This blog is full of all kinds of confessions, but I have a further one to make – I am a grammar nerd.
I get high on grammatically correct sentences, constructed via a careful choice of words and making use of correct punctuation which, much like the dynamics marks in music notation, adds facets of meaning and polish to the message the sentences wish to convey.
As pedestrian a subject as it may appear, grammar is actually a Vessel of Beauty – a noble pursuit of order, clarity and predictability, which are essential to human happiness and bring comfort and light to the dark corners of the soul, where the spiders and the cobwebs are hiding. 🙂
Good grammar is even more impressive in song lyrics, which often suffer from dodgy syntax, promoting, alongside texting and low-quality websites, poor language usage among the young and the impressionable.
So these days I have been playing with the thought of choosing a handful of songs that boast refined language and excellent grammar – a combination growing increasingly rare not only in measured speech, but in the commonest prose as well.
After long deliberation, I selected three songs and a special-prize winner, not part of the top three. I really racked my brains for a top five, but, alas, in vain.
So, from bottom to top, the special prize goes to British pop singer and songwriter Chesney Hawkes and his 1991 hit “I Am the One and Only.” I remember liking Chesney’s hairstyle when I was nine and this song hit MTV. I’ve decided to include it in the eminent list of cultured-language songs for its almost unique, for a pop-song of the near past, featuring of “Nobody I’d rather be” in the song refrain. Modern-day pop-song characteristics such as broken sentences have infiltrated Chesney’s lyrics too, but their effect has been considerably mitigated by the noble presence of the following: “my soul embraces,” “years above my station” and the best of all – “walk with dignity and pride.” Try finding “dignity” among the bare bottoms of the MTV of today and you’ll appreciate its exquisite rarity.
The award for third-best cultured-language song goes to The Animals and their cover of jazz singer and pianist Nina Simone’s song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (lyrics below the video pane in youtube). Reason – having “whose” in the refrain of “I’m just a soul, whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” The usage of “whose” is fairly simple to understand, yet I find it is increasingly being replaced by “which“, or is being avoided altogether, for reasons I haven’t been able to fully comprehend.
Because of its length and cumbersomeness, having “misunderstood” follow “whose” almost immediately, is a grammatical feat in its own right, perhaps matched only by having “mistreated“ repeated about 50 times in the eponymous Deep Purple song of 1974.
The award for second-best cultured-language song goes to Help and The Beatles. Many reasons, but the top two are the grammatically polished “I never needed anybody’s help in any way” and “I do appreciate your being ’round.” Other gems are”I’m not so self-assured” and “every now and then I feel so insecure.”
These are The Beatles, what can I say. Many people of the past, living on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, learned English secretly through the songs of The Beatles. It seems the pop-culture teaching props of today have a much more relaxed attitude to proper grammar and language. Or is it that the effort associated with obtaining those has got out of fashion? Well, you most certainly can’t buy it over the internet, so maybe that’s a factor too.
Anyway, my prize for number one cultured-language song goes to The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, lyrics below the video in youtube. I cannot find words to express how much I love the gentleness, elegance and refined language of these lyrics. So just enjoy them and the later in the evening you do so, the better – in the hour when “the mind shall banquet, though the body pine,” as a poem once said.
As sign-off, please accept REM’s Losing My Religion, which has exactly the type of fragmented lyrics that I told you Chesney Hawkes’ song showed signs of, to my mild disapproval. Both songs were released in 1991, but Chesney’s was obviously more tied to the songwriting traditions of the previous decades, compared to REM’s, which was more novel.
When I was a teen, I remember wondering what the lyrics of Losing My Religion wanted to say. I think I have a better idea now, but I still wonder. And these lyrics apparently did make an impression, because they were also featured in a Beavis and Butt-head episode, in Butt-head’s memorable quip:
“I think I’ve found my religion, but where are my keys?” 🙂
I do appreciate your being around, dear Reader.