlde’ English, despite having been written in the 19th century, which is odd. It doesn’t even have the justification that old religions have of being inextricably interwoven into the established traditions and cultural practises of a people who have largely stopped believing but who are happy to continue as cultural Christians, cultural Jews, and so on.

Both Richard and Brandon seemed nice and I’m sure that given a few hours in each other’s company they could have hit it off. However, Brandon was unexpectedly called away to get ready for his performance, which made me wonder if his agent had sent a message telling him to leave right now, possibly fearing his lucrative asset might end up looking an uneducated oaf.

Here’s a post I wrote several years ago about the Clash song Guns of Brixton.

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