Project X Would Do Anything For Love, But It Won’t Sing That

As part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Michaelangelo Matos breaks down top-ten lists from every genre imaginable. In this special Oct. 10 edition of his column–it is 10/10, after all–he breaks down some of the worst lyrics to reach the airwaves of British radio.

In May 2007 the British radio station BBC6 conducted a survey of the worst lyrics in pop.

BBC6’s Top 10 Worst Lyrics (listener poll):1. Des’ree, “Life” (Sony, 1998): “I don’t want to see a ghost/It’s the sight that I fear most/I’d rather have a piece of toast/Watch the evening news.”2. Snap, “Rhythm Is a Dancer” (Logic/Arista, 1992): “I’m as serious as cancer/When I say rhythm is a dancer.”3. Razorlight, “Somewhere Else” (Vertigo, 2005): “And I met a girl/She asked me my name/I told her what it was.”4. ABC, “That Was Then But This Is Now” (Mercury, 1983): “More Sacrifices than an Aztec priest/Standing here straining at that leash/All fall down/Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble/Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble.”5. U2, “Elevation” (Interscope, 2001): “I’ve got no self control/Been living like a mole now/Going down, excavation/High and high in the sky/You make me feel like I can fly/So high/Elevation.”6. Toto, “Africa” (CBS, 1982): “The wild dogs cry out in the night/As they grow restless longing for some solitary company/I know that I must do what’s right/Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.”7. Oasis, “Champagne Supernova” (Creation, 1995): “Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball/Where were you when we were getting high?”8. Duran Duran, “Is There Something I Should Know?” (EMI, 1983): “And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door/Don’t say you’re easy on me/You’re about as easy as a nuclear war.”9. Human League, “The Lebanon” (Virgin, 1984): “Before he leaves the camp he stops/He scans the world outside/And where there used to be some shops/Is where the snipers sometimes hide.”10. Black Sabbath, “War Pigs” (Warner Bros., 1971): “Generals gathered in their masses/Just like witches at black masses.”

Let’s get the ugly part out of the way first: I am in full agreement with No. 10, and no, I do not love Sabbath enough to let them get away with it. I’m not a huge fan, though I certainly like a handful of songs, “War Pigs” being one of them. But I thought the line was stupid when I first heard it, and I’m glad there are still people who haven’t immunized themselves against it over the years thanks to the riff bypassing that particular area of the brain.

“War Pigs” is one of only three songs chosen here that I would have picked out any of those lines from in particular. The others are No. 7 (whose negative properties, inextricable in my mind from a lousy period of my life generally, I discussed in an earlier column about the Modern Rock Top 10 of 1996) and No. 8, which struck me as gauche even when I was in third grade. (Everyone knew nuclear war was easy–it was a matter of two men pushing buttons–that’s what was wrong with it.)

Three others, though, I knew but hadn’t really thought of in terms of lyrics, much less god-awful ones. What I mostly remember about “Rhythm Is a Dancer” is the title phrase, plus the odd “feel the passion” to give the singer more than two notes to sing. It’s not that I’m necessarily surprised the song contains the line, “I’m as serious as cancer/When I say rhythm is a dancer.” It just never jumped out at me. Likewise, the U2 line strikes me as bald description of banal euphoria: more wallpaper than painting, and not much to get worked up over. “Africa,” of course, is total dogshit, so much so I never parsed the verses (being seven when the song came out surely has something to do with this), but on paper, that is some serious D&D-playing loserdom coming out, all right. Good to know that in addition to being the top session cats of the era as well as winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for the album containing “Africa,” Toto’s members all aced world geography.

The rest I’d never even heard until I saw this list. I watched the videos for each, and the results were enlightening. Des’ree: she rides a car through the desert. I’d seen this list without the lyric attributions before watching the clip, but it didn’t take long to guess which one this had been nominated for: “ghost/most/toast” is pushing it even if you’re in the breeziest mood of your life. Razorlight: I didn’t know Richard Ashcroft had an understudy. Did England really miss the Verve that much? For god’s sakes, why? On paper, I must admit that, “And I met a girl/She asked me my name/I told her what it was,” is my kind of deadpan mannerist comedy, but hearing this schmoe declaim anything above all those forcefully strummed acoustic guitars buried the offending line for me.

Speaking of confessions, I’ve never heard all of The Lexicon of Love, so the follow-ups I’m even sketchier on. This lives up to Martin Fry’s explanation to Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up and Start Again that he was trying to make the ugliest music he could in response to that album, because this is one sour little pastry. And the “apple crumble” line really is the song’s core, if you will. (I apologize.) Finally, “The Lebanon” not only gets points for those awesome lines fitting perfectly within an equally awesome, er, meditation on terrorism, Phil Oakey gets double points for blueprinting the look Dave Gahan would take to the bank once he stopped cutting his hair a while. They even have the same facial expressions!

Before I open it to the wolves by asking which lyric(s) BBC6’s listeners forgot to include in this Top 10, allow me to indulge yet again my personal all-time favorite bad lyric. It’s from a tune everybody knows: “Your Song,” by Elton John. Take a bow, Bernie Taupin, for this all-time clinker: “If I was a sculptor/But then again, no.” That’s what Taupin should have said! Haw! Anyway, I’ve had my fun: now you have yours. 100 posts by Monday! Let’s do it!