Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Lyric : Part 1 - A Rug, A Tattoo And A Performing Seal

That Great Interpreter Of The Lyric - Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress
Lyrics have always been important to me. In the eternal trade-off between words and music, my favouring of words has been based on something more than my inability to carry a tune (even with the support of a heavy-duty wheelbarrow). During my years of deafness I missed music terribly and the only way I could get close to that special joy that only music can bring was to sing lyrics to myself. It was Ersatz coffee music, egg-powder melodies ... but it was kind of musical.

So when I was in want of something to amuse me last night, I started making a list of my 10 favourite song lyrics. Looking at the list, it is an odd and eclectic collection. Some of the words are beautiful, some are clever some are outrageously funny. They are not necessarily married to the best tunes, and neither are they likely to be to others' tastes. But one of the abiding joys of blog-writing is the ability it gives you to bore your readers. And one of the abiding joys of the blog-reader is the ability to stop reading half-way through a post and click forward to the next blog on your blog-roll.

I have divided my list of ten lyrics into three. In each case I have included just an extract from the complete lyric: an extract that somehow represents the crème de la crème. In each case I have added a YouTube clip so you can do more than just imagine the words in your head. The list is in no particular order: here are the first three.

1.  I Do It For Your Love : Paul Simon
One of the most beautiful lyrics I know. "The orange bled the blue" is a phrase I would give my wifes' pension to have written. The video is not very good quality and has had subtitles added, but it is worth it to see Paul Simon sing one of his finest songs.

"Found a rug
In an old junk shop
And I brought it home to you
Along the way the colors ran
The orange bled the blue"

2. Lydia The Tattoed Lady : E.Y. Haburg and Harold Arlen
Unforgettably sung by Groucho Marx in the film "At The Circus", I could have chosen any verse from the song, they are all brilliant. To everyones' embarrassment I can never resist bursting into a rendition of this song when ever I am introduced to anyone called Lydia.

"Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
and a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!"

3. I Wish I Were In Love Again : Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers
One of my all-time favourites and I have blogged about it before. "The faint aroma of performing seals" is the kind of phrase that could only be written by a genius - in this case the genius is Lorenz Hart. My YouTube version is new to me and, if nothing else, it has been worth writing this post just to discover Audra McDonald.

"The furtive sigh - the blackened eye
The words: "I love you - 'til the day I die"
The self-deception - that believes the lie
I wish I were in love again

When love congeals - it soon reveals
The faint aroma - of performing seals
The double-crossing - of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again"

Part Two next week.


  1. For ages, I was hooked on the lyrics to 'I Can't Get Started', as sung by Frank. The trouble was, I couldn't stop...singing it.

  2. Wot? No Fred Fanakapan?

  3. Martin H : You mind reader you : if you don't want to get infected again avoid Part 3.
    CB : "There were aunties and uncles and loads of strawberry jam, All waiting to welcome Fred Fanackerpan."
    Close but didn't make the final cut.

  4. "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" is one of my all time faves. But, I'm sure that's no surprise to you. Isn't Audra McDonald the best? I LOVE her.

  5. No surprise at all Tess, on either score.

  6. Ah, what a cool way to start my day! Thanks, Alan. The Paul Simon clip brought back memories; it was interesting to see Tony Levin with hair and without the mustache, and it's always great to hear Toots Thielmans and his magic harmonica. I first heard "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" sung by Robin Williams in the movie The Fisher King; another bit of movie magic as the inimitable Mr. Williams took a comic song and turned it into a tender moment. And I've been madly in love with Audra McDonald since I saw/heard her in Ragtime.

  7. Outstanding. I love lyrics and these are great examples. Paul Simon is so good. Thanks for introducing me to Lydia and Audra.

  8. I love the harmonica work on the Paul Simon song. When were you deaf? Not nice!!

  9. Oh yes, you have chosen some wonderful ones! Audra is the best!

    And Alan, I've never ever left one of your posts in the middle of reading for someone else on my blogroll, dear. :)

  10. i hear you...its about the lyric for me as well it can have a great sound but if you are just singing gibberish it means nothing...but we call it pop music...

  11. Another wonderful line from your selected Rodgers and Hart lyric is:

    The hateful hates,
    The conversation with the flying plates.

    Broadway lyrics must surely go down in history as some of the finest poetry of the 20th century.

  12. Loved this post!!!! Not only did I enjoy this myself, VERY much, but it sprins to mind a handful of relatives and friends that I definately want to share this with. Definately made my night after quite a day in the office...


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