Rhyme Without Reason

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Loyal Buzz Blog readers know that I virtually always listen to my iTunes library on shuffle and am accustomed to the random combinations of songs that would never be played together in any traditional radio format. I love the fact that my personal music collection spits out Nirvana’s “Lithium” followed by Jo Dee Messina’s “My Give a Damn’s Busted” followed by “Red and Black” from the original London cast soundtrack of Les Miserables. In contrast, Classic rock stations embrace “variety” by spinning “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” back-to-back on Twofer Tuesday during Led Zeptember, touting the fact that these songs come from two different Zeppelin albums. Krazy!

While getting ready for work this morning — after a delightfully arbitrary musical run that included Mumford & Sons, Diana Ross and Joy Division — I got the one-two punch of Frank Sinatra’s “I Won’t Dance” immediately followed by “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Taco.

Although the Sinatra recording came out in 1957 and Taco in 1983, these two songs have way more in common than most of the material emanating from my speakers. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was penned by Irving Berlin in 1929 and “I Won’t Dance” was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein in 1934; both are part of “The Great American Songbook” era, when the (now classic) standards were conceived by greats like George Gershwin and Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter.

Hearing those two songs side-by-side reminded me how clever the lyrics were back then, especially the sublime rhymes the writers came up with, like…

“Come, let’s mix where Rockerfellers
Walk with sticks, or umber-ellas
In their mitts
Puttin’ on the Ritz”


“When you dance, you’re charming and you’re gentle
‘specially when you do the Continental
But this feeling isn’t purely mental
For, heaven rest us, I am not asbestos.”

I mean, come on! How genius are those lyrics? To quote the Greg Kihn Band’s “The Breakup Song” (which hasn’t popped up on my shuffle for far too long, I might add): “They just don’t write ’em like that anymore.” Of course there are still some clever rhymes to be found in the songs that have been released in the second half of the twentieth century through today, but the bad ones are far more plentiful. To illustrate my point, I’ll provide one example of a rhyme crime from each of the past five decades.

“Happy Together”  The Turtles (1967)

I’ve always loved this sunny and joyful song; it puts a big ol’ goofy smile on my face every time I hear it. But I do have one major beef with a rhyme they sneak into the end of the song right before they start the second round of the sublime “ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba” chorus. They’re basically just repeating “so happy to together” until the song comes to a close, but they slip in one unforgivable twist:

“So happy together
So happy together
How is the weather?
So happy together
We’re happy together…”

“How is the weather?” Seriously? “How is the weather?” I know that weather rhymes with together and they were probably just trying to shake things up a bit, but it’s so… I don’t know… unnecessary.

“Kiss and Say Goodbye”  The Manhattans (1976)

This soulful #1 hit from our bicentennial summer starts out with smooth talking before the singing kicks in. I’ve always been a sucker for that. And this sad, sad song about the end of an affair has always pulled at my heartstrings.  However…  let’s review the lyrics that come toward the end:

“I’m gonna miss you, I can’t lie
Understand me, won’t you try
It’s gonna hurt me, I can’t lie
Take my handkerchief, wipe your eyes
Maybe you’ll find, you’ll find another guy
Let’s kiss and say goodbye…”

“Take my handkerchief and wipe your eyes?” Really? So many words end with the long i sound.  In fact, they work in plenty of them to rhyme with goodbye: lie, try, guy, cry. Did they really have to add the handkerchief in there just so they could rhyme with eye? I expect better from you, Manhattans.

“Abracadabra”  Steve Miller Band (1982)

An entire blog could be dedicated to the awful rhymes inflicted upon innocent listeners by the Steve Miller Band. (Don’t believe me? Give “Take the Money and Run” a spin and marvel in its awfulness.) The lyrics to “Abracadabra” include just about every cliche imaginable… I actually applaud them for squeezing so much badness into under 4 minutes. But the rhyme in the chorus takes the cake:

I wanna reach out and grab ya”

There are no words to describe how heinous that is.

“Supermodels”  Kendall Payne (1999)

To call this a hit is a stretch, but it was the theme song from Popular, the first series from producer Ryan Murphy (pre-American Horror Story, pre-Glee, pre-Nip/Tuck.) The show was only on for two seasons, but it holds cult status for many dedicated fans (including me.) In fact, I became so obsessed with the snippet of this song they played during the opening of each episode that I sought out the full track on iTunes. Unfortunately, the full version includes this verse:

“The boys they come here
With expectations for the summer
And I refuse to take any part of this barbaric ritual
Because God has given me a mind
That I will use from time to time
And I got more on my head that what’s made by Paul Mitchell.”

Bless her heart for finding something to rhyme with ritual, but did she have to invoke the maker of Awapuhi Shampoo?

“I Love New York”  Madonna (2005)

“I don’t like cities but I like New York
Other places make me feel like a dork”

You’re far from a dork, Madge, but that rhyme is the dorkiest thing I’ve ever heard. Heaven rest us… it is asbestos.


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The Apparition
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