Thursday, July 03, 2008

Every Breath You Take: The Singlez

The patron saint of lyrical confusion - Sting!
With time off comes some navel gazing...I mean, introspection and I started to think about the meanings of songs. Is the meaning of a song what the songwriter or performer meant to say or how people took it? So I decided to think about this a little more and write about a few songs where I think the artist and public don't agree on the meaning of a song and then give my completely biased opinion on what the meaning of the song ended up being. So I named the post after one of the most famous examples, The Police "Every Breath You Take", Sting's obsessive stalking tune that is believed by many to be a devoted love song. I'm pretty sure it was Billboard's biggest hit of the entire 80's decade. "Every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you." I didn't know it was about stalking until I heard Sting say it, after finding out it seemed so obvious. Well, enough rambling time to get started!

The Song: "Sex Type Thing" by Stone Temple Pilots

The Intended Message: The song was meant to ridicule the mindset of male sexual aggression by writing in the first person as if they were an aggressor. Driving the point home was one of the hardest rocking grunge riffs of the 90's.

Sample Lyrics:
I am a man, a man/Ill give ya somethin that ya wont forget/I said ya shouldnt have worn that dress/I said ya shouldnt have worn that dress

Public Reaction: Many people took the song to be pro-male sexual aggression, the band had to do positive PR to offset the negative backlash as "Sex Type Thing" grew in popularity. Fortunately for STP, the additional backlash of Scott Weiland imitating Eddie Vedder in the "Plush" video drowned out the first problem.

The Verdict: Over time the backlash has faded and the part that has stuck in memory is that killer riff. To me, if "Sex Type Thing" is meant to be an anti-male aggression object lesson it fails miserably. "Here I come, I come, I come"? C'mon! But I think most don't remember or listen to the lyrics though, just the beat. And if you set aside the lyrics, this song is wicked awesome.

Link to the Song:

Next up, a song that was changed by a remake-

The Song: "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen / Celine Dion

The Intended Message: The original 70's version by writer and performer Eric Carmen was a model of inconsolable self pity. Carmen was all by himself and made it a painfully lush and empty place to be.

Sample Lyrics:
Hard to be sure/Some times I feel so insecure/And love so distant and obscure/Remains the cure

Public Reaction: For two decades, the public identified with Carmen's lonely boy anthem. Then Celine Dion remade it with an arrangement that transformed the song into a Titanic sized statement that loneliness would end by screaming at the top of your lungs. Primal scream therapy for lite rockin' single people in the 90's. Can I get a latte' with that?

The Verdict: Dion's arrangement and the American Idol contestants who have stuck onto it to use that huge hanging high note at the end have changed the meaning of the song. Anyone can end the pain of loneliness with a chest thumping shout at an unsuspecting public (try it, I guarantee someone will notice. Maybe not someone who will love you, but someone will come.)

Link to the Song:

And one more for the road-

The Song: "Highway To Hell" by AC/DC

The Intended Message: The band says the song is about touring. Touring is hell and it's done on a highway going from show to show. A stomping beat and rugged guitar riff is all you need for a ticket.

Sample Lyrics:
No stop signs, speed limit/Nobodys gonna slow me down/Like a wheel, gonna spin it/Nobodys gonna mess me round/Hey satan, payed my dues/Playing in a rocking band/Hey momma, look at me/Im on my way to the promised land

Public Reaction: AC/DC's dangerous hard rock image, combined with an album cover where guitarist Angus Young has devil horns plus the fact they named the whole record after this song made it Devil Worship 101 as far as the general public was concerned. When I went to an AC/DC concert in 2000 there were still sign carrying Religious people trying to save souls at the gate.

The Verdict: Yes, I think the song is about touring. That doesn't matter, the band played up the Satanic angle on the record release and created an anthem for Satanists world 'round. But I think most people aren't Satanists so it's really just a song about being a bad ass for most.

Link to the Song:

That's it for this round, I'll have to see if I can dig up some more songs to put in this category. Until then, I won't be by myself ('sniff') AAANNNYYMMOOORREEEE!!!!


Arsenette said...

Okay I had to be one of those crazy arsty type people to GET that Every breath you take was about stalking.. then people were like "zomg it's a long song" and I screaming do you even LISTEN to the lyrics? LOL Still.. one of my favorite Police tunes.. even if it is creepy..

I'm laughing at your reaction to Dion's verion of "All by myself".. is there anything she won't yell? I'm swear she's going to stop her heart how many times she thumps her heart.. even so.. I liked both renditions of the song. Always did like Eric Carmen even if he was quite the cheese..

Didn't grow up with AC/DC.. seems like everyone else did though.. so I did hear this song MUCH later in life. I picked up on the touring thing.. my parents were still in the "zomg satanist" bandwagon.. though I didn't find it in this song.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Arsenette! "Every Breath You Take" is a great song and one of my favorites too.

Is there anything Celine Dion won't yell? There really isn't , which is why I don't enjoy most of her music with the exception of two songs. One is "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" because it takes a Jim Steinman song to match the bombast of Dion's vocal approach. Everything else she just plain powers her voice over any sense of feeling or emotion. During an awards show performance about 10 years ago, she hit her chest so hard it shook her. It was very funny because it was entirely self inflicted.

Arsenette said...

I can listen to her but I can't watch her.. she's so friggin' fake.. I recall commedianne Kathy Griffin describing one of her shows "it's sold out.. and she's shocked that they applaud her?".. Heck.. I can't get over her moronic comment (Celine's..) during Katrina.. I kinda put her up with with Barbra Streisand.. LOVE their voices but don't like them..

As much as I hate watching both of them.. I would have killed to see that part of her hurting herself during the chest pump thing LOL