It's not easy to read song lyrics while you drive. In fact, I really, really don't recommend it. But curiosity had gotten the better of me recently during a commute when I'd popped in an old John Fogerty CD...
And that got me thinking about the wide range of singers out there who are perfectly talented-- but almost indecipherable due to a variety of different singing techniques.
I've taken a stab at breaking them down as follows:
The Codebreaker- The codebreaker singer has a lot to say, but secretly wants you to spend time cracking just what the frig it is. These are the songs you find yourself mumbling, howling or la-laing through, unless you bother to track down the lyrics-- which probably are in invisible ink anyway. Dave Matthews' Satellite is my favorite one for this. I enjoy exchanging "Winter's cold spring erases/And the calm away by the storm is chasing" for a nice series of drawn-out werewolf calls. I think it gives it a really special touch.
The Character Actor- This singer uses a colorful cultural archetype in order to become exempt from things like pronunciation or commonly-known terminology. John Fogerty, hailing from the deep, mossy bayou swamps of... um, Berkeley California... is a prime example of the Character Actor. He takes the boolay- boolay, boolay-hahdaw into the toy-ning boy-ning bathroom on the rye, and we still love him for it.
The Stealth Bomber- It's the meaning that sneaks up on you after you've heard a perky song a bajillion times and didn't realize it was actually about, oh, lung cancer from nuclear war fallout. Kate Bush is an example of this type of songwriter. I'm listening along to the fun, warbly little tune and catch something that seems slightly awry. "'Hitler'?! Did I just hear 'Hitler'?!" Why-- yes, yes I did. And after a good look at the lyrics I come to realize that according to Kate, Mel Brooks was right: Hitler was apparently a wonderful dancer. The verdict is still out on whether his middle name was Elizabeth, though.
The World Traveler- This singer believes in value. She prefers quantity of notes per word over any actual understanding of the sentence. If this singer were SatNav, she'd tell you to drive to Topeka, Nome, Orlando, Tijuana and Upper Tarnation, in order to go visit the old lady next door. Whitney Houston might have been our first World Traveler. Now one in five Idol contestants have their bags packed and use this technique.
The Garbage Disposal- Yes, it sounds like little Timmy just put Daddy's favorite screwdriver down the disposal along with chicken bones and half a box of rawhide dog chews. But it's not. It's a man who sings with rage. Deep, abiding rage. Metal rage. And that's why it's called metal, and not, oh, Fluffy Kitten Rainbow Parades.
So tell me, who's your favorite, most incomprehensible singer? What lyrics have mystified you? And if you have any types you'd like to add to my list, I'd be glad to hear 'em.