Ask any idiot and they’ll tell you that music isn’t as good as it used to be. Of course, music is as brilliant, arousing, puzzling, woeful, tepid, boring and fantastic as it’s ever been. Every decade has been guilty of dreck and wonderment in equal measure.
To compare the Now to the Then is stupid, but that’s exactly what people are prone to do. They yearn for the world of music past, only remembering the Super 8 footage when everything looked wonderful and unchained. They stare at the present and tut at the commercial music they hear. Like their sad, incorrect parents, they mutter ‘they just don’t make ‘em like they used to’. And one recurring theme is that, lyrically, we’re a backward, regressing race.
There’s a meme floating around that compares Led Zeppelin to Nicki Minaj (which is like comparing calculators and slippers). Minaj’s lyrics, which apparently are a beacon of dimwittery, are shared: “You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe...” and on it goes. Hardly Chaucer, you’ll agree. It is directly compared to Zep’s “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you. When the mountains crumble into the sea, there will still be you and me. Kind woman, I give you my all. Kind woman, nothing more.”
This has generated untold thousands of Likes, and is meant to serve as an example of how great lyrics once were, compared to what music offers us now. Aside from the fact that Led Zep were responsible for some of the most hokey, irritatingly twee Hippie Poetry 101 lyrics ever committed to an ear, to compare the two is a complete nonsense. And besides, who says being ‘clever’ is a good idea? Rock ‘n’ roll’s very foundation is built on wilful nonsense and often, through musical gibberish, says far more than some berk twiddling their quill getting all dewy eyed in reverie.
Perhaps the greatest lyric ever written features in Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’. He yells “awopbopaloobop alopbamboom!” Those lyrics mean nothing. They’re gobbledegook. They’re perfect. Sometimes, pop music can’t forge a decent sentence because it is too excited. It all comes spewing out in a stream of nonsense. Go back to Sinatra singing ‘Strangers In The Night’, and no question, the best bit is when he coos ‘dooby dooby doo’. Who cares about the rest of it? The wistful, absent-minded longing is superior to some shoe-horned sentiment. The Crystals said more with “doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo” than anything penned by someone trying to be a smart-arse. Damon Albarn’s most famous lyric? “WOOHOO!”
Nonsense is king in the world of pop. It has always been there and should always remain. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t great lyricists around today. Nick Cave, Super Furry Animals and Arctic Monkeys are responsible for some outrageously smart wordplay. That’s because music is as clever and dumb as it always has been. Pop needs both facets. Without incoherent garblings, we’d never have the thrill of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ or the immediacy of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’s ‘La La La’ chorus.
So stop comparing nonsense to prose. It’s stupid, futile and plain wrong. Sometimes you want steak but there’s nothing wrong with burgers either.