Let me tell you where education gets you. This morning I set off from home in my car; it was ten to six, and I was just after a little something easy on the ears. Scrolling through my tracks, I landed on an album I haven’t listened to for many years: ‘Mad Not Mad’ by Madness. It’s not, if I recall, a great album. Bit of a dying ember. Good cover (an early Anton Corbijn effort, no less), aimless music. But all that’s not a reason to shun an album; the intervening years may have been kind to it, or my opinions may have softened.
I put it on.
Opening track ‘Burning the Boats’ kicked in. It sounded distantly familiar – memories wafting through from Christmas 1986, when I first put the needle on my new vinyl copy – with a blandish chord progression struck through with a set of wacky saxophone/synthesizer jabs.
Then Suggs’s first lyric came in.
“The government… have announced…”
And that’s it. Songwrong. Three words in.
A songwrong is a phenomenon that occurs in a song that initially sounds good, so your mind is open to the possibility of liking it, but which then wrongs it, snuffing the possibility out, leaving only the charred and smoking remains of your enthusiasm.
The lyric should be, I need hardly tell you, “The government has announced”. Has, HAS announced.
Let the record show that, in deference to my 11-year old self, I continued to listen to the album. It’s still not great, but it does have its moments: ‘Tears You Can’t Hide’ is quite lovely, ‘Yesterday’s Men’ is a fitting swansong of sorts, ‘Uncle Sam’ is maybe Madness-by-numbers, but if it’s Madness playing it, then, well, who’s complaining? Not me. Not even me.
But it got me on to the concept of songwrongs.
The songwrong that works hardest for its money, coming in as the last significant sound, thereby undermining the entire song that precedes it occurs at the end of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell. Ms Mitchell’s final vocal gymnastics are followed by the most unconvincing fake laugh ever to be committed to acetate. A thoroughbred classic, taken round the back of the stables and shot by a moment of cod-spontaneous studio indulgence.
Madness would be hard to beat for the quickest songwrong – three words in is pretty snappy. The only earlier one I can think of doesn’t really count, because it doesn’t snuff the song totally, but merely imperils the flame before the song takes hold. It is, of course, Morrissey’s much sniggered-over ‘Punctured bicycle’ opening gambit in The Smiths’ breakthrough ‘This Charming Man’. You could say this was, as far as the wider public is concerned, effectively two words into a career, which makes it more resonant. “Have you heard his mispronunciation of ‘plagiarise’ in ‘Cemetry Gates’, not to mention the moronic mis-spelling of ‘cemetery’… Ill-educated buffoon!”
However, as I negotiated the traffic on the M6, filleting The Smiths’ entire back-catalogue for songwrongs, it was Morrissey who had the last laugh. After all, I cannot name another lyricist who might contemplate starting a song – starting an album – with the word ‘belligerent’, as in “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless swines, cemented minds”.
This, then, is education’s end. Belligerent ghouls, spineless swine (to use the correct plural of swine), cemented minds, wronging some of the century’s finest work for a ha’peth of grammatical cloth. This is the kind of rule-straightening that kills artistic spontaneity. [Please note, I used this machine’s spell-checker to spell ‘spontaneity’ right – and again just then.]
I drew into the car park at work to the sound of Morrissey bouncily singing “exetera, exetera”. I got out of my car and approached the building. I was preceded by a woman who has sat at the desk opposite mine for six years. I actually don’t know her name. She didn’t hold the door open for me.
Move along now. There’s nothing to read here.