Oh, Yeah: Inarticulate Rockers

Much has been made of singer-songwriters who, in one fashion or another, raised or shaped public consciousness.

Old-timers think back to turn-of-the-century folkie troubadours rallying the masses in support of the labor union movement. Of course, “Eight Hours for What We Will” was as much a statement about leisure as it was work.

A half century later, it was hard to say too much about Bob Dylan who, coincidentally, tomorrow turns 75. Dylan-wannabes including, famously, Donovan Leitch, were quickly put in their place; the 1965 scene was captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back.

Fairly or not, for at least its first quarter century, pop rock music suffered the slings and arrows launched by disdainful observers who, themselves, were in the same “pop” category while travelling under the title of “pundit.”

And the objects of scorn I’m not thinking of are such well-known and notorious mumblers as Ozzy Osbourne. Rather, the lyrics as written and recorded for the 3-minute operas, as Tom Wolfe called them, were the targets.

One thinks of Steve Allen, the 1950s “Tonight Show” host, reciting the lyrics to Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” as the in-studio audience howled.

We can admit, sometimes the lyrics deserved mocking. “Dip, dip, dip, dip, dip, dip, dip, dip/Sha-na-na-na – sha-na-na-na-na,” kicks off the Silhouettes “Get a Job” (1957). Melodic, sure. And nonsensical. Though cleverly looping us back to the present Blog’s first thematic example.

Things hadn’t moved forward (or up) all that much by the time (1968) the tongue-tied Turtles crooned to their heartthrob, “Eleanor”: “You’re my pride and joy etcetera.” Which helpless Eleanor could resist the gentle cooing of “Et-Cet-Tear-Ah” in her ear?

Four years earlier, the Beatles had likewise been stumped, resorting to “Yeah, yeah, yeah” when reporting “She Loves You.” And you know that can’t be bad.

Well, maybe a little. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” wasn’t exactly a lyrical break-through in 1968.

Ridiculing rock ‘n’ roll lyrics is a parlor game of long standing and great fun. As long as it’s not directed at one of your faves. And comparing it to “shooting fish in a barrel” is a disservice both to the fish and the barrel. Not to mention the shooter.

For rock is as much about revolution as it is love. Subjects too serious to mock. (Which rhymes with “rock” – hmm, the beginning of a hit, I think).

The latter, typically, is self-confessional, self-disclosive and deserving honor and trust in a nonjudgmental environment.

Can we blame the speaker for muttering when trying to express him- (usually) self? No matter his motives? Entered into evidence is Steam’s 1969 “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

The problem, one suspects, is an inability to express or express clearly, fully and exactly. The above examples may very well be trite and goofy; they’re most assuredly an incomplete listing.

The lyricist is self-consciously and overtly extolling their inability, inadequacy or failure to express and enunciate as . . . virtues.

Exhibit B offers confirmation and acknowledgment of what, by 1972, was widely known. Alice Cooper: “Well we got no class, And we got no principles, And we got no innocence, We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Maybe “principles” was misspelled in “School’s Out”?

Two years later, the Stones settled the matter with their response to “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.”

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