January 17 – Turntable Talk 10 : Words, Words, Words

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we finish up the topic with a few thoughts (or maybe more than a few) from me at A Sound Day.

First, I’d like to thank all seven of our guest writers who took part and each added some very interesting thoughts on the topic and a truly diverse range of songwriters that spanned the musical landscape from international superstars to British beat poets to heavy metal icons. I think we all learned a bit about at least one or two acts we might not have known, or came to look at them through new and improved eyes.

To me, lyrics are something I usually notice and the good ones really make me take note and admire the work. Guess it follows since ever since school, I’ve gravitated towards writing – short stories, longer works, magazine-style articles, blogs like this – and when I very briefly, in high school, fancied becoming a musician I mostly wrote lyrics. I had no aptitude for putting together melodies and was mediocre at best trying to play keyboards, but I had at least some sense of how to put words together.

That’s not to say I only like songs with great lyrics. Far from it. Some of my favorite artists have songs that seem either meaningless or so oblique as to be mysteries, but I still love the music. I admit too, many songs I love I don’t even know the lyrics to – if I happen upon a TV music site or similar that displays the lyrics as the song plays I often find myself going “Really!? That’s what they’re saying?” But if a song has a great sound and great lyrics, well that’s something that catches my attention.

If I was assigned the same thing I asked my guests to do this time, I would have had a terrible problem picking just one. There are so many truly outstanding songs with impactful lyrics out there. Some of the ones which quickly came to mind included Bruce Springsteen, who was picked by Max for “The River”, and what to me was the standout on his massive Born in the USA “My Hometown”. Man, there are a lot of people who lived in cities like the one he tells of, and those who didn’t, certainly had driven through them… “now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores, seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more/ theyre closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks, foreman says ‘these jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back…” Perfectly encapsulates the despair of so many fading towns and the people who feel stuck in them.

Then there was his rural counterpart, as I think of him, John Mellencamp, who right about the same time, 1985, was ranting on behalf of the poor small farmers, having so much difficulty holding their heads above water in “Rain on the Scarecrow” : “crops that grew last summer, weren’t enough to pay the loan; couldn’t buy the seed to plant this spring and the farmer’s bank foreclosed/ called old friend Schepman up to auction off the land, he said ‘John it’s just my job, and I hope you understand’/ ‘well calling it your job Ol’ Hoss, sure don’t make it right, but if you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight…” Kind of made you look at those rural corn and chicken 40-acre plots differently when you drove by them, didn’t it?

Continuing on the concept of celebrating the “losers” or at least those who have it rough, were one of my favorite bands, Toronto’s Blue Rodeo, who kind of hit you out of the gates with the title track of their debut, Outskirts. It starts “here, on the outskirts of life, dreams seldom come true”. Well, you get an idea you’re going to meet some interesting characters and not hear much of caviar and Rolls Royces don’t you? And feel like it will be an interesting ride. And it put me in mind of another beloved Ontarian, Gordon Lightfoot. Would anyone remember that ship the Edmund Fitzgerald if he hadn’t set its sorry last voyage to music ? “The legend lives on from the Chipewa on down of the big lake they call Gitchee Gummee, the lake it is said never gives up her dead, when the skies of November turn gloomy…” We actually studied the song in English class when I was about 12 years old; I can recite those lyrics more or less to this day, something I sure can’t say about any Shakespeare we read.

While some of those North American musicians can come across very seriously in songs like those, some of their British counterparts have a way of being just as snarky but doing so with a sense of humor. After I watched the interviews with Harry and Megan recently, I thought of Joe Jackson’s 1979 hatchet job on the British tabloids, “Sunday Papers” : “mother’s wheelchair stays out in the hall, why should she go out when the TV’s on?/ whatever moves beyond these walls, she’ll know the facts when Sunday comes along…”

There are so many songs that stand out to me for their lyrics, my pick would change from day to day. I considered Steve Earle’s brilliant look into the mind of an Appalachian rebel, “Copperhead Road.” And Aussie Midnight Oil’s scathing opinion of the mining industry “Blue Sky Mine.” And Don Henley’s time-out from all those cocaine-fueled parties of the ’70s with the Eagles sober look at California, “The Last Resort” : “some man came and raped the land, nobody caught him/ put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus people bought ’em…” And I didn’t forget the fantastic autobiographical wonder of Gerry Rafferty, “Baker Street” nor Dire Straits whimsical “Industrial Disease.”

But today I’ll leave you with one of the ’80s great surprise hits, a comeback of sorts that their record company didn’t want out as a single . A humorous yet touching bit of nostalgia and family life courtesy Ray Davies, the fine frontman of the Kinks. His tribute to his late elder sister Rene, who loved to dance when she was young and carefree. “Come Dancing” became the Kinks biggest North American hit in over 15 years. These somewhat autobiographical lyrics of Ray’s deserve a second look:

They put a parking lot on a piece of land
When the supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local pally
That’s where the big bands used to come and play
My sister went there on a Saturday
Come dancing
All her boyfriends used to come and call
Why not come dancing, it’s only natural
Another Saturday, another date
She would be ready but she’s always make him wait
In the hallway, in anticipation
He didn’t know the night would end up in frustration
He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week
All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek
Come dancing
That’s how they did it when I was just a kid
And when they said come dancing
My sister always did
My sister should have come in a midnight
And my mom would always sit up and wait
It always ended up in a big row
When my sister used to get home late Out of my window I can see them in the moonlight
Two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate
The day they knocked down the pally
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the pally
Part of my childhood died, just died
Now I’m grown up and playing in a band
And there’s a car park where the pally used to stand
My sister’s married and she lives on an estate
Her daughters go out, now it’s her turn to wait
She knows they get away with things she never could
But if I asked her I wonder if she would
Come dancing
Come on sister, have yourself a ball
Don’t be afraid to come dancing
It’s only natural
Come dancing
Just like the pally on a Saturday
And all her friends will come dancing
Where the big bands used to play

Songwriters: Ray Davies

Come Dancing lyrics © BMG Rights Management


18 thoughts on “January 17 – Turntable Talk 10 : Words, Words, Words

  1. That Kinks song is terrific – just straight up telling how it was.

    As I said, I’m not big on lyrics, but one line mostly stands out from me – it’s from ‘Desperado’ by The Eagles:

    “Don’t you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy
    She’ll beat you if she’s able,
    You know the Queen of Hearts is always your best bet.”

    I once told my wife how I loved this line and explained how I believed the sentiment of not going for a glamourous, ‘trophy’ wife / girlfriend with all the accompanying fakeness. And that a kind hearted and loving partner was always best.

    Probably not best to even unintentionally give your wife the impression she’s not stunning, model-like, and you only dated her because she’s ‘kind hearted’ and bought you a pint on your first date. 😉 😀 😀

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I love this one by the Kinks!

    There are truly so many great songs and lyrics that if you gave us the same assignment next month, we could all pick 7 more fantastic examples.

    Thanks again for this feature, Dave! I truly look forward to it each month!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. thank you Keith. Yes, there are surely many, many more good examples by artists no one’s even touched on yet. ‘Come Dancing’ really is a good one, all the more since it was written largely from his own childhood experiences.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Badfinger (Max)

    Ray always has good lyrics and this song is not exception. I always think of him as the British Springsteen because they write about everyday things in their culture.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I agree with what you say about some songs having lyrics that are banal but are saved by the beat, the melody, whatever. However I (he archly opines) think ‘if it’s a good song, good lyrics improve it, might even make it a great song. If you can’t be bothered with half trying with the lyrics- stick to instrumentals.’

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The Kinks are up there in exceptional lyrics. Been awhile since hearing this one and like its party atmosphere. You mentioned a lot of good songs in this post. Gordon Lightfoot one of my favorites. I love the lyrics to his song, “Your Love’s Return.” Another great lyricist, a female, is Natalie Merchant from 10,000 Maniacs. Here is one of my favorites by her:

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Certainly one of my favourite Kinks songs and a peak at what life was like towards the end of the dance hall days. I’m sure most of of could have picked anyone of dozens of worthy choices. Really enjoyed reading every post in the series.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You could do an entire series just on Kinks lyrics – ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Autumn Almanac’, ‘Lola’ of course… I do love ‘Come Dancing’, and its bittersweet that his sister lives on in the song when in real life she died when Ray was a teenager, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks again, Dave, for hosting another round of Turntable Talk. It really is a fun feature and always interesting to see what each guest writer comes up with.

    Previously, I only knew “Come Dancing” because of the music and liked it. I never paid closer attention to the lyrics. Now with awareness of the words, the song is even better!

    Liked by 1 person

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