It is a convention in Anglo-American vocal music that the lyrics should make some sort of sense. The meaning may be dense, or multi-layered, but the lines should not be completely impenetrable, or flat-out imbecilic. A person of reasonable intelligence and attention should be able to suss out what is being said without herculean effort. The music reproduced below, for example, just won’t do: something more than the words “in the frog/perpen-dicular to the frog/far away from the frog/without the frog” must be imparted to the listener.
Generally the search for meaning isn’t a problem. This is particularly so because, in the popular tradition, the message is almost always both straight-forward, and the same—though usually it is at least somewhat veiled. Pop music is all about loin-joining: urging the joining of loins, celebrating the joining of loins, recalling when loins once joined. Ninety percent of all the vocal music that has ever made it onto the radio bespeaks an urgent chemical roiling that may be summarized as follows: “I feel great lust for you, and desire that we engage in sexual congress as soon as possible.” This is the sentiment that lies at the core of almost every love song . . . whether the singer is Rudy Vallee, or Ras. Of course, the veils have slipped some over the past 70 years. Thus, we have moved from the slickly sincere, buttery smooth seduction of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” to Liz Phair’s blunt, bare, matter-of-fact “HWC,” in which she cheerily chirps an ode to the outpouring of her lover’s semen.
Still, there remain those oddities, works wherein the words defy the probings of logic, intuition, or even sanity. I realized this anew recently, when, while driving, an Eric Clapton rendition of “Badge” poured forth from my radio, a song that, while still a joy to listen to, still, after all these years, makes no sense whatsoever.