Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Dysfunctional Songs: Honourable Mention for Weirdness

Back in May, I presented my top ten countdown of popular music's most dysfunctional songs, as scientifically determined by the fact that I remembered hearing them on the radio, and thought the relationships they described sounded ever so messed up.

At the end of the countdown, I rashly promised to do a follow-up post presenting some Honourable Mentions, as well as a few, rare healthy songs. A promise is a promise, so here we go.

The criteria for my Dysfunctional Top Ten were:

  1. The songs had to be big hits--popular enough to have been in high rotation on the radio, and preferably to still be heard on the radio from time to time;
  2. The lyrics of the song had to scream dysfunction, either displaying an unhealthy attitude towards romantic relationships (like Love Hurts), or outright describing an unhealthy relationship (like Wonderful Tonight or Beth).

Well, the following songs certainly hit the big time in the real world, but are not quite screwed up enough to hit the dysfunctional big time. They don't scream dysfunction, but they do whisper or murmur it. Their attitude towards relationships may not be disastrous, but it is peculiar.

Like You'll Never See Me Again

This song, a hit in 2008, was written and performed by Alicia Keys (Source: Like You'll Never See Me Again - Wikipedia). This is the same Alicia Keys who came out with A Woman's Worth in 2002, a song that contains the line, "a real woman knows a real man always comes first." How fabulously retro and sexist! She may not have made the Dysfunctional Top Ten list, but if she keeps this up, perhaps she can look forward to some kind of Dysfunctional Lifetime Achievement Award.

But on to the song at hand. Keys doesn't want to be taken for granted in a romantic relationship. Who does? As she says, "Lord knows another day is not really guaranteed." So here's the formula she imposes upon her lover:

Every time you hold me
Hold me like it is the last time
Every time you kiss me
Kiss me like you'll never see me again

Aw, isn't that romantic? No, it's awful, as you will realize if you stop to think about what it would be like to actually live that way. Every time you touched the person that you love, you would have to pretend that you're never going to see them again. Imagining it as thoroughly as possible, even believing it at least for a brief period of time, would be the only way you could obey the injunction to "hold me like it is the last time." But if you could manage this, it would make you terribly sad. The more you love the person, the sadder it would make you to imagine that you're about to lose them.

If indeed, the time you have with someone is limited and another day is not really guaranteed, then you should be enjoying your time with that person rather than getting all weepy over the thought of losing them. Ironically, by not wanting to waste or take for granted the time that she and her lover have, Keys guarantees that she and her lover will waste that time, by being sad about something that hasn't happened yet. Isn't that a stupid thing to do? Songs like this should come with a warning label: "Don't try this at home."

I Touch Myself

This song was released by Australian band The DiVinyls in 1991 (Source: I Touch Myself - Wikipedia), and is the song for which they are most remembered. If you don't remember it from its airplay and video, you may be familiar with it through the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery; It's featured in the scene in which Austin seduces the fembots.

Like Cruel to Be Kind, which made number 3 in my Dysfunctional Top Ten list, it suggests a domination-submission relationship. This is also true for the next Honourable Mention song. However, while the protagonist in Cruel to Be Kind was suffering, the ladies in these two offerings appear to be quite enjoying themselves. This makes their relationships good (clean?) fun rather than dysfunctional, hence their appearance in the Honourable Mention list rather than in the Top Ten.

The singer makes a number of interesting declarations to the object of her affection. "When I'm feeling down/I want you above me," she says in the first verse. Hmm. In the second verse: "You are the one who makes me come running," like a puppy dog, one presumes. The third verse is worth quoting in its entirety:

I close my eyes and see you before me
I think I would die if you were to ignore me
A fool could see just how much I adore you
I'd get down on my knees, I'd do anything for you

Of course she'd get down on her knees; that's her job, as a submissive. The first couple of lines of that verse are a little more worrisome. Seeing him before her when she closes her eyes suggests an unhealthy degree of obsession. And anyone with such a desperate need of attention that she feels she'd die if her lover ignored her has serious self-esteem problems. Still, these could be just lines that are part of the role she has to play, similar to "Yes, Master." After all, she knows how to take care of herself when he's not around:

I don't want anybody else
When I think about you I touch myself
Oh I don't want anybody else oh no oh no oh no
(Lyrics source: I Touch Myself Lyrics - DiVinyls @ Elyrics.net)

Yes, she's enjoying herself, all right.

Perhaps because the DiVinyls were a one-hit wonder, at least outside of their native Australia, there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet about this song. Many, many lyrics sites attribute the song to Blondie. Duh, Blondie broke up in '82 (Source: Blondie (band) - Wikipedia). How could they be responsible for a 90's hit? This is one of those pernicious Internet myths, similar to the one that attributes the song Bitch to Alanis Morrisette. (It was Meredith Brooks.) And that's not the only thing they get wrong; several turn the line "You are the one who makes me come running," into "You are the one who makes me happy honey." Good grief, that doesn't even scan.

That's why I want to recognize Elyrics.net for a job well done. While zillions of other sites simply copy content from each other, thus ensuring that the same mistakes and even in some cases the same typos proliferate all over the Internet, this site took the trouble to get the lyrics right. Good job, guys.

Because the Night

This song has gone through a number of reincarnations. Bruce Springsteen wrote the original version, but was not happy with it. He gave it to Patti Smith, who reworked the lyrics and had a hit with it in 1978. Then 10,000 Manics covered it in 1993 (Source: Because the Night - Wikipedia). It is their version that gets the most airplay these days.

The song was always erotic, but Smith made it more so. Springsteen saw fit to dilute the eroticism with lines like, "I work all day out in the hot sun." (Who cares, eh?) Smith replaced that with, "Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe/Love is a banquet on which we feed."

She also added some kinkiness. Springsteen's chorus began, "Come on now, try and understand/The way I feel when I'm in your hands." Patti Smith kept that for the first refrain of the chorus, but for the second refrain, she changed it to "Come on now, try and understand/The way I feel under your command."

The sentiment apparently resonated with Natalie Merchant. When 10,000 Maniacs performed the song, she sang "under your command" in both refrains.

Stating that you are "under the command" of your lover falls comfortably into the realm of kinky. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As long as it's all between consenting adults, knock yourself out (though not literally). But it's a pity, I think, that Smith had to spoil this song for the karaoke crowd. It's embarrassing to get up there and sing about how you feel under somebody's command. I know karaoke didn't exist in 1978, but still. It's a great song, and I think it would be nice if vanilla people could enjoy it too, and even sing along, without discomfort.

But she's a strange one, our Patti Smith. Here are a few lyrics from her version of Jimmy Hendrix's Hey Joe:

Honey, the way you play guitar makes me feel so
Makes me feel so masochistic
The way you go down low, deep into the neck
And I would do anything and Patty Hearst
(Source: Patti Smith Lyrics - Hey Joe @ MP3Lyrics.org)

That's about all I have to say about dysfunctional songs. Coming soon: compiling a list of healthy songs. Can it be done? We will see.


Mary said...

There's a book called Touch Me, I'm Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You've Ever Heard. I haven't read it, but the same author's book about depressing songs was pretty good.

Vivian said...

That sounds like a great book!

Unpublished (Fiction Leftovers) Guy said...

Speaking of Hey Joe. Isn't that clearly dysfunctional? I always liked the song musically, but the lyrics didn't really seem to fit the the tone.

Vivian said...

Hey Unpublished Guy! You must be checking who is linking to you. :D

Definitely dysfunctional, but also a woman-beating-or-killing song, which is the reason I didn't include it in the countdown, as explained earlier.

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