“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh

R..E.M, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” 1994

I thought about the title of this song this morning when it came on my iPod while running. There’s an interesting story behind which I remember hearing a few years ago. First, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s the song:

Continue reading

Cover Version

No matter how well you’re learning a language, and how confident you feel in handling the basics, encountering it in a natural context will always throw something at you that you just can’t figure out. You can look at it, try to figure out its meaning from the context, guess at its meaning from its spelling and similarity to other words, but it simply defies understanding. This is of course especially difficult if you hear the word or phrase spoken, when you don’t have the luxury of analysing it to any great degree.

I was thinking about this this morning in the car on the way back from a lesson. I was listening to “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie, and thinking about the fact that the cover version by Nirvana on MTV Unplugged is probably better known. So much so, that people might assume that it’s the original version. In this regards it’s similar to other songs such as “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan – 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1968), and “Tainted Love” (Gloria Jones – 1964, Soft Cell – 1981).

This time though, I didn’t think too much about this. Instead, I was more concerned with that term – cover version. Continue reading

The Beatles: Here Comes the Pun

The Beatles are responsible for a lot, of course. Producing some incredible and innovative music, and inspiring other musicians. They’re also responsible for causing people to misspell the word beetle (as in the insect). As a spelling nerd from a young age, I was long aware that the band’s name was spelled differently from the animal. I never really thought about why though. I suppose I assumed that The Beatles could do whatever they wanted, and that if they wanted to spell their name differently, that was fine. Or maybe that’s how they thought the word beetle was spelled, and who was I to correct them? Continue reading

What a Drag it is to See You

You might have noticed that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Some people have expressed surprise at this, feeling that a lyricist shouldn’t be given the award. I don’t see why not though. First of all, there’s not such a difference between poetry and song lyrics. They’re very similar structurally, tending to be divided into verses, and share the same concerns with rhythm and rhyme. I think some people feel that because song lyrics need to match the song’s music, they’re therefore less important than less important than the words of a poem or a novel which the writer was not required to match to anything. But I don’t think that’s much of an argument: all that should matter is the words, and if they’re good, and can be appreciated on their own, without music, then why shouldn’t that count as literature?

Anyway, to celebrate Bob’s win, here are some of my favourite of his lyrics in no particular order, and without commentary, because sometimes I just like them for their own sake: Continue reading

How to Disappear Completely

21st June 1997, Dublin, Ireland:

Touring their hit album OK Computer, Radiohead play in front of 33,000 fans at the RDS arena. Terrified at having never played in front of such a big crowd before, lead singer Thom Yorke later has a nightmare in which he imagines himself naked, floating down the River Liffey and being pursued by a tidal wave. This dream inspires the song “How to Disappear Completely,” which appeared on their following album, 2000’s Kid A. The song is a slow, melancholy, beautiful one, and very personal, dealing with the mental breakdown Yorke suffered after the critical and commercial success of Ok Computer. It directly refers to Thom’s dream in the opening verse: Continue reading