YOU’RE DRIVING in your car, or hanging out at your computer, or maybe you’re one of those relics who still smokes a hooka and listens to B.O.C. records, and you’re grooving along on some musical high, put there by a band or artist who should know better than to harsh your mellow.
And then he does.
The following are the three most egregious examples of taking the listener from her magic carpet ride of pop bliss to working the the holiday shift at Carpet World.
1. “Getting Better” by The Beatles
Great song, right? Who doesn’t get a little swoon-y when the lads start us off with that crisp three-part harmony:
It’s getting better all the time.
I’ve never taken this line as simple feel-good hokum but as a legitimate and prescient philosophy on my time and place. So much of my life is caught up in worrying about what isn’t right in our world (corporations are people?) and what we still have to accomplish (assault weapons ban, anyone?) At times I can’t help but feel we get nowhere in our various social and political efforts.
But how wrong I am. Even today, coming up on a half century since this song was written, an honest look at the various historical struggles of my country—our current president embodying at least one of them—reveals we are indeed getting somewhere. Is it only our pessimism that makes us focus only on what’s wrong? Maybe, but there’s nothing like Paul McCartney’s little etude to the bright side to make me understand the world isn’t entirely going to hell in a hand basket.
Until the first chorus.
I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better, all the time
(It can’t get no worse.)
This last line is John Lennon’s famous addition to the song, which I find distracting and unnecessary. McCartney was just managing to pull me out of my maudlin outlook, and here comes his bandmate with an all-too-easy retort to his rival’s “granny” music, as Lennon liked to dub McCartney’s tunes during this period.
I realize this line isn’t without artistic merit; it has a jarring effect, waking the listener from his warm fuzzies and forcing him to deal with the conflict between these two perspectives. But our modern times are woefully plenty on jarring effects, and sadly slight on pick-me-ups that still hold water upon further reflection. For this song’s two minutes and forty-eight seconds, I think the world can live without me worrying about what can’t get no worse. Save it for the solo album, Mr. Lennon.
2. “I’m Feeling Good (Better than Nothing)” by Jen Trynin
I realize having a line like “I’m feeling good” featured in a chorus skirts an artist dangerously close to Katrina and the Waves-land, but Trynin’s down-to-earth delivery and driving Les Paul steer her song more toward other stomach-able 90s acts like Hole and Veruca Salt. It’s a song ostensibly about feeling good, which, hey, feels good. Here’s how the chorus starts:
I’m feeling good
I’m feeling good
I’m feeling good for now (x 2)
I don’t even mind that little “for now” snuck in at the last minute. The point is we’re riding the serotonin train, and the “for now” only emphasizes the specialness of the feeling. But check out the sucker punch Ms. Trynin lands at the end of the chorus.
But I know that by tomorrow I’ll probably come around.
There’s something about this line that reminds me of my boyhood in Illinois, the need for people to immediately knock the legs out from under any good feeling they might have with a cheap shot of “reality.” Yes, Ms. Trynin, we know that tomorrow could very well suck—and we get that loudly and clearly from those “for now”s in the chorus—so why kill the moment by reminding us that we’ll no doubt “come around” tomorrow? I’m not asking for pure Wang Chung sentiment here, but I genuinely felt good to this point. Consider me knocked down a peg.
3. “Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band
I’ve come to realize I dislike the rug being pulled out from beneath me at the ends of choruses. Check out this one:
Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me.
To this point, I’m picturing this man who’s found the mate of his dreams, someone who helps him when he’s down, even defends his honor when people talk ill of him. What a woman! But look out, here comes the last line of the chorus:
A drunkard’s dream, if I ever did see one.
So, we have this great woman who sends and mends and defends her man, and a man immortalizing her in song, but the crooner turns out to be a drunk, which blows the chemistry for me. She’s enabling this alkie bozo, which makes her seem not so much a wonderful woman as a sap. Leave him now, darlin’. He’ll only drag you down.
Songwriters of the future, don’t doom your good vibe with something that seems funny or clever or self-deprecating at the time. Give in to the pop. We promise not to think any less of you.