March 31, 2015

Delete "Hook." Insert "Heart"

John Popper of Blues Traveller belting out The Hook

This morning I have been bedeviled by the earworms, hooks, and heart tricks of popular music. I keep telling myself that most popular songs are not written to be true, but glib; that they run on what's call 'The Hook.'

Distracted by numerous lyrics that all seemed to sending me a secret message, I decided to investigate the inner nature of 'The Hook.' and came in my Googling to a song by Blues Traveler from their album "Four."

"Four" is an album I've had for many years (A memoir of a brief, but doomed, May -- September romance a decade or so back back.) which has a song on it called "The Hook." Looking up the lyrics, I saw -- for the first time -- what the refrain actually says:

"Because the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely."

It's a common problem with the lyrics to pop songs that they are often misheard by the listeners. These ear blips are called "mondegreens." I have a old friend who has bought apartments in New York City by exploiting and cataloguing the phenomenon in books. ('Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and He's Got the Whole World in His Pants , among others.)

Mondegreens are commonly explained by the facts of loose recording standards, production choices, and the volume at which all the instruments play and the singers sing. It is more simply explained by the fact, as noted by my old friend Ethan Russell about Mick Jagger many years ago, "Well, you know, he does slur a lot."

And he does, and they all do. Singing words requires, as we learn in the sacred book of Bob Dylan, that you bend and shape the song's words to the measure of the song's music. Success in pop music is always found, after the last note fades, in the singer not the song.

The other thing that drives the hearing of a song is the mood of the listener. You hear things in songs that aren't ever there just as you see things about your house that are long gone. In each, what we hear and see in down times is essentially the ghosts of ... love, etcetera. And coming or going, love has a lot of etcetera attached to it that it pulls along behind it like the chains on Marley's ghost.

All of this is a periphrastic way of coming to what I had heard sung in the refrain to 'The Hook.' for many years. I never heard the word 'hook.' Instead I heard the word 'heart,' as in:

"Because the heart brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The heart brings you back
On that you can rely."

I've listened to 'The Hook.', with attention or just as background, probably around a hundred times over the years. I've trance danced to it. I've even been to a Blues Traveler concert in New York City that had it on the set list. In all those iterations I've never heard 'hook,' but always heard 'heart.' Now I know different .... but not better.

Seen whole the lyrics to 'The Hook' are all about the plight and pain of being a pop star. One of thousands of such screeds in which our celebrities bemoan the curse of wealth and fame their rise has brought to them -- the endless angst of those who fear they had to 'sell-out' in order to 'buy-in.' I try, but somehow I just can't feel this pampered pain.

In the end, I really don't want 'The Hook.' to bring me back. I want 'The Heart' to bring me back:

"Because the heart brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The heart brings you back
On that you can rely."

It might be a mondegreen, but it makes a much better song.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 31, 2015 2:24 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Now this is the blues:
There was a white man had the blues
Thought it was nothing to worry about
Now you lay down at night
You roll from one side of the bed to the other all night long
Ya can't sleep, what's the matter? The blues has gotcha.

Ya get up you sit on the side of the bed in the mornin'
May have a sister a mother a brother an' a father around
But you don't want no talk out of 'em
What's the matter? The blues has gotcha.

When you go in put your feet under the table look down at ya plate
got everything you wanna eat
But ya shake ya head you get up you say
"Lord I can't eat I can't sleep"
What’s the matter? The blues has gotcha.

Why not talk to ya? Tell what you gotta tell it

Well, good morning blues, blues how do you do
Well, good morning blues, blues how do you do
I'm doing all right, good morning how are you.

Leadbelly, Huddie Ledbetter

Posted by: chasmatic at March 31, 2015 11:06 PM

I'm familiar with "what you heard are not the lyrics". My youth saw the Supreme Court exorcise the devil rock 'n roll with the decision that the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" were "unintelligible at any speed". Case closed. Let the music play on.

Posted by: twolaneflash at April 1, 2015 8:52 AM

When you first mishear, the brain remembers, so you'll mishear again and again. Except when what you think you heard doesn't make sense to you, so you go looking for the correct text/lyrics to find out.

Posted by: Sam L. at April 1, 2015 8:54 AM

Sam L., I heard Eric Clapton's "Layla" as "Hey, Love" for some time b4 seeing the title. I still like my lyrics & title better, but Clapton wouldn't share credit! Go figure!

Posted by: twolaneflash at April 1, 2015 9:49 AM