Friday, October 29, 2010

Unintelligible

Ron the Drummer, a veteran of many pre-Internet bands, has recounted how tough it was to cover songs back in the day. If you wanted accurate lyrics, you had to buy the album. If the lyrics didn't come with the album, you had to transcribe them yourself, which meant listening over and over again until you got them right—hopefully.

I was reminded of this tonight when I attempted to look up the lyrics to "Of Thee I Sing" by Leon Russell.


I love this song. It is joyful and exuberant and catchy and always makes me want to sing along. Except I can't, because the vast majority of the words are unintelligible. So tonight, I finally got around to tracking them down. I fired up Google, entered "of thee i sing" lyrics leon russell, and found ...

... nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. I did come across abridged lyrics on a message board, but I have no way of knowing whether the guy who posted got them right. Maybe he has inside knowledge. Maybe he's just guessing.

Hell, the one line I thought I could understand was "Middle of the night" at the beginning of the chorus, and according to the poster, it's "Beauty like a knife." Listening again, I still can't tell which one of us is right.

I feel oddly betrayed. I've become used to the ability to find this stuff whenever I want, and I've developed a sense of entitlement about it. Where are my lyrics? Give me my lyrics!

5 comments:

Jeff Shattuck said...

It is weird that they're not out there somewhere. Maybe you could write to his publisher?

Regardless, I'm with you, in this day and age, I'm entitled to lyrics!

cinderkeys said...

I thought of contacting his publisher, but I doubt it would do much good. Leon Russell has a lot of fans, many of whom must want those lyrics. If they're not out there in a day and age when you can find the words to just about any obscure song you want, there has to be a reason. Right? It's not like no one else would have thought to ask.

I'll think about it, though. :)

John Wenger said...

I googled something and followed a link, and somehow they said they had texted the lyrics to my cellphone. Unfortunately, I don't know how to read text messages, but maybe you can figure it out in a month when we see you.

I have never been able to understand music lyrics, going all the way back to the early 1950s when rock and roll began. There are a bunch of music videos on the web by Joe Cocker with subtitles which are hilarious, because the made up lyrics are funny, and he could have been singing them.

GreyLupine said...

This topic makes me laugh. In the course of learning a foreign language, quite a few people would offer "listen to music!!" as if it's some great way to learn new words in a language you're still trying to master. Maybe if you have some sort of super-hearing. But my reply was always the same, and directly related to this -- There are metric buttloads of songs in English I couldn't hope to understand, how in the hell am I going to understand lyrics in a foreign language and how is taht supposed to improve my skill with that language? ;)

cinderkeys said...

Dad: With a little help from my Fred!

GreyLupine: Intelligibility aside, how could you trust what you learned? Can you imagine ESL students trying the same trick? "Ooh, baby baby. Say a little prayer for I. Na na na."