By The Landlord
“How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.” – Herbert Spencer
“Lyrics are always misleading because they make people think that that's what the music is about.” – Brian Eno
“Sometimes the song title comes with the songs, other times you just sort of make something up afterwards.” – Wayne Coyne
We see it everywhere, some trivial, some more profound. Signs that advertise something for free when really it’s not. “Free cash” on automatic teller machines, “free beer” outside bars at happy hour, but far more seriously when it is constantly expressed in the hands of those in power, manipulating the public will, and so misusing their taxes. Downright lies are a daily feed and fodder from the US president’s online trough, chipping away at the truth until it becomes a separate rival, media brand, and scandal’s threshold is pushed so low to a subterranean level of non-existence. Deliberate falsehoods come in the headlines of powerful organisations such the Daily Mail, Fox News and The Sun, pushing an agenda that ultimately is only about creating tax havens away from European, US or other regulators that, for all their faults, are designed to maintain at least some form of economic stability and semblance of equality.
Long gone is the shock value of the Profumo Affair, when in 1961 British defence secretary lied about his sexual liaisons with Christine Keeler, or in 1992, when another defence minister, and known serial womaniser, Alan Clark, admitted to being "economical with the actualite" regarding what he knew about arms exports to Iraq. As Niccolò Machiavelli appropriately enough, may or may not have said: “Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts. But let this happen in such a way that no one become aware of it; or, if it should be noticed, excuses must be at hand to be produced immediately.” Or at least that’s what he’s quoted as saying Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon (1941). And unlike the Trump, at least Niccolò was good at it.
But enough of that form of pernicious falsehood for now. We’re a music venue, and what we’re looking for this week is something far more entertaining, and indeed interesting, and not deceptive in an evil way – just songs with a title that appear to, and often have nothing to do with the lyrics, and essentially does not even appear in the words sung. Is the song title incongruous to the lyrics or simply not repeated? Is it mischief or just mishap? Either way, this counts. What we’re looking for is a fun or interesting dissonance, or at least difference, between what the title seems to indicate and what it actually delivers in lyrics. Some artists have done this a lot. Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Who spring to mind. Kashmir, for example, is not about northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent, but, to quote Robert Plant, “it came from a trip Jimmy and me made down the Moroccan Atlantic coast, from Agadir down to Sidi Ifni.”
The Who’s Baby O’Riley is already zedded and among songs chosen for previous topics are those famous examples such as David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but now so well known their titles are inextricable in what we associate from within the song. And just for the record, let’s absolutely ban from this establishment One Direction’s Best Song Ever. We’re at least honest in what we don’t provide here at the Bar:
There have been some previous, parallel topics at the Bar that may help inspire you, but are different. This week’s topic is lyric-based but on the musical front, we previously we looked into surprising, strange or disguised intros, resulting in wonderful playlists by guest of that week EnglishOutlaw. In that topic, it was all about songs in which the music begins in a style that is nothing like the rest of the song.
This week is less of a musical topic because instrumentals won’t come into play. As the jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman says: ”Instrumental music can be about anything. It's about a mood, and I usually title my instrumental songs long after they're written. Sometimes I figure out the titles when I'm doing the CD package, and that's very common for a lot of people who write instrumental music. Nor indeed will classical music work for this topic, even if it contains lyrics and choral work, especially in which Italian conventions that approximately define the mood or speed of each work (Andante, Allegro etc), unless of course they do the opposite of their banner.
However, previously we have looked into provocative, strange or humorous titles expertly and eruditely picked out by attwightlarks, but again this is different - those titles are unusual mostly deliver on what they promise, appearing in lyrics or in other ways.
Are some song titles deliberately misleading or simply incongruous by chance, or random creativity? Mark E Smith’s song titles are unique, and often deliberately oblique. Damon Albarn makes no excuses about not spending much effort on choosing them. We’ve already heard from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, and others just enjoy the random fun of chucking in a title to bamboozle us. And then, although this wouldn’t count anyway because it’s an instrumental, there is also the height of incongruity with this beautiful D-minor piece by Nigel in This Is Spinal Tap:
What about strangely humorous titles that have nothing to do with the song? Here’s the mischievous, playful Neil Innes: “We used to go to flea markets and things, and look for old 78 records that had silly song titles.”
And Ariel Pink admits song titles can be more of an afterthought: “You have all these song titles and song time, and you put it in a certain order, and you slap a cover on it. That's a record. That's how I've seen all my records.”
Being misleading can sometimes by an entertaining skill in other walks of life. It wasn’t so much entertaining, but at least educational, if not about the subject, but in getting our attention, when I was 11 years old and had a maths teacher who would pose a difficult question to class, looking at one pupil in particular, but at the end of which he would name another who was asked to solve it. Sneaky. He would also run sentences together, so the emphasis was all in the wrong place.
We see this form of wrongfooting by the very best footballers. Zinedine Zidane was a master at it, often achieved by looking at a player he was seeming to pass the ball towards, but then passing to another or simply moving the ball along himself in another direction. And then there was also the famously misleading turns of the Dutch master Johan Cryuff.
Life itself is misleading, so no wonder titles can be too. Here are a few random visitors to the Bar to explain more, including three writers
“It's really hard to talk about writing, and I'm usually conscious if I'm misleading people or misleading the questioner, because the problem with writing is the next line,” says Tom Stoppard
“Emotions can certainly be misleading: they can fool you into believing stuff that is definitely, demonstrably untrue.” says Francis Spufford.
And looking at society as a whole, Steven Pinker says: “It's misleading to essentialize an entire society as if it were a single mind.” Indeed anything written down is inevitably a blurring of truth. “Biographies, as generally written, are not only misleading but false... In most instances, they commemorate a lie and cheat posterity out of the truth,” admitted that famous beacon of correctness, Abraham Lincoln.
So then, over to you, learned readers, to pick out your favourite, or newly found, or rediscovered examples of songs with titles that misrepresent, mislead or are incongruent to the lyrics of the song they herald. And I’m delighted to say that directing dissonance, and straightening out these curious bends as our guru of the week is a Song Bar debut for the quick-witted and brilliant Olive Butler! Place your misleading song titles with justifications and links in comments below by deadline 11pm UK time on Monday for playlists published on Wednesday. I’m not lying, y’know.
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