Our Crack Tongue & Groove
Kanye West vs Bob Dylan
I’m constantly amazed how some people can waste their days doing pointless tasks while still managing to escape the clutches of destitution. I’m talking about those dolts who spend a year and a bit trying to beat some spurious world record for sailing round the world in a desk tidy, for instance. Presumably they don’t have jobs (“I’m off on my hols! See you in 2018!”), so how do they earn a crust?
But it’s not the quixotic pursuits of these 9-to-5-dodgers that vex me most, however. The people that really get my back up are the faux-scientists who spend months and months coming up with reams of research that add up to precisely nothing. Who is paying that lot? Case in point is Varun Jewalikar and Nishant Verma who wasted god knows how many hours analysing song lyrics to prove - in the words of a Guardian headline who ran the story on their front page recently - that “Hip-hop is on top as Kanye West beats Bob Dylan”. Their article begins: “He has been hailed a genius and described as the greatest songwriter America has ever produced. But new research pitting the lyrical breadth of Bob Dylan against some of today’s most successful rap artists suggest the times they are a-changing.” The thrust of the article is that while Kanye West has used 5,069 words in his output, Bob Dylan has only used 4,883, ergo, Mr Kim Kardashian is the greater lyricist. The research goes on to tell us that Eminem has used 8,818 words, which is four times the amount that the barely literate Beatles could muster. But honestly! What piffle!
Penning great lyrics has nothing to do with the size of your thesaurus. Sometimes the simplest of words, used in an imaginative way, can trump linguistic gymnastics. Take The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows for instance, one of the greatest love songs of all time. It begins, as any love song really shouldn’t, “I may not always love you…” How can any song about an affair of the heart start on such a downer. The rug-puller is the rest of the verse, “But long as there are stars above you / You never need to doubt it / I’ll make you so sure about it.” He’s saying that he will love you as long as there are stars in the sky, which is just another, more beautiful way, of saying I will always love you. It’s the flip-a-roo after that killer first line that really gets you.
What about Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. There are barely any lyrics in that song, but Summer’s ecstatic repetition of the seemingly bland words “I feel love” is enough here. She’s not saying “I’m in love” or “I feel in love”, but “I feel love” which has a strangeness about it, an otherworldliness that you might experience if, perhaps, you were in love.Now I’m not saying that Eminem is not a good lyricist, but his sheer weight of words is surely not the point. The feted artist Bridget Riley made her name in the 1960s using only black and white paint, while Rolf Harris used hundreds of colours on his daubings. Did that make him a better painter?