Writing insights revealed by country twang

country music

Usually, I take a music video and dissect the lyrics to look for writing insights, which is interesting and fun.

Click with your mousity mouse to see what I did to the music video and lyrics for ELECTRIC AVENUE, because it is not only fun, but educational.

Then go see what I did with Vanilla Ice and ICE, ICE BABY.

OK. Now we get all serious. Because I am using the lyrics to a country song, and I’m not making fun of it, despite my severe twang allergy.

Good music — and good writing — have the same patterns. Songs start slow, build up, bridge to  the chorus, return to the melody and build to a crescendo. They bring the audience on a journey.

The greatest guitarist in the world would bore you into a coma if he repeated the same riffs.

Variety is good.

Repetition can be powerfully boring, or powerfully good, depending on how you use it. If you do use repetition, it must have a purpose.

Country songs like this are great study for writers. Why? Not because they’re all sad songs where your pickup truck died, your wife left you for your best friend and your dog hates you. They’re useful because country songs tell a story in about 200 words, a story you can understand and dissect. I can point out the setups and payoffs. You can see the heroes and villains, the reversals and the climax.

By contrast, most pop songs feature lyrics that don’t have any real structure or story. 

Also, you can hear and understand country lyrics without a cheat sheet.

Three other good examples of country songs with great lyrics and minimal twang, if you are also allergic like me: LOVE STORY by Taylor Swift, Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks and damn near anything by Lady Antebellum, who are flipping brilliant.

No matter what you write–novels or newspaper stories, screenplays or speeches–it’s worth remembering that writing needs to be like music. You need an interesting intro, a melody, a chorus and a crescendo. You need variety AND repetition.

So: watch this cheesy home-made music video. Listen to the lyrics, and read them on your magical screen that shows you words and moving pictures from anywhere on the planet.

See how Bucky the Covington has clear setups and payoff, and how he cleverly, and beautifully, uses repetition with a purpose.

The words in the chorus change slightly each time, yet the meaning is quite different. And while the writing itself is a tad clunky, my God, the structure, it is glorious. My only wish is that I owned a cowboy hat so I could take it off and salute you, Bucky.

I’LL WALK by Bucky Covington

We were 18, it was prom night.

We had our first big fight.

She said, Pull this car over.

I did and then I told her, I don’t know what you are crying for.

I grabbed her hand, as she reached for the door.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Let go of my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and you don’t understand.

So just be quiet.

And later we will talk.

Just leave, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

It was a dark night, a black dress.

Driver never saw her, around the bend.

I never will forget the call,

or driving to the hospital,

when they told me her legs still wouldn’t move.

I cried, when I walked into her room.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Please come and hold my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and I don’t understand.

Lets just be quiet, and later we can talk.

Please stay, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

I held her hand through everything.

The weeks and months of therapy.

And I held her hand and asked her to be my bride.

She’s dreamed from a little girl,

to have her daddy bring her down the isle.

So from her wheelchair, she looks up to him and smiles.

And says …

I’ll walk.

Please hold my hand.

I know that this will hurt, I know you understand.

Please daddy don’t cry.

This is already hard.

Let’s go, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

Don’t try to understand PSYCHO by Post Malone—just enjoy the trip

Listen: Everyone should check out PSYCHO by Post Malone, which if you come at tabula rosa seems like a warning that we’ll need tanks and flamethrowers to survive the dystopian hell after the reign the last president of the United States, former NBA all-star Karl Malone.

Have a listen and a look:

There’s a weird thing about music videos of all genres, whether it’s country, rap, pop, rock or Pop Rocks, and that one weird thing is this: Just be different.

If you spend 2.1 bazillion dollars and hire a Hollywood director to make a high-production video that’s JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHERS, then congratulations, you’ve wasted 2.1 bazillion dollars.

Because nobody aside from your hardcore fans will love it, or even see the thing. Risk nothing, gain nothing.

You can see this mistake happen again and again by big-name stars who forget how they got there by being scrappy, edgy and different, with songs that actually tell stories and/or try to say something. They start making songs, music videos and entire albums about the most interesting subject in the world: themselves. (See West, Kanye and Swift, Taylor.)

Which brings us to Post Malone and PSYCHO, which isn’t perfect—but at least it’s different.

Though I’m a huge fan of Mad Max movies, zombie movies and dystopian fun in general, there’s no real connection between the lyrics of the song and this imagery. And those lyrics are fine. They’re not hard to decipher, or worth interpreting and dissecting like the only good song Vanilla Ice ever did (ICE, ICE, BABY) or the first music video I can remember, back when MTV actually played music videos (ELECTRIC AVENUE by Eddie Grant). This is simply a good song.

ICE, ICE BABY as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

ELECTRIC AVENUE by Eddie Grant

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong

As for the video, I have no idea who the little girl is, why Post Malone is looking for her or why the animatronic wolves are just hanging around instead of munching on every human they see. Maybe they spent the budget renting tanks and didn’t have enough left to get the mutant wolves to move around.

Saying this video looks good but doesn’t make a lot of sense, sound on or off, is a valid critique.

HOWEVER: None of that matters.

Not one bit.

First, because the song is so freaking good. Seriously. Post Malone is always a good listen, on this track and his other work. Just solid.

Second, the fact that the imagery doesn’t fit the lyrics doesn’t affect your enjoyment. Sure, this thing isn’t It’s not meaningful, deep or transcendent. This video won’t become a cult classic. And you don’t care, because PSYCHO is interesting and well-shot. It’s the music video equivalent of a summer B movie: not gonna win any awards, but you’ve got a bag of $11 popcorn, the bass is loud and you’re gonna have a good time.

VERDICT: Post Malone is clearly talented, and he used a good director and film crew to make this. I’d love to see what he could do if he put all the pieces together and told a real story that matched his words.

The six types of insane song lyrics

music video meme sound of music

If you love music, and music videos, you start seeing patterns.

Here’s what I’ve learned from dissecting lyrics and making fun of music videos: it’s easy to put them into categories, both amazingly awful and insanely great, and there are SIX KINDS, because I say so.

The six types are:

1) Boring Pop Songs

These are trite little pieces of drivel, sung by boy bands, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears, written at a fourth-grade level because they’re meant to be consumed by seventh-graders.

It’s the kind of thing that makes the average Madonna song look deep.

What’s the acid test for Boring Pop Songs? If you do a “find and replace” in word for “oh baby” and half the lyrics disappear.

2) Pretentious Pop

Vivid imagery that’s poetic, yet confusing. That’s your basic recipe for pretentious pop, which is equally bad whether it’s (a) some boy band trying to get deep or (b) Sting trying to show everybody he went to college, and yes, I adore the Stinger, so that’s said out of love, because he usually hits the mark. Related: Sting nails it with WHY SHOULD I CRY FOR YOU?

Here’s some infamous nonsense from The Decemberists, who specialize in Pretentious Pop:

Fifteen lithesome maidens lay
Along in their bower
Fourteen occupations pay
To pass the idle hour

3) Cryptic Yet Meaningful Goodness

AMERICAN PIE is the best example of this. Are the lyrics deep and confusing? Absolutely. Yet if you dig deep into it, line-by-line, they make sense.

Continue reading “The six types of insane song lyrics”

DESERT ROSE by Sting

music video meme sound of music

No matter what you think of Sting — and you should think VERY WELL of him — he’s never boring.

This video is part travelogue, part concert-montage. And it has yet to bore me.

ICE, ICE BABY as sung by the movies

music video meme sound of music

Oh, this is brilliant. The classic ’90s song by Vanilla Ice, as sung by clips from various movies.

For fans of this song, I took the original and put it under the lyrical microscope, line by line:
ICE, ICE BABY as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

ICE, ICE BABY as interpreted by the Red Pen of Doom

If you like music — and who doesn’t? — you have to love music videos. ICE, ICE BABY is a classic that deserves a closer look.

You’d think there’d be a market for music videos, some kind of channel on the Glowing Tube where you played music vids — which the artists produce and hand to you, for free, just to get the publicity — while you charge GEICO and Miller Lite many, many dollars to run ads in between Lady Gaga and AC/DC classics.

I mean, the Glowing Tube only has 45,982 cable channels right now. There’s a market for this stuff, right? The last thing we need is more reality shows.

HOWEVER: let’s get on with dissecting ICE, ICE BABY by Vanilla Ice.

Here’s the video. Watch it.

He can dance, can’t he?

Now, let’s find our red pen and interpret the lyrics.

ICE, ICE BABY

Yo, VIP, let’s kick it!

(Hello, my listeners of high status. Should we start?)

Ice ice baby, ice ice baby

(The first part of my  nickname is relevant, sweet-hearted stranger. My real name is not necessary information, although repetition may boost both my name recognition and my record sales.)

All right stop, collaborate and listen

(Halt whatever you’re doing and do your job, which is paying attention to me.)

Ice is back with my brand new invention

(I don’t want you to think that I’m a one-hit wonder. Think this song is good? I have many, many other creative rhymes and melodies that spring forth from my brain all the time.)

Something grabs a hold of me tightly

(When I get inspired by an idea, it consumes me.)

Then I flow that a harpoon daily and nightly

(After an idea for lyrics come to me, I practice 25 hours a day, just like Ahab and the whale or whatever.)

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know

(Will I ever cease to be a creative and successful rapper, with loads of cash and girlfriends, and instead retire from the spotlight to Florida, where I remodel McMansions in hopes of turning a quick profit? That hypothetical situation is too ridiculous to even consider.)

Turn off the lights and I’ll glow

(I’m such a star, I create my own light)

To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal

(My singing and rhymes are so out of the ordinary, you should compare me to the barbarians who sacked Rome)

Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle

(I can bring excitement to a stage while beating up other men who don’t have my talents, although this may be a metaphor, or a simile, or some other literary term that I can’t be bothered to pinpoint)

Dance, bum rush the speaker that booms

(My fans should gyrate with excitement and gather around the large black boxes that amplify my rhymes and backup band)

I’m killin’ your brain like a poisonous mushroom

(Though my songs are not literally poisonous, they do possess powerful addictive and paralyzing properties)

Deadly, when I play a dope melody, anything less that the best is a felony

(Like I said, potentially fatal poisonous mushrooms that should send me to prison)

Love it or leave it, you better gain way

(It’s advisable to retreat from my path, because I am so talented, tough and unstoppable)

You better hit bull’s eye, the kid don’t play

(If you try to stop me, it should be a fatal blow or shot, because my tolerance for non-fatal blows and bullets is quite low)

Chorus:

If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it

(Nothing is beyond my grasp)

Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

(This is a recurrent portion of my song that I stole from rock stars in the 1970s, and I want you to pay attention to how I’ve incorporated it into my rhymes)

Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla

Now that the party is jumping, with the bass kicked in, the Vegas are pumpin’

(The lowest registers of my song motivate people to dance)

Quick to the point, to the point no faking

(My lyrics go straight to the heart of the matter, as there’s no point in misdirection)

I’m cooking MC’s like a pound of bacon

(I beat competing lyricists so quickly and thoroughly, it’s as if they are healthy measure of pork bellies, fried on a skillet)

Burning them if they’re not quick and nimble

(Other rappers lose to me unless they possess exceptional speed and wits)

I go crazy when I hear a cymbal, and a hi hat with a souped up tempo

(The metal instruments of percussionists motivate me to dance and rhyme)

I’m on a roll and it’s time to go solo

(Though I don’t apparently have a band, my success is such that I should sing on my own)

Rollin in my 5.0, with my ragtop down so my hair can blow

(When I drive, I remove the top to my vehicle so the air currents can touch my blond locks)

The girlies on standby, waving just to say hi

(Women who see me try to get my attention because they would like to bear my children)

Did you stop? No, I just drove by, kept on pursuing to the next stop

(However, I don’t stop my vehicle, because such things are not unusual for me)

I busted a left and I’m heading to the next block

(So I will seek better opportunities in a different part of the city)

That block was dead, yo so I continued to A1A Beachfront Ave

(A square section of the city was not entertaining, so I went to where the ocean meets the land)

Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis, rock man lovers driving Lamborghini

(The women near the ocean  were more attractive and wore fewer clothes, while successful men drove expensive Italian vehicles) 

Jealous ’cause I’m out getting mine, Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a Nine

(Other men of jealous of my prowess with women, so when I travel, my friend carries a shotgun and I bring a nine-millimeter pistol)

Ready for the chumps on the wall, the chumps are acting ill because they’re so full of eight balls

(Young males leaning against structures are dangerous, as they are intoxicated by a mixture of cocaine and heroin)

Gunshots ranged out like a bell, I grabbed my nine, all I heard were shells

(When young males used their weapons, I fired mine and listened to the casings hit the asphalt) 

Fallin’ on the concrete real fast, jumped in my car, slammed on the gas

(Many bullets were expended, so I re-entered my vehicle and put my foot on the accelerator rather roughly) 

Bumper to bumper the avenue’s packed, I’m tryin’ to get away before the jackers jack

(Though traffic was impossibly bad, I attempted to escape car hijackers before they could get to me and my expensive vehicle)

Police on the scene, you know what I mean, they passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends

(The authorities ignored me and instead confronted the young, intoxicated hooligans)

(Chorus)

Take heed, ’cause I’m a lyrical poet, Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it

(Pay attention to my rhymes and remember that the city of Miami, Florida is also a worthy center for musicians)

My town, that created all the bass sound, Enough to shake and kick holes in the ground

(Miami is well-known for music with low tones of such power that they make the ground and create cavities in the earth)

‘Cause my style’s like a chemical spill, Feasible rhymes that you can vision and feel

(The way I sing is as powerful as a toxic leak, and my words make you see and feel the things that I speak of)

Conducted and formed, this is a hell of a concept, We make it hype and you want to step with this

(Also, you will want to happily gyrate to the rhythm)

Shay plays on the fade, slice it like a ninja, Cut like a razor blade so fast, other DJ’s say, “damn”

(My partner also assists by appropriating pieces of music from other artists, and this causes intense jealousy)

If my rhyme was a drug, I’d sell it by the gram, Keep my composure when it’s time to get loose

(My songs are as addictive as the illegal narcotics sold on the street using a basic unit of weight from the metric system)

Magnetized by the mic while I kick my juice

(You will be hypnotized by the words amplified by an electric device that I sing into while performing a synchronized dance that will later be appropriated by the Back Street Boys) 

(Chorus)

Yo man, let’s get out of here

(Friend, we should depart and end this song)

Word to your mother

(Please tell your maternal parent that I send my greetings and wish her well)

Ice ice baby
Too cold
Ice ice baby 
Too cold too cold 
Ice ice baby 
Too cold
Ice ice baby 
Too cold too cold