Growing up in Bruges in a Dutch-speaking family you can imagine my young life was filled to the brim with mondegreens. When Van McCoy released The Hustle in 1974 I was convinced they sang ‘Turasso’, a strange mythic word I thought sounded very Italian.
So although they can be shared, mondegreens are highly personal affairs, unintentional but infectious mishearings of lyrics that were not supposed to become distorted. According to a British survey the line "Call me when you try to wake her" from The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight is the king of mondegreens. Four out of 10 people hear Michael Stipe heading for Bob Marleyland.
Maybe it’s far more interesting to look for downright nonsense, although this might prove to be a tricky path: one man’s nonsense is another man’s adage. And quatsch can still make a lot of sense musically when the syllables reinforce rhythm or melody. The dadaists knew that - the purpose of the movement was to stop making sense – and so the poem I Zimbra by Hugo Ball, founder of the famous nightclub Cabaret Voltaire, really belongs in the skilled hands of The Talking Heads.
Every sha-la-la-la, every shing-a-ling-a-ling was a serious contester this week. So bring in The Dixie Cups and Iko Iko and Manfred Mann’s Doo Wah Diddy. Enjoy the dénouement of a story in which a man is Really Saying Something and that turns out to be bop bop shoo be doo wah. Listen to the joyous fartsy folly in The Ying Tong Song, or go all Zungguzungguguzungguzeng and experience how nonsense can make you a lot happier than that depressing sense we are supposed to make of everyday life.
And who will not go outside and kiss a frog or something after hearing this signature Jon Anderson line: "Make the white queen run so fast she hasn't got time to make you a wife." Followed by a lot of diddits. Yes it’s Yes. And why not have some kidney bongos and organ fun like Wire do, it sounds infectiously catchy. Nonsense can even take you on a free and natural high, like in A Whiter Shade of Pale, where you’ll be pushing a cart on a boat, the roof will disappear as more booze comes in and she will say: there is no reason. Amen to that.
And then there a songs in which someone - deliberately or by accident - sings with a piece of cotton or a hot potato in his or her mouth. ZZ Top’s funky Ten Foot Pole qualifies and so does Vivian Stanshall. In ‘Yelp, Bellow and Rasp’ he does exactly what the title promises. Both songs are like a Rowley Birkin QC sketch from The Fast Show: you only grasp fragments, but that’s part if not all the fun. The story goes singer Doug Ingle was so incredibly drunk he couldn’t spell that famous biblical snake pit anymore and murmured In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I wonder what Chris Martin had when he wrote Viva La Vida. No I don’t, but I will have some of what Alison Shaw took when she recorded Watersong because that feels very appealing.
R.E.M. – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
Talking Heads – I Zimbra
Dixie Cups – Iko Iko
Manfred Mann – Doo Wah Diddy
The Velvettes – He Was Really Saying Something
The Goons – The Ying Tong Tong Song
Yellowman – Zungguzungguguzungguzeng
Yes – I’ve Seen All Good People
Wire – Kidney Bongos
Procul Harum – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
ZZ Top – Ten Foot Pole
Vivian Stanshall – Yelp, Bellow, Rasp & Cetera
Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida
Cranes – Watersong
Leroy Van Dyke – The Auctioneer
Budgie – Breadfan
Legendary Stardust Cowboy – Paralized
Violent Femmes – Epp Opp Ork Ah-Ah
Flying Saucer Attack – Still Point
Roof – The Trace
Dawn Of The Replicants – Radar
Boy Hit Car – Going To India
Sum Svistu – Aya Arriba
Butthole Surfers – Hurdy Gurdy Man
Barenaked Ladies – One Week
Travelling Willburys - Dirty World
Magma – Mekanik Kommandoh
Guru's wild card pick:
TC Matic – Oh La La La
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