Monday, March 28, 2011

The Lyric : Part 2 - A Fish, A Frying Pan and A Spot Welder

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"


10 comments:

  1. What are the chances that two of the blogs that I follow should quote the lyrics from that song, "It ain't necessarily so ..." in the same week.

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  2. nice. i enjoyed the manchester rambler...you are exposing me to new influences...

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  3. Great tunes, Alan. Gershwin has always been a favorite, especially Porgy and Bess. It's been a long time since I heard "My Old Man", so it was nice to hear it again. And "The Manchester Rambler" is always a delight to listen to, and is a good reminder that Ewan MacColl isn't appreciated nearly enough on this side of the Pond. After all, the man was Great Britain's version of Woody Guthrie, writing songs and influencing musicians for generations and keeping the social action movement alive.

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  4. All brilliant choices. One of my major sadnesses is that now I'm deaf I can't pick up song lyrics any more.

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  5. You're right about Joni Mitchell an absolute plethora of good lyrics and I know what it's like to have a bed too wide . . .so I gave half of mine to a labrador.

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  6. Funny thing, Alan. I've read your post, having just listened to the Joni Mitchell album, 'Hejira', for the first time in ages.

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  7. There's an alternative third line to Manchester Rambler that may lay claim to be the original:

    And the colour of her eye matched the egg on my tie...

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  8. So I was lurking in the Silver Fox Lair
    And he went on a tear
    About your little spot
    As he likes it alot
    So I came over to see
    And take a minute to sit under your tree
    It was a nice read and listen for me
    As I didn't want to flee
    Never head of some of them before
    But I'm glad you opened the door
    So away I go out the door
    But will be back for more.

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  9. I am SO all about the rhymes and the lyrics. Gershwin is so great. I especially like his Porgy and Bess stuff. And Mitchell, Simon and Cohen...geniuses, all three.

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  10. Alan, I love Joni Mitchell. Her harmony with Neil Young and The Band from The Last Waltz documentary directed by Martin Scorsese is stunning. If you've never seen that documentary, I highly recommend it. The music is amazing. Great post as usual.

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