You’re no Bernie Taupin

It’s Friday, and I have amazingly little inspiration to post anything of substance. Pet peeve blogging it is! This week: singing supplemental lyrics to songs.

My most recent exposure to this came last Saturday as I was hanging out with friends for homecoming weekend. We were in Georgetown and popped into Mr. Smith’s, a piano bar catering to the 25-35 set. This, of course, meant lots and lots of Billy Joel, Elton John, and other piano-friendly superstars of the 70’s and 80’s. I actually wasn’t irked by the song selection; being from Long Island, I’m programmed to like Billy Joel anyway. No, what really gets me going is when the following happens:

Piano Player: (sung) Sweet Caroline…
Crowd: DUMM, DUMM, DUMMMMM
Piano Player: Good times never seemed so good
Crowd: SO GOOD, SO GOOD, SO GOOD

My freaking ears! If Neil Diamond had intended for “so good” to be sung four times, he would have fucking wrote it that way. And you really need to sing the horn part? Seriously? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the drunken sing-a-long, it’s a much better way to spend a Saturday night than trolling at some techno hellhole. But people, there is a reason you are not professional lyricists; namely, you suck at it.

Almost every sort of supplemental lyric like this falls into one of two categories: the space filler and the instrumental cover-up. In the space filler, the revelers are apparently confused and disturbed by the existence of one or two measures of rest. Thus, more singing! As in the “Sweet Caroline” example above, this usually involves repeating the last thing said. In “Pianoman”, however, it involves an even more arduous mental exercise: counting from one to four right before the chorus kicks in! Brilliant!

In the instrumental cover-up, the motivation is again bafflement and horror. “How,” thinks the inebriated buffoon, “could anything other than voice have the melody?” To compensate, any sort of guitar/horn/string/synth/harmonica/etc. break is now overpowered with the elegant, off-key “Daaaaaahh, dah dah dah dahhhhhh” from the crowd. For examples, again think of Joel’s “Pianoman”, namely the harmonica part. Or the opening horn part in “New York, New York”. Hell, I’ve even seen people sing over “Jessica” and “Frankenstein”. To some people, apparently instrumentation is a horrible and fearsome thing.

So if you’re one of those people who does this and you’re not a Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight showing regular (Red Sox fans, I’m looking in your direction), please stop. The world has enough crimes against music, we don’t need one more.

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7 comments so far

  1. Jim on

    Mr. Cain,

    If I catch you singing along to any of my guitar lines tonight, I will kick you in the nuts mid-song.

  2. Sangfroid826 on

    Hater.

  3. John Cain on

    Your guitar lines would need to be melodic and tonal for me to do that.

  4. Jim on

    OOOOOOOOOH no he di’nt.

  5. John Cain on

    Sangfroid, guilty as charged.
    Jim, oh yes I did.

  6. Lee Stafford on

    Bascially you are saying you hate fun and audience participation. Have you ever been to a Neil Diamond show? He enjoys the fans yelling back at him. Next you are going to be talking trash about Jimmy Buffet.

  7. John Cain on

    You mean Mr. I’ve-Written-The-Same-Song-300-Times? I wouldn’t dream of criticizing him.


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