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Jarvis Cocker's Songwriting 101 And The Worst Lyrics Ever . . .
John Doran , October 10th, 2008 18:19

Recently at In The City, Jarvis Cocker proved the main attraction with his lecture on lyrics. Here is our guide how not to write 'em . . . featuring Bob Dylan, Bono, Morrissey and more.

Scroll down for the Quietus Worst Lyrics Ever gallery

At the recent In The City industry beano in Manchester all the contradictory pros and cons of the ‘music biz’ were fully on show. A chaotically organized showcase of bands from all over the country and key note speeches by industry figures, originally set up by Tony Wilson depresses the soul as much as it energizes. All up and down Oldham Street we’re assaulted by clued-in careerist indie bands marketing themselves as if by focus group so that their influences reflect the five biggest NME cover stars of the last six quarters. (How does a band manage to sound like a mix of Muse, Oasis, The Killers, Kings Of Leon and the Kaiser Chiefs anyway? At least two bands at ITC claim to.) Aside from pie chart indie we just had plain old pie eating indie. A good twenty bands talked themselves up to be the spiritual heirs of the Stone Roses but there was nary a hint of a psychedelic Family Stone funk rock jam, no silvery sprinkling of Hacienda reverb, no artful and insurrectionary rock swagger – just landfill indie with overtones of Freddie and the Dreamers. Or Cast. Or people who actually used to be in Cast.

The amount of bands who actually didn’t turn up/play on time/play in the right venue is massive and this is more of a reflection of the scythe that’s swept through Manchester’s live music scene over the last decade rather than bad organization. You can’t help but feel that if the Roadhouse etc was still open, then half of these showcases wouldn’t have been put on in Wetherspoons pubs and other unsuitable rooms.

This said, in the actual gig venues there were some brilliant treats in store. On Monday night at Academy 3 alone we were treated to the dizzying experience of awesome gothic cabaret act The Bottomfeeders, the insolent, deranged techno pop of Silver Club and the suave and icy Sisters Of Transistors. And that’s before we get to the jagged icing sugar rush of the Pop Justice Showcase featuring our new favourite electro band Daggers or the extremely entertaining punk band The Computers from Exeter.

The best of the many delegate events was Jarvis Cocker’s Saying The Unsayable: An Investigation Into The Role Of Lyrics In Popular Song. The former Pulp frontman was clearly still discombobulated from his recent fact finding mission to the Arctic Circle and his newly grown Explorer Action Man beard combined with his usual charity shop chic made him look like an Open University lecturer circa 1976. There is obviously something of the frustrated teacher about him, and in an alternative universe he is your favourite university lecturer.

He encourages us to decipher meaning from The Kingsmen’s version of ‘Louie Louie’ but none is forthcoming. We certainly find it more difficult than the angry mother who reported it to the FBI for its mention of boners, down below gropes and fucking in cars, chairs and beds. It's entirely probable that the irate matriarch was mishearing the song but Jarv points our attention to what he claims is the drummer going: “Fuck!” after accidentally hitting his finger instead of the snare. He has a serious point here which is that the Kingsmen’s version of 'Louie Louie' is the definitive version of this garage rock standard despite its incomprehensibility, incompetent musicianship and non-existent production values – proving that whatever we think, lyrics are by no means essential.

He chooses ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie to illustrate the fact that a good delivery can transform trite sentiment into, well, heroic endeavor.

Laudably there are very few songs that are held up for ridicule, an exercise that would be “too easy”. However, Des’ree is not so lucky and is used as an example of why pop couplets should usually rhyme but this construct should not be pursued at the cost of syntax, grammar, taste and sense. Her "ghost, most, toast" aberration still provokes gales of laughter. (He perhaps unfairly compares it to ABC’s “Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble – Help yourself to another slice of apple crumble!” from the excellent ‘That Was Then But This Is Now’ from the overlooked Beauty Stab album.)

He uses no less of an authority than Leonard Cohen to prove that lyrics aren’t poetry but plays an absolute gem by Dory Previn to illustrate how lyrics can still have a poetic quality.

‘The Lady With The Braid’
By Dory Previn

Would you care to stay till sunrise
It's completely your decision
It's just that going home is such a ride
Going home is such a ride
Going home is such a ride
Going home is such a low and lonely ride

Would you hang your denim jacket
Near the poster by Picasso
Do you sleep on the left side or the right
Would you mind if i leave on the light
Would you mind if it isn't too bright
Now I need the window open
So if you happen to get chilly
There's this coverlet my cousin hand crocheted
Do you mind if the edges are frayed
Would you like to unfasten my braid

Shall i make you in the morning
As cup of instant coffee
I will sweeten it with honey and with cream
When you sleep
Do you have dreams?

You can read the early paper
And I can watch you while you shave
Oh god the mirror's cracked
When you leave
Will you come back?
You don't have to answer that at all
The bathroom door is just across the hall
You'll find an extra towel on the rack
On the paisley patterned papered wall
There's a comb on the shelf
I papered that wall myself
That wall

Would you care to stay till sunrise
It's completely your decision
It's just the night cuts through me like a knife
Would you care to stay awhile and save my life?
Would you care to stay awhile and save my life?
I don't know what made me say that
I've got this funny sense of humor
You know i could not be downhearted it i tried
It's just that going home is such a ride
Going home is such a ride
Going home is such a ride
Isn't going home is such a low and lonely ride?

He saves his greatest love about lyrics til the last however: “What really turns me on about lyric writing is inappropriate subject matter . . . There is no such thing as inappropriate subject matter . . . I felt cheated when I became a teenager and I realised that life wasn’t all chocolate box poetry and roses and ‘I’ll love you forever baby’. So I sought out people who didn’t sugar coat their lyrics.” This explains both his own unique outlook and his love for Scott Walker.

He ends by claiming the stock of lyrics is rising; becoming more important now that rock music has become 50 years old. Now that all the riffs have been written, the words are more important than ever. He cites Alex Turner and Pete Doherty as two in particular who are keeping the flag flying. Especially the latter: “Anyone who can write a line like ‘He’s the kind of man who’d bum your wife, then shake your hand’ is alright by me.” Mr Cocker showed great restraint by not laying into too many lyricists but it’s not a sentiment we share. Here are what we consider to be the worst examples of lyric writing known to man:


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