100 Days Project

Michael: Saving the languishing lyrical gems of modern pop

My aim is to trawl through my memory, my "record collection" and quotation references to unearth great pop poetry, drop it in, shine it up, make a comment or two as to its origin and personal impact. Enlighten? Hmm. Entertain, amuse, I hope. 100 times.

Day 100:

Thanks: Ferlendis Your Ears

I'm writing this listening to an oboe concerto by Giuseppe Ferlendis. (Sometimes, you need songs without words, huh.) I don't know much about the G-Man; I heard part of the concerto on the 5 minute drive to work the other day and liked the cut of G's gib. Spotify, bless your heart, makes it all mine instantly. So as I get to the end of a century of days, and, thanks to pneumonia and a few other things, a few fewer entries than that great big tonne, I was thinking how much music accessibility has changed since the days of yore when most of my lyrical entrants plied their trade.

I used to scan lyric sheets as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now? Just jump online, and realise that Michael Hutchence wasn't singing "designer jeans have washed away" in the chorus of "Original Sin". Or, despite those falsettos, the Bee Gees were not singing about a "four legged woman" on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. There's less mystery now: it's all a bit more obvious.

So I thought hard about how to wind this all up. I could pick my, say, favourite 10 lyrics of all time. But I've kinda done that. I could finish with the greatest lyric of all time? Can't do that. Depends on the day. Some days I think Andrew Fagan's "I'd give up everything I own for you/I'd have a piece of nothing pie" is sublime in its simplicity, as is the hit "Forever Tuesday Morning" from whence it came; sometimes I think Jordan Luck's "Then for a moment you held me tight/What's a moment in a very long life?" from Sex & Agriculture should be in some national archive somewhere.

For me, if there's a mood, there's a lyric. Apathy, Henley-style: "Let's go down to the Sunset Grill/watch the working girls go by/watch the basket people walk around and mumble/and gaze out at the auburn sky/maybe we'll leave come springtime/meanwhile, have another beer." I know people for whom "meanwhile, have another beer" could've been their epitaph FFS.

Maybe the soundest spiritual advice ever came from the mouth of Cheap Trick's Robin Zander. Opening up a new quote book, and said books have been the source of much of what I've written over the past three plus months, I asked my learned cousin (he, like me, was 18) to put a line in the front, the best thing he could think of. I would be filling it with great lines form great songs, what could he offer to set the whole thing off? I'm looking at it now. It says: "Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away." What possessed him to write that? He didn't even like The Trick. There you go: something in a line captures your imagination, articulates an essential emotion, encapsulates an idea so brilliantly that it just locks on to your heart, soul and mind, and never leaves. Well, that's been my experience. That's why, apart from the quote books, I just had to open up the mental archives and pluck something from within. There is a lyric for every occasion, every emotion, every relationship.

So I have no further lyricism wisdom to offer. As the Bee Gees sang: "It's only words/andwords are all I have/to take your heart away." Apart from the shocking grammar, it'd make a good ending. But, hell, there's gotta be something better than that. Maybe Meat Loaf's "can't you see my faded Levi's bursting apart?" Certainly, looking at Mr Loaf's girth that conjures up a tsunami of vile images. But it's not really a closer, is it?

I know I left out DylanCohenCaveCobainetcadnauseum but, you know, one man's meat and all that. Elvis Costello is probably consistenly the most astounding lyricist I've come across in nearly 40 years of avid pop music listening, but he delights the brain more than he hits the heart. The triumphant pop trio of Edwyn Collins, Roddy Frame and Lloyd Cole, probably get me in the guts, collectively, more than any other collective I can call to mind. And because I've seen Lloyd Cole live more than I've seen any other artist (yep, even more than the six times I've seen Rod Stewart) the award goes to Lloyd. "I had three red wine glasses/they were self-fulfilling," was something I could once relate to, as were the actions of a man who confesses, "I just got to walking round and round your block/Very, very rock and roll."

What I realised is that every time I hear the opening chords of "No Blue Skies", every time, and I've heard it hundreds of times, live in various formats, and over and over and over on cassette, when I first bought it in situ in 1989 in the UK, and then on CD and Mp3 as I replaced it, whenever it starts, that silver shiver Roddy Frame sings about runs up my spine. Every single time. The arrangements are exquisite, the voice is very English with a touch of Silk Cut and the lyrics, well, it's Lloyd Cole. He doesn't write a dud. No way. The way he moves from arrogance to regret to venom without, in a way, ever seemingly to shift in tone, is genius enough. The way the whole thing gets under your skin instantly when there's no real chorus as such, well, that's what I'm always after: the mystery. Cos I sit here, after all those listenings and say, "how the fuck does he do that?"

"You want to leave me, baby, be my guest
All I'm going to do is cry
And then I'm gonna find me someone else
And tear the stars out of the sky

Looking for something when there's nothing there to be found
Make it easy on yourself
Go out and find your body someone else
Or tear the stars out of the sky

Baby you're too well read
Baby you're too well spoken
Baby you're too pristine
When I cry, do you feel anything?

You don't need me anymore
You don't need me anymore
They say storms are rife for summertime
Well baby, I'm long gone
What are you going to do when you open your eyes
It's a brand new day and baby
No blue skies ?"