I am continuing my examination of my favourite ten song lyrics. You can find the first part of this short series by visiting The Lyric : Part 1 - A Rug, A Tattoo and A Performing Seal. The final part, which will contain my final four selections, will be published - hopefully - next week.
4. It Ain't Necessarily So : George Gershwin
I have always had a fondness for the almost impossibly clever rhyme. And surely there were few better at this than George Gershwin. It Ain't Necessarily So from Porgy and Bess is full of such ridiculous rhymes that it is a masterpiece of the songwriters art. "Fo' he made his home in / Dat fish's abdomen" is nothing short of brilliant. The YouTube clip is a little long and you need to wait until two minutes in until you get to the song, but believe me, it is worth the wait. The clip is from Sir Trevor Nunn's stunning 1993 production of Porgy and Bess.
"It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
The t'ings dat yo' li'ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Fo' he made his home in
Dat fish's abdomen.
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale".
5. My Old Man : Joni Mitchell
The difficulty with Joni Mitchell, as it was with Paul Simon and it will be in the next part with Leonard Cohen, is which of a magnificent array of lyrics you include. There are so many great lines, but the one I have chosen is My Old Man. That couple of lines - the bed's too big / the frying pan's too wide - demonstrates so well her economy with words, her ability to sum up such complex emotions in just a few, very well chosen phrases. The video is an early performance of the song by the songwriter herself.
"He’s my sunshine in the morning
He’s my fireworks at the end of the day
He’s the warmest chord I ever heard
Play that warm chord, play and stay baby
We don’t need no piece of paper
From the city hall
Keeping us tied and true
My old man
Keeping away my blues
But when he’s gone
Me and them lonesome blues collide
The bed’s too big
The frying pan’s too wide"
6. The Manchester Rambler : Ewan MacColl
With most of my chosen lyrics, the entire song lyric is masterful, but here is a case where, although the full lyric is workmanlike, it is just two lines that force it into my shortlist of ten. My selection of it may well be as quirky as the song itself, but for me the line - I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade - is almost Shakespearean. The songwriter was the great campaigner and folk singer Ewan MacColl (husband of Peggy Seeger and father of Kirsty MacColl) and the song was written as a campaign song for the mass trespass movement of the 1930s. It was that movement which won the right of public access to some of the great open spaces of Britain. The clip uses a version of the song by the Irish folk band, the Dubliners.
"I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade
She was fair as the Rowan in bloom
And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky
I wooed her from April to June
On the day that we should have been married
I went for a ramble instead
For sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead"