Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Soupy Sales 1926-2009 Edition)

[Gentle readers, a very great man has died.

All of us here at PowerPop extend our sincere condolences to his family, in particular to his rock star sons Hunt and Tony Sales and, of course, to hero of Steve's youth, the unforgettable Pookie the Lion.

Please observe a moment of silence, and when it's over, Soupy will send you a postcard from Puerto Rico.

We now resume our regular programming.

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, a certain shady dame and I will be heading off to the City of Lights -- incomparable Paris, France -- where we'll be hanging out in anti-American boites on the Left Bank, sipping absinthe and screaming "Ou est les Existentialistes?" while...

Oh, who am I kidding. Feh. Everybody knows we'll actually be in a crummy Motel 6 in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

In any case, posting by moi will more than likely be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little fun project for us all:

Post-Beatles Song or Album Whose Meaning Remains Baffling to You No Many How Many Times You've Contemplated It!!!

No arbitrary rules; just vent about the ones that make you scratch votre tete till you bleed. I should also add that this edition is blessedly free of anything featuring Billy Corgan's pretentious cueball noggin, on the theory (which is mine, and I have it) that there actually isn't a Smashing Pumpkins song that means anything.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Bob Dylan -- I'm Not There

Okay, I realize I used this one as the clue yesterday, but frankly it's too weird not to include again. Seriously -- the damn thing is like a musical/literary Mobius Strip; I've listened to it countless times and I'm still at a loss.

4. Procol Harum -- All This and More

True story: My college buds and I were kind of obsessed with Procol, and this song -- lyrics by Keith Reed, 'natch -- had a line we never could parse. To wit: "Like Maddox in the days of old/We'll feast and drink until we fold." Who the fuck is Maddox?, we puzzled long into several stoned dorm room nights. Got to be an obscure English lit reference, right? Trips to the college library and entreaties to various profs proved unavailing, so you can imagine our excitement when Procol Harum arrived, in the flesh, to play a show at our old school, and I conned my way backstage to confront the Great Lyricist himself.

Anyway, I finally cornered the guy -- who was basically sitting all by himself in the hospitality suite, playing with the roast beef -- and asked him breathlessly "Hey Keith -- to who were your referring with that Maddox line? What 16th century sonnet is that a metaphor from?"

He looked at me with some alarm and, before turning on his heels and fleeing, he said "Well, first of all, it's not Maddox. It's mad ox."

Like I said, true story. To this day, I don't know what the significance of a mad ox in the days of old is.

3. Guided By Voices -- The Official Ironmen Rally Song

I love this one unreservedly (it's the first GBV track that made sense to me, if you must know) and having just become the proud owner of this gorgeous guitar, I am in the process of learning how to play the cool riff. But what the fuck does the lyric mean? Hopefully your guess is better than mine...

2. The New Pornographers -- Letter From an Occupant

"For the love of a god, you say -- not a letter from an occupant." Everybody's (and mine) favorite indie alt-rock (or whatever) single of 2002, and if you have any idea what it's about, please e-mail me at

And the numero uno headscratcher in the entire rock canon, I will brook no dissension on this matter, unquestionably remains...

1. The Jaynetts -- Sally Go Round the Roses

Nearly fifty years later, it remains the most mysterious and enigmatic song to ever have cracked the Top Ten. Who is Sally? Why should she go round the roses? What does going round the roses even entail, for heaven's sake?

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know what Thurston Moore and Jacqui McShee thought while singing on (respectively) covers of I'm Not There and Sally Go Round The Roses.

I've nothing to add because I've never been good, or concerned much really, with interpreting song lyrics.

R.I.P., Mr. Sales

Gummo said...

Wonderful #1 choice, steve. If you look up the word "haunting" in the Dictionary of Rock, Sally Go Round the Roses will be there.

And it's not just the lyrics, it's the whole strange sound of the record, the way it sounds like it's fading out after every verse only to come back up, as if even the producer & engineer didn't know what was going on, the echo on the voices as if they're singing on a fire escape in Spanish Harlem at 3 in the morning, it's the whole weird thing...

And if I have to add something to the list, I'll go with the always reliably engimatic Robert Hunter and the Grateful Dead for "China Cat Sunflower," a piece of catchy lilting surreal psychedelia I've been grooving to for almost 40 years without a clue as to what the hell he's talking about....

And yes, RIP, Soupy Sales, a wonderful piece of my childhood, who's doing the Mouse in heaven.

Anonymous said...

Traffic - Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys
A favorite song of mine though I have no idea what it's about

I'd also have to think about 98% of REM's stuff would qualify

steve simels said...

REM opaque?

Good lord, next thing you'll be telling me you have know idea what a "moral kiosk" is.

The Kenosha Kid said...

Marie LaForet - Мon amour mon ami

Kraftwerk - Autobahn

Sergio Mendes - Mas Que Nada

Noam Sane said...

"Sally" is a lesbian love song, in which the protagonist ("Lesbian A") is requesting her current squeeze ("Lesbian B") not go downtown (ahem) and involve herself with another woman ("Anne Heche").

The song has a Wikipedia entry. "A favorite performance number of Grace Slick when she fronted her pre-Jefferson Airplane outfit the Great Society, "Sally Go 'Round the Roses" was also a formative influence on Laura Nyro."

Also. My vote goes to "25 or 6 to 4". Generally, as with most people I think, the words don't sink in unless I concentrate on 'em. But the chorus: "sitting cross-legged on the floor, 25 or 6 to 4" - wtf, over? (and i'm sure I could Google up James Guercio Explaining It All, but I'm busy typing a forum post right now, thanks).

Nice psuedo-goldtop, Steve! I assume this guitar is much lighter than a standard Les Paul? As a fellow old dude, I hope so. I gig with a Strat these days, it's hard enough to remain standing up as it is.

(shutting up now)

steve simels said...

It weighs a ton, Noam. But the real one I had back in the day did too.

A 1959, BTW. It was gorgeous. Hummed, though.

Sold it for rent money in 1975...
you don't want to know how much it would be worth now...

Peter said...

25 or 6 to 4, I was told, is a drug reference - "should I take more acid or drop a quaalude and go to sleep?"

I always fund Blind Faith's "Had to Cry Today" utterly inpenetrable, not unlike my first wife.

Ba Dum.

There are several Dylan songs from the Basement Tapes that seems forums (fora?) for pointless abstraction. "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread"?

David said...

I think "25 or 6 to 4" is basically a reference to a late, late at night on the dark night of the soul. Not sure Chicago was that lysergically minded. But man, I'm coming up short on this topic. There are many songs I don't get at all but love, none of which come to mind except pretty much all of the New Pornographers' recorded work and the Hooters' "All You Zombies." I must be having a slow brain day.

Noam Sane said...

"All You Zombies"? Lesbian love song.

Steve, I sold a '72 Tele Thinline for chump change back in the day...I kick myself regularly...but now I feel a little better knowing you sold a '59 Les Paul (!!!).


Anonymous said...

"Blink your eyes Pook!"


MBowen said...

Yeah, "25 or 6 to 4" is the answer to a "what time is it" question when you're bombed out of your mind at 3:34 or 3:35 a.m.

I don't have problems with songs where the words are vague and chosen for sound, like the first two or three R.E.M. albums, or where it's just a series of clever observations and images without much linking it together ("Subterranean Homesick Blues", anyone), but it's hard to enjoy records where the words sound like they're supposed to mean something but just don't make sense.

Like "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I guess it's just a disaffected youth rant, but albino/mulatto/mosquito/libido? Ummm...

Or "Don't Dream It's Over". Why do his possessions cause him suspicions? What does that have to do with the hole in his roof? What is it that we shouldn't dream is over, and who are they who we shouldn't let win? Actually, I've found that pretty much every song by either of the Finns is annoyingly vague.

"Pulling Mussels From The Shell". OK, I'm a yank, but I know an awful lot of British slang, and I've no clue as to what this means. The lyrics seem to describe a working-class seaside resort, but does the chorus mean that he's actually gotten lucky?

TJWood said...

RE: 25 or 6 to 4: Robert Lamm has stated that it is simply a song about trying to write a song. The title refers to the time of day (25 or 26 minutes before 4 a.m.) that he was trying to write the song. See here for details.

There are probably about 100 Dylan or Springsteen songs I could come up with, so many that I have trouble naming just one. I notice no entries from the prog-rock world, which is known as much for inscrutable lyrics as anything. My vote is "Close To The Edge" by Yes. (I get up, I get down? Huh?)

Anonymous said...

"Jet" by Paul McCartney & Wings


dave™© said...

"Uncle Albert".

My father used to say it was about Albert Speer, believe it or not...

steve simels said...

"Pulling Mussels From a Song" vague?

Wow, that one shocks me. That song has always struck me as poetically sharp and observant as they come.

Or am I thinking of "Another Nail in My Heart"? I haven't heard that album in a while

MBowen said...

"But behind the chalet
My holiday's complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian in her tip-toed feet
Pulling mussels from the shell"

Like I said, maybe the guy's getting the proverbial knee-trembler, but it seems like a pretty roundabout way to describe it.

David said...

Yeah, what he said--and speaking of "roundabout," I have always marveled at the geographical impossibility of mountains that "come out of the sky, and they stand there."

Anonymous said...

I agree with MBowen about "Mussels". If the song meant anything it might be one of my all time favorite songs. But because the lyrics don't mean anything (as far as I can tell) it's just a great catchy pop song with no meaning.


Anonymous said...


RE: "All this and More": Mad Ox=Roast Beef. Get it?


MJConroy said...

"Pulling Mussels From a Song" vague?

Wow, that one shocks me. That song has always struck me as poetically sharp and observant as they come."

Yep. A great song!from:

"Difford: That song was influenced really by The Small Faces. I used to adore the way they would write about English situations. Very British picture postcard situations really. I wanted to write about the experience that a lot of working class English people do of going to the seaside and what a day out for them would be. And then taking it a step further by talking of old people, young people, and family people at the seaside. So you'd have a cross-section in each verse, virtually, of how I saw seaside villages. So you have the old people looking round the shops, and then in the chorus you have the young people who are trying to have sex with strangers behind the chalet on the beach."

David said...

Wow, and I was sure it was another (somewhat oblique and anatomically dubious) lesbian love song: "Pulling muscles from Michelle..."

Walking Oliver Productions, Ltd said...

Well, just about anything by the Loud Family, except for "Slit My Wrists" of course. That's pretty clear. :-)

I love them to death but I don't have a clue what the hell Scott Miller is on about most of the time. It always sounds like it means something profound.

My 15-year-old song seconds the motion.


Walking Oliver Productions, Ltd said...

Heh-heh! 15-year-old son, I meant. Not song. Freudian?

steve simels said...

I am also amused nobody really's nominated any prog rock, especially Yes.

My late colleague Noel Coppage famously reviewed one of their albums (might have been "Topographic Oceans," don't recall) by saying that it "demonstrated the pernicious effect that lying down and becoming one with the universe had on syntax."

Maruspial said...

Well, as long as someone mentioned the Loud Family, I will have to throw in "We Love You Carol & Allison" by Game Theory.

(A "friend" of mine sold my Lolita Nation CD for $4 while I was, um... indisposed for a few months. Bastard. Not as bad as a Les Paul, but he still doesn't understand what he did wrong.)

MBowen said...

The verses of "Pulling Mussels From A Shell" are pretty clear - it's just the chorus that to me throws everything off.

I was a teenage Yes fan, and I tend to throw most of their stuff into the same bin as early R.E.M., where the lyrics were basically sounds to carry the music forward.

I give Scott Miller's lyrics for for Game Theory/The Loud Family special credit because he's just so much smarter than me. I mean, a guy who comes up with a song called "He Do The Police In Different Voices" which is not only a quote from Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend" but was also the working title for Eliot's "The Waste Land"?

David said...

I too have sent many years being awed by Scott Miller's erudition and willful obscurity ("Here Comes Everybody" the lead track from Real Nighttime, for example, takes its title from Finnegan's Wake.) It's only in recent years that I've come to acknowledge that I miss the meaning behind most of his lyrics, even the ones that aren't referencing literature. No doubt lines like, "Efficious/B follows A-cious/something we can throw in their faces" sound amazing and fit right in with the taut structures of his songs, but I'll be damned if I have a clue as to what they mean. Except the obvious lesbian love song "We Love You Carol and Allison."

Libby Spencer said...

I don't have an entry for this week. I choose to listen to singer-songwriters specifically for their musicality and lyrics. Besides I'm still very sad about the loss of the late, great, Soupy Sales. Feels like a distant relative has died. So I'm just going to leave this little tribute to him.

Pookie and Soupy do Motown.

Peter said...

You can keep all your vague lyrics by Bob Dylan (he is there, otherwise he wouldn't be singing that song), REM (religions are easy to lose –- people lose them every day), Paul Simon (calling him Betty sounds perfectly reasonable to me) et al.

Nope, for me -- and I know that this is cheating because it came before The Beatles -- sitting at the top of the rock and roll lyrics tree for indecipherability is the greatest single line ever sung in the history of rock music:

"A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom."

Top that, aspiring songwriters.

Anonymous said...

Greil Marcus already had a field day with it, but "The Coo Coo Bird' gets some kind of prize for oddity. We all want to know who Willy is.

The chorus of "Whiskey in the Jar" is just as odd as "Tutti Frutti", and hundreds of years older. The fact that all these clean-cut Brothers Four types sang it exactly the same way as each other always tickled me.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Re yea heavy & a bottle of bread, et al., I would just note that the point for some of the lyrics on the Basement Tapes is to be funny & playful and that the point for some of the others was to serve as placeholders in the event Bob ever got the itch to actually record the song at a later date. These home tapes captured lots of ad libbing among friends, but were not the first or last time Bob composed entire first-draft stanzas on the fly, at the microphone.

I definitely get the vibe of EC’s great line, till I speak double dutch to a REAL double duchess but for some reason have found myself wanting to come up with a literal translation over the years, to no avail. Maybe something like, "till I can play her game" or ... i dunno.

David said...

Re: Whiskey in the Jar: it's true, "Musha rig um du rum da" is just probably just an ancient way of saying "la la la" or 'a-wop bop a loom mop alop bam boom," "Whack fol the daddy O" seems to describe what the singer did with his saber, i.e., he wacked Col. Pepper (the daddy-o), and down he fell.

NYMary said...

If you're not familiar with the bizarre one-album output of Neutral Milk Hotel ("In An Aeroplane Over the Sea") it's at least as bemusing as anything else I've ever heard. No damn idea WHAT they're talking about for more than a line at a time. See, for example, here. And here. And here.

It was given to me by a student who insisted it would change my life. Sure. It confused the living hell out of me. And yet I listen to it a lot. Go figure.

When's the next bus to Oswego? said...

The Rolling Stones, "Sway"

The recording sets a pre-R.E.M. record for incomprehensible lyrics.

And transcriptions of the lyrics that I've seen look either inaccurate or also incomprehensible.

One of the greatest songs of all-time, it goes w/o saying.

Anonymous said...

Tom Sawyer by Rush.