In the Picayune Sentinel on Dec. 29, 2022 I wrote an item headlined “Oh, for the living love of humbug, no, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is not a Christmas song!” This brought to mind the entire category of songs where the title or the chorus sounds nice and uplifting, but a cursory inspection of the lyrics makes you realize that, no, the song is really rather dark and unpleasant.
So some archival material first. On Nov. 14, 2002, I wrote this in a column:
“Nice, but…” songs are songs with gorgeous or catchy melodies and often irresistible refrains but lyrics that, upon closer inspection, make you cringe.
Another example: “Every Breath You Take,” the 1983 hit by the Police. At first you think it’s a love song. Then you realize the singer is a whacked-out stalker. Similarly, as my colleague Barbara Brotman has written, a line-by-line analysis of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” reveals the seeming musical valentine as an ominous and patronizing impending-divorce song.
I first recognized the genre of “Nice, but …” songs (not to be confused with “nice butt” songs, such as Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” or “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap) many years ago when my father and I used to sing the old ballad, “Banks of the Ohio.” Behind the lovely chorus–“Only say that you’ll be mine, and in no others’ arms entwine, down beside where the waters flow, down by the banks of the Ohio”–are verses chronicling the predatory murder of an innocent woman.
“Sugar Babe” is a toe-tapping country blues number; very nice, but … then, d’oh! the singer lapses into plans to “whup that woman.”
Consider Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” that mournful, haunting song many of you know from the “Shrek” soundtrack. The refrain–a dirgelike repetition of “Hallelujah”–sounds perfect for a funeral, and in fact the Tribune briefly considered using it on our 9/11 anniversary CD-ROM, “When Evil Struck America.”
Nice, but … we abandoned the idea because the verses use unsettling imagery (“She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne, she cut your hair” and so on) to evoke romantic heartbreak. And as brilliant and poetic as the song is, it no more fits a tale of massive human tragedy than “Under My Thumb” fits a wedding recessional.
I followed up on Dec. 5, 2002 with this:
With help from readers, I have identified the ultimate “Nice, but …” song.
Many responded recently when I wrote about songs that sound nice at first–a sweet melody, perhaps, or a refrain that uplifts or inspires–but when you really listen to the lyrics, you wince.
For example, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” It’s often played or sung as an all-purpose, feel-good salute to friends or lovers. “`Did you ever know that you’re my hero?’ is everyone’s favorite line,” as Gloria H. of Barrington wrote. But “what about, `You always walked a step behind’ and `You were content there in my shadow’? … This is not a love song. It’s a `you’re such a good doormat’ song.”
Another example, Percy Sledge’s slow-dance, make-out favorite, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
Reader Bill D. wondered how many fans of that song have ever paid attention all the way to the unromantic fourth verse: “When a man loves a woman/Deep down in his soul/She can bring him such misery/If she is playing him for a fool/He’s the last one to know…”
He also suggested “The One I Love” by R.E.M., which has the title and gauzy feel of a sweet song but, whoops, we learn the loved one was just “a simple prop to occupy my time.” …
Helen B. wrote that she loathes Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” a staple of wedding receptions, because by the last verse the careful listener knows that “it basically says the woman is an angel because she can deal with a drunken bum.”
Speaking of bums, have you ever stopped to consider the callousness of the request contained in the Beach Boys’ hit “Help Me, Rhonda”?
Rhonda W. of Great Lakes has, for obvious reasons: “It’s about a guy who just got dumped by his fiance and he’s hoping Rhonda will agree to be his rebound girl and help him get over her,” she wrote.
Several readers proposed “Don’t’ Stand So Close to Me” by the Police and “Run for Your Life” by the Beatles for the “Nice, but …” hall of fame.
However, I’d put both into the category of “Naughty, and …” songs. “Don’t stand…” is about the sexual attraction between a high school teacher and his students (“It’s no use, he sees her/He starts to shake and cough/Just like the old man in/That book by Nabakov.”) “Run for Your Life” (“Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl/than to be with another man”) is from the very first line the ominous serenade of a homicidally possessive lover.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell “Naughty, and …” from “Nice, but …” Several readers proposed Bruce Springsteen’s passionate “I’m on Fire” because of the suggestion of child sex abuse in it’s opening verse: “Hey little girl is your daddy home?/Did he go away and leave you all alone/I got a bad desire/I’m on fire.” I’ve always thought Springsteen meant “little girl” and “daddy” as the playful slang of consenting horny adults, though I can certainly see how the words might set off an icky alarm.
Truth is, most “Nice, but …” songs involve some sort of unpleasant male behavior including stalking (“Every Breath You Take” by the Police), obsession (the traditional “Greensleeves”), statutory rape (“Young Girl” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap), promiscuity (Gordon Lightfoot’s “For Loving Me,” which includes the charming triplet, “I’ve had a hundred just like you/But don’t be blue/I’ll have a thousand before I’m through”) and, that old favorite, murder (too many folk ballads to mention).
Yet there are no men at all in the ultimate “Nice, but …” song: “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” the best known lullaby in English. The soothing tune carries lyrics in which a baby plunges from a treetop, presumably to an ugly death. That poor child surely wouldn’t have minded a little wind beneath its wings.
Here are some highlights from the online reader forum I created for nominations:
Bob S. — Hungry Heart, by Bruce Springsteen. The music is great, but I just can’t get past the fact that Bruce is singing about a guy who abandons his family – in the first verse.
Here’s that verse–
Got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Jean H. , Wadsworth, Several years ago my family was enjoying the music from the resort while basking in the sun on the beach. I turned to my then teenage daughter and said how much I loved the song that was playing. She was surprised that I liked a song with such “naughty” lyrics. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what she was talking about. She told me it was “Afternoon Delight,” and didn’t I know what that meant? I still like the music!
Bob W. — Here are a couple of nominations:
1. ‘Dominique‘ — a cheery tune by a singing nun with French lyrics that when translated refer to Protestants as ‘heretics’ and ‘straying liars’.
2. ‘La Marseillaise’ — as revealed during the Olympics, the lyrics turn out to be full of ‘bloody flags’ and cut throats.
Helen B. Angie Baby by Helen Reddy
Stopping at her house is a neighbor boy/
With evil on his mind
`Cause he’s been peeking in Angie’s room at the night
Through her window blind
I see your folks have gone away
would you dance with me today
I’ll show you how to have a good time
Sara H. —Born in the USA. –Considering the air-play that Bruce Springsteen’s song received after September 11, 2001, it would seem that it is a proud and patriotic song. Listen again. It is a song about a man who is very hard on his luck. He has been kicked since he was born. He fought in Viet Nam after a run-in with the law. His brother was killed fighting Viet Cong. And now he cannot get a job and is getting no help from the Veterans Administration. He’s got nowhere to run, nowhere to go. Nothing patriotic about it. (He is a cool rockin’ daddy, though.)
A lot of correspondents noted this song, which I agree is seldom correctly understood
John H. –A lot of girls named Alison might find this dismaying, but check out Alison by Elvis Costello below. Amongst other things, he says “I know this world is killing you, my aim is true (as in rifle aim).” Also, “Sometimes I wish I could stop you from talking…Somebody better put out the big light…etc.” John H
Louisa G. —Delia’s Gone“by Harry Belafonte falls into the “Nice, But…” category. This isn’t a terribly well-known song, but among certain generations who were fond of Harry Belafonte it may be familiar. It’s a beautiful, sad song, but it’s the speaker ends up killing Delia. (Sort of along the lines of “Hey, Joe.”) My mother had long told me that had she heard the song earlier, she would have named me “Delia” because she thought it was such a pretty name. Then I heard the song and said, “Uh, Mom…?!” The subject of the song didn’t seem to bother her, though I’m glad I wasn’t named after a murder victim.
Hard to miss the mayhem in this one…It begins,
Tony shot his Delia
‘T was on a Saturday night
The first time he shot her
She bowed her head and died
Delia’s gone, one more round, Delia’s gone
Delia’s gone, Delia’s gone
Delia’s gone, one more round, Delia’s gone
Margaret I—All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crowe. I can’t convince myself it’s the Happy Party song everyone seems to think it is.
It doesn’t seem to be. The setup for this song is, after all, “We Are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday in a bar that faces a giant car wash.”
Sue Kessell host of “The Folk Show” on WNUR-FM — “MacArthur Park” has a pretty tune, but talk about cringe factor.
I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
Helen B “Sister Golden Hair”. I am old enough to have heard this song when it first came out. Back then I thought it was a nice song but listening to it with 48 year old ears I hear a jerk telling his girlfriend he couldn’t get his lazy butt to the altar so she should put up or shut up.
The worst verse of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” is the first–
Well I tried to make it Sunday
but I got so damned depressed
That I set my sights on Monday
and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar
but I do agree there’s times
when a woman sure can be a friend of mine
Sandy P. Shorewood, “Young Girl” by Gary Puckett At first, it seems like a cute, guy liking girl he shouldn’t have song. It’s got a nice tempo and is easy to sing along with. But when you listen to the words, it is really about a guy who’s got the hots for some girl who is essentially jailbait! Example: “You led me to believe you’re old enough to give me love, now I’m afraid we’ll go too far” “You’re just a baby in disguise” Every time I hear the song now, I cringe.
Dave M. , Oak Park. As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, Billy Joel’s song “Only the Good Die Young” grates. I don’t know what I dislike most about it – the self-absorbed desire for gratification at someone else’s expense or the cynical attribution of the girl’s reluctance to her religion. Not as subtle as some of your other examples, but offensive anyway.
Joseph Schlesinger, One of Barbershoppers’ favorite tunes to harmonize is “My Wild Irish Rose” (Chauncey Olcott, 1899), but we all know that “And someday for my sake, she may let me take / The bloom from my Wild Irish Rose” isn’t about horticulture.
Greg H. “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” a staple of oldies radio. It has content more ribald than its title. Bill Haley’s hit was intended to be a sanitized version of Big Joe Turner’s earthy original. The attempt failed. Haley’s version retained the line “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a seafood store.” Turner’s audience would have recognized “seafood store” as slang for female sexual anatomy. That being true, the imagery of the “one-eyed cat” becomes clear. The reference is hilarious but it probably deserves an “R” rating, don’t you think?
Scott A. Greensleeves. Listen through the Elizabethan garble, and this guy is OBSESSED to the point of being scary. And he’s always talking about himself (a symptom of obsession). It’s all, I bought you this, I did this, I felt this, I sacrificed this – why don’t you love me? Very creepy guy.
Yes. To the verse that goes
My men were clothed all in green,
And they did ever wait on thee;
All this was gallant to be seen,
And yet thou wouldst not love me.
The clear response is, “take a hint, pal.”
My other nominations include Banks of Red Roses, which has that wonderful chorus—
On the banks of red roses
My love and I sat down
And I pulled out my fiddle
And I played my love a tune
In the middle of the tune, my love
She sighed and she said,
“Johnny, lovely Johnny don’t you leave me.”
—Then he has to go and dress her out with a knife. Tch.
Jeffrey T. Chicago I’m surprised no one on your forum picked up one example of a “nice, but …” song. It’s “I Will Always Love You,” by Dolly Parton (but made most famous by Whitney Houston). Everyone seems to think it’s a song about love everlasting. I’m a professional singer and pianist and was once asked to perform this at a wedding. When I looked at the lyrics, I found it’s a song about a love affair ending! The singer says s/he has to leave but without bad will – “And I wish you love and happiness, / But above all, I wish you joy, / And I will always love you.” Who wants that to start married life off? (I think I wound up only singing the refrain.) Also, irony of ironies, I hear Saddam Hussein played this song to the Iraqi people upon his re-election! He must have outsmarted himself – or maybe the people think he will go away now?
The very first time I heard that song was in college. A woman I had just broken up with asked me to sit down and she played me I think it must have been the Linda Ronstadt version of that song. Very touching and it appealed, of course, to my vanity. Not long afterwards we got together and then not long after that she broke up with me, causing me to put the song non-stop on my turntable. So I’ve never thought of it as a happy song at all, though, obviously, people do.
Tim H – Your cold analysis of the lyrics of these songs and the judgment you pass on them due to that shows a lack appreciation of any art but especially these songs where the artist said exactly what they wanted to and were probably talking about things or people none of us will ever know about. Any interpretation that we make about our own lives or larger messages that we can see, we have most likely put there, not the other way around.
The whole notion of the classification you have created for music is flawed and ignorant, and an obvious attempt to get the public to help you find something to write about.
The contributor of “Wonderful Tonight” believes, and I share that belief, that many people who play the song at wedding receptions and other events don’t really know what the song is about because they haven’t heard more than a few words in that song. It’s a very common thing in popular music—the listener catches a few words of a refrain and the rest is just filler. And, the contributor seems to believe, as I do, people wouldn’t think of the song or play it when the do if they had studied the lyrics..
“Don’t’ Stand…” is more of an “If only…” song — you like the tune, the sound, the instrumentation, etc…and find yourself thinking “if only it weren’t about some horndog teacher, then I’d feel better about humming it and singing along with it.”
Art is often challenging, to be sure. But what I’m talking about here is a tendency to gloss over that challenge, to look for the tiny subset of words that expresses a simple, easy emotion, and think of the song in that light. And I’m talking about the disappointment many experience when they realize the simple, easy emotion they thought they were enjoying is actually a far darker expression
Bill D. — I’ve got it. We can avoid any chance of offense or- gasp!- political incorrectness in future songs. All we have to do is avoid any reference to human beings and their thoughts and feelings about the joys and pains of life.
You know- “I’m sad, angry, horny, satisfied, relieved, in love, broken hearted, contemptuous, obsessed.”
Let’s not be facile, Bill. “Nice, but…” songs are a particular sub-set of all music, and include only songs that have a surface appeal that’s at odds with their actual meaning or intent. The jolly chorus and the dark, violent verses, for instance; the bouncy paen to statutory rape. And I’m not saying one has to avoid them, just that one might want to avoid them in certain situations.
John Birch, Oak Brook —My daughter was in DARE in fifth grade. In an unrelated music class the students did a song she had never heard and liked called “Candy Man”
Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Candy Man, oh the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can ’cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good
When I pointed out to her that a Candy Man is a drug dealer, hence is powers to make everything seem good. She must have told a teacher as when I asked her about the Candy Man song a few days later she said they don’t sing it anymore in her school.
A pity, I always liked Sammy Davis, Jr.’s classic, if not signature, song.
Yeah, it’s nice, but…
Cory F. — 1. While Gordon Lightfoot’s version is definitive, the credit for the triplet and the rest of the superb “For Loving Me” must go to a Mr. Zimmerman from Northern Minnesota.
2. In that vein, when considering songs that mean something different than they seem I would think that particularly you would mention the ne plus ultra of that genre, “This Land Is Your Land”
Agreed, “This Land is Your Land” is not a statement of fact, but a statement of determination and hope; it only really comes out in the last three verses–
As I was walkin’
I saw a sign there
And that sign said no trespassin’
But on the other side
It didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city
In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office
I see my people
And some are grumblin’
And some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.
Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking
That freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me
Kent F, Downers Grove–In reading about nice songs, which are often played as first dances at wedding receptions, I was reminded of a Methodist minister I knew.
He tries to steer couples away from Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, often used for recessionals after ceremonies. His argument was that the couple who were married in the play did not have a happy marriage. So why start married life with music from an unhappy marriage.
That said, why have women, including my wife, insisted on Wagner’s Wedding March, which I think is from the opera Lohengrin, for the walk down the aisle? I like Wagner’s music, but he was anti-Semitic and a favorite of Hitler. Is that appropriate for a church ceremony?
I wanted my wife to walk down the aisle to Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, which was played at the wedding at Charles and Diana. Come to think of it, that marriage didn’t last, either.
Why not just play “Me and Mrs. Jones” at your wedding and be done with it? Wagner is, indeed, a whole different class of “Nice, but…” music. Speaking of songs often played inappropriately at weddings, I present here an extended passage from Barbara Brotmans’ brilliant 1994 explication of Billy Joel’s 1977 hit, “I Love You Just The Way You Are.”
>>>I contend that it is not a love song at all. It is a hummable warning of choppy air ahead in the marital flight path. The ominous signs can be seen in a deconstruction of the lyrics:
Don’t go changing to try and please me
(Trouble signal already: The party to whom the song is addressed knows the singer is not pleased.)
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore.
(The problem is stated, albeit denied.)
I would not leave you in times of trouble
(‘Nuff said, considering what’s to come.)
We never could have come this far.
I took the good times; I’ll take the bad times
(Note that the bad times are in the present tense.)
I take you just the way you are.
Don’t go trying some new fashion
(Written by someone who subsequently married a fashion model.)
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
(He never tells her he loves her.)
Although I might not seem to care
(He ignores her.)
I don’t want clever conversation
(Translation: “I think you’re dumb.”)
I never want to work that hard
(“I have talked myself into not minding that you’re dumb. Besides, I’m a pretty dim bulb myself. Lazy, too. Pass the remote control.”)
I just want someone that I can talk to
(“… on an elementary level.”)
I want you just the way you are.
(“… unfashionable and stupid.”)
I need to know that you will always be
(Note the emphasis on the singer’s needs, not his affection)
The same old someone that I knew
(Now, there’s a passionate nickname.)
What will it take till you believe in me
(She doesn’t trust him.)
The way that I believe in you?
I said I love you; that’s forever.
(In this context, the literary equivalent of a prison door clanging shut.)
This I promise from the heart.
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.
(“… such as that is.”)
This is no musical cousin to classic love songs like “Misty” or “As Time Goes By.” It is an impending divorce song, more properly classified with such marriage dissolution classics as James Taylor’s “Her Town, Too” or Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up.”
It is a song of a marriage not meant to last. And, indeed, the marriage in question didn’t. Joel and “the same old someone” separated in 1982 and divorced the next year. <<<
Mickmilan–The hasty analysis of many of the lyrics listed in your column were understood only on the most superficial/literal level rather than on the poetic level in which they may have been originally intended.
The beauty of poetry, even from the most popular lyrics, have not only a literal interpretation; but the very best of them, the “Classics”, through their simplistic essence reveal some of the most profound depths of awareness. Their applications for interpretation are far more penetrating than meets the ordinary eye. Because of such simplicity, they have a tendency of being misunderstood rather than interpreted for their true worth and originality.
Take for example your end comments regarding the song “Rock-a-Bye Baby”. This comment revealed how the “Classic” was interpreted in the most literal way, which offers nothing to the poetic genius of the author. It was noted that the melody is “soothing” but the lyrics perhaps indicated a baby falling to an “ugly death”.
If one looks closely at the lyrics in this song, as containing many useful metaphors, one could understand that a literal interpretation is not even plausible; not to mention absurd. A baby being rocked in the cradle by the wind on a treetop resting on a bough, which breaks and falls to the ground with the baby in the cradle? That might have been “Hollywoodized” and acted out by Michael Jackson in a poetic sort of way to teach parents of the future, not to hang your kid from a tree, but I doubt that the classic “Rock-a-Bye Baby” had that interpretation in mind; however, who knows maybe there are no “wrong” answers!
I think it is great that you pointed out the absurdity of the literal interpretation, however, this is where the listener has to begin to think beyond the literal. He is encouraged to take the risk and ask what the lyricist might be trying to say about babies, cradles, wind, trees, boughs breaking and falling to the ground etc., from poetic, metaphorical standpoint?
Well let’s look. Let’s say that each one of the words below, which are used in the “Rock-a-Bye Baby” lyrics have some special metaphorical meaning, some sort of code. For example:
Tree = Ancestors
Wind blowing = Air + Energy = Transformation, development, growth of life.
Bough = A new extension/branch to the Ancestral line (child in cradle)
Bough Breaking/falling to the ground = Child develops, matures, by taking all the wisdom, and knowledge from the ancestral past, breaks away from dependency on his parents, firmly roots in his own ground, and begins a new life as another extension of the ancestral tree after being nurtured and/or destroyed by the seasons of life and family.
Now all this being planted in a song could be pretty tough to sing and rhyme not to mention sounding a bit clumsy.
Thus spoke the Poetic Language!
Like all things in life, you see, think, feel and hear only as far as you have been taught to see, think, feel and hear. The ability one lives and interprets life at is not the ability one has to be satisfied with. The goal of every man is to awaken from metaphorical slumber of the caveman mentality through perpetual conscious movement, and conscious transformation of the mind, body and spirit, otherwise we become too literal and stagnant in our bodies, minds and spirits where we rot and die. We all have the ability and capacity to learn, and to take the literal to a responsible new level, and to the next new level, and the next new level until we have met with the mind of the poetic author or the poetic master. We all need someone to look up to, and God or a higher spiritual entity wouldn’t be such a bad choice…”the wind beneath my wings”……….. Now tell me, is that a “bad wind” or a “good wind”?
There’s a tradition of melancholy, veiled hostility and so on in lullabies, so while I applaud your interpretation I doubt very much it’s what the writer had in mind. This essay addresses the subject partway down the page. While of course one doesn’t want to be too literal—the “hey little girl is your daddy home?” line from Springsteen is,I’m pretty sure, as noted, not meant to signal a Chester the Molester song abornin’ –one also does not want to be too generous or fatuous in one’s exegesis. One of my triumphant satirical works in high school was a through textual analysis of “Miffy in the Snow,” a kids’ book that I demonstrated was laden with deep and important sociological meaning.
Pat–How about “One Way or Another?” by Blondie. some would say this is a song of women’s empowerment but from a man’s point of view it is harassment
One way or another I’m gonna find ya
I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha…
I will drive past your house
And if the lights are all down
I’ll see who’s around…
And if the lights are all out
I’ll follow your bus downtown
See who’s hanging out…
I’ll walk down the mall
Stand over by the wall
Where I can see it all
Find out who ya call
Lead you to the supermarket checkout
Some specials and rat food, get lost in the crowd….
Norm D , Park Ridge — Here’s one for you from sweet childhood memories…
Ring Around the Rosies
A red ring of blood clots around the flea bite when someone becomes infected with the Bubonic Plague.
Pocket Full of Posies
People would carry around posies to hide the smell of the infected and the dead.
People would burn the infected bodies to try rid the smell from the air and to keep from being infected.
We All Fall Down
Everyone who became infected with Bubonic Plague died.
Other children’s songs with themes of death
Go Tell Aunt Rhody (The old grey goose is dead)
The Woman Who Swallowed a Fly
Jimmy Crack Corn – The Blue Tail Fly
Cockles and Mussels
Interesting. I don’t find death necessarily a verboten topic in song and yet clearly it seems that all contemporary children’s music– of which I’m a big fan–avoids the subject like, well, I was going to say like the plague.
SailNRails— “Vehicle,” by The Ides of March:
I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan,
Won’t you hop inside my car
I got pictures, I got candy, I’m a lovable man,
I’m gonna take you to the nearest star…
Icky lyric — but incredibly powerful brass part. I wanted my daughter the trombonist to use it, until my wife told me what he was singing.
As for “Rock-a-bye-baby” here are the lyrics that I (a structural Engineer) used to sing:
Oscillate neonate, at the top of the tree
The wind moves the cradle harmonically
The limb will not fail, due to fatigue,
‘Cause Daddy designed it to point five of yield.
Ira P.– “Revolution,” by the Beatles. Lots of folks think the song–by its title alone–promotes anarco-revolutionary activity, but it’sactually a criticism of self-styled revolutionaries, “people with minds that hate.” They could have been addressing Bin Laden when they sang, “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”
Too bad Paul McCartney didn’t revive this song post-9/11 rather than pen his facile “Freedom.”
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right….
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right ….
There is an interesting category problem here. I’d put “Revolution,” “Born in the USA,” maybe “Just the Way You Are” and so on into the ” Misunderstood but…” category. To wit, I think Revolution is a great song with a very interesting message. It’s simply not the song that many people probably think it is.