Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When Is It OK ....

This week Mama Kat asked the question, "When is it OK not to listen to the words?" The problem I have with this particular Writer's Challenge is that, to me, it is almost always OK not to listen to the words. Music is meant to drive the primeval soul, to reach the core of our being at a deep level, not to be absorbed intellectually like a debate. (OK, OK, bad example, but you know what I mean!) So the real question becomes: which of the many songs that I love do I want to shred for their poor use of lyrical poetry and other such arcana? I decided to compare two of my anthems from a misspent youth, since one has lame lyrics and the other has lyrics worthy of a master poet.

The first song in this deconstruction is one of my favorites from the psychedelic 60's, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. This was my anthem in the late sixties and early seventies. Even today, it is not an uncommoon occurance to find me listening to the 17+ minute original version of the song. But the lyrics? Well ... it is with a deep sense of guilt and quasi-shame that I admit to loving a song that runs for 17+ minutes with these lyrics:
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, honey,
don't you know that I love you?
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby,
don't you know that I'll always be true?

Oh, won't you come with me
and take my hand?

Oh, won't you come with me
and walk this land?

Please take my hand!



So there you have it, a song that it is eminently OK to not listen to the lyrics in any detail. It is hard to explain how moving and powerful this song is to me, how evocative of a certain mood and time, and then have to present those rather pointlessly pitiful lyrics.

Lest you think it is purely a by-product of the era that the lyrics to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida are so lame but the overall effect is so moving and downright good, let me present a song in which one should not only listen to the lyrics but study them: Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin.This song is another anthem of mine from roughly the same time period, in roughly the same style of music, but the lyrics are true poetry and carry meaning well beyond any musical association. Thus I give you Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin:
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
and it makes me wonder
really makes me wonder

And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forest will echo with laughter


If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May Queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, Ooh, it makes me wonder

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady, can't you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind


And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she's buying the stairway to heaven
To my analytical mind, it makes no sense that two such powerful anthems that speak to the listener so deeply and personally can be so radically different in lyrical content. In my college years, it was not an uncommon occurrance to hear these two songs played one after the other. There was no sense of cognitive dissonance or unease - they both seemed perfect and fit in well with each other. But if I were to present just the two sets of lyrics, you'd think the one was written by a master poet and the other by a rushed schoolboy. Couple the lyrics with the music and they can suddenly stand proudly, side by side.

So what is in your guilty trove of songs where it is OK not to listen to the words? Do you have favorites, like me, that are lyrical diametric opposites? What are they?


  1. I have never heard In a Gadda da Vida. The name certainly does draw me in : ). I hope you have a wonderful day 'mayor'ing!

  2. I don't think I actually know either song. I'm sure you'll never visit my blog again after I said that but it's true. I mean of course I've heard of Stairway to Heaven but I don't think I'd actually recognize it if it came on the radio.

    Most songs I listen to for the words, for the story they tell. I really like Anna Nalick's Breathe. The message in it just does something to me. Sarah Barielles Love Song I also really like. Okay, you caught me I listen to some pop stuff.

    I guess Coldplay, a lot of their stuff I have no idea what they are saying but I love them. Yellow (though that does have great lyrics..) and Clocks are my favorites.

  3. But Stairway to Have to listen to the lyrics to that one. Just like Hotel California...totally have to sing along.

    I don't think I've ever known all the words to InaGadda da Vida..I know the song though. We must be around the same age...OLD! Bwahahaha!

  4. I'm sure I have only heard Ina Gadda Da Vida a few times and the first time was on the TV show Home Improvement. I had no clue there were actual words.

    I always gravitate toward songs with powerful lyrics!

  5. I remember the first time I ever heard Ina Gadda Da Vida, Iwas at my grandmothers house (of all places) and my aunt played it on her record player. Yes record player. My first thought was "Is this the never ending song?".

  6. half the time i don't listen to the words. music is good as background noise.

  7. Interesting post and great song choices. Visiting from Mama Kat's today! I will have to listen to Stairway to Heaven more closely next time.

  8. OK...answer me this. Is "In A Gadda Da Vida" a funny way of saying "In the Garden of Eden"? Because that is what I've always thought.

    And I've always thought that lyrics outside of the accompanying music don't often work ... I never realized the lyrics for InAGadda... were so ...trite and lame.


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