Monday, 21 July 2008

Rhetorical and poetic figures in popular music

Months ago, I began collecting examples of poetic and rhetorical figures in popular music, spurred on by Bill Bailey's thesis that cockney music influenced the great classical composers. Although it may not be surprising to find such figures in the corpus of the great lyricist Cole Porter, a hysteron proteron, say, would not be expected in the works of Robbie Williams. A few topoi and grammatical features began to creep in.

A further noteworthy discovery is that the tradition of catalogue poetry - so popular among the ancients - has been continued by the likes of the Beach Boys and Madonna.

Until the trees and seas just up and fly away,
Until the day that 8 times 8 times 8 is 4…
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Stevie Wonder, As

I'll love you… until the twelfth of never
and that's a long, long time.
Johnny Mathis

It's just another manic Monday

Baubles, Bangles and Beads: hear how they jing, jing-a-ling-a
Cole Porter

Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, (your turn), etc.
Otis Reading
[Often to be heard in the Sidgwick Buttery]

When you're not, you're with
Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend
– the wife of a close friend.
Carly Simon, You're So Vain

But each time that I do, just the thought of you makes me stop - - - just before I begin
Cole Porter, I've Got You Under My Skin

Roll over, Beethoven. Tell Tchaikovsky the news.
Chuck Berry

On the ground your glove I found
With a note addressed to me.
It read dear love I've done you wrong,
Now I must set you free.
Moody River

Momma said, 'There'd be days like this, there'd be days like this,' my momma said.

Looking through some photographs
I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you.
There were one or two
I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn't show your spirit quite as true.

You were turning 'round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes.
Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow

Just a little deuce coupe with a flat head mill
But she'll walk a thunderbird like she's standin' still
She's ported and relieved and she's stroked and bored.
She'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got.
She's got a competition clutch with the four on the floor
And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar
And if that ain't enough to make you flip your lid
There's one more thing – I got the pink slip, daddy.
The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coup

? Don't you know, little fool, you never can win?
Cole Porter, I've Got You Under My Skin

You're my first, my last, my everything.
Barry White

Girl, I heard you're getting married,
Heard you're getting married, this time you're really sure.
And this is the end. They say you really mean it.
This guy's the one that makes you feel so safe, so sane and so secure.
And, baby, if he loves you more than me,
Maybe it's the best thing,
Maybe it's the best thing for you.
But it's the worst that could happen to me.
Jim Webb, The Worst that Could Happen

You'd catch 'em surfin' at Del Mar
Ventura county line
Santa Cruz and Trestle
Australia's Narabine
All over Manhattan
And down Doheny way

The Beach Boys, Surfin' USA

Greta Garbo, and Monroe,
Dietrich and DiMaggio,
Marlon Brando,
Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine.
Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean, Picture of a beauty queen.
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers, dance on air.
They had style, they had grace,
Rita Hayworth gave good face.
Lauren, Katharine, Lana too
Bette Davis, we love you.
Ladies with an attitude,
Fellows that were in the mood -
Don't just stand there, let's get to it:
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it.
Madonna, Vogue
cf. ps‑Hesiod, Eoiae [Thanks to Sarah Drummond]

But here are some of music's pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget.
For there's Basie, Miller, Satchmo
And the king of all, Sir Duke.
And with a voice like Ella's ringing out
There's no way the band can lose.
Stevie Wonder, Sir Duke

? A trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things
Cole Porter, Just one of those things

Special agent for the man,
Through Watergate and Vietnam
Robbie Williams, Advertising Space

Beside the garden wall,
when stars are bright,
You are in my arms.
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
Of paradise where roses grew.
Though I dream in vain, in my heart you will remain,
My stardust melody,
The memory of love's refrain.
Star dust

In a mountain greenery,
Where God paints the scenery,
Just two crazy people together.
While you love your lover,
Let blue skies be your coverlet.
When it rains we'll laugh at the weather.
And if you're good, I'll search for wood,
So you can cook... while I stand looking.
Beans could get no keener reception in a beanery.
Bless our mountain greenery home!
Mel Torme, Mountain Greenery

Burn, baby, burn – disco inferno.


It's automatic when I
Talk with old friends
The conversation turns to
Girls we knew when their
Hair was soft and long and the
Beach was the place to go.

Suntanned bodies and
Waves of sunshine, the
California girls and a
Beautiful coastline,
Warmed up weather -
Let's get together and
Do it again.
Beach Boys, Do it again

Ra, Ra, Rasputīn,
Lover of the Russian queen
Boney M.

Greek: I can't get no satisfaction
The Rolling Stones

Definitely maybe

Bittersweet symphony
The Verve

Tonight with words unspoken
you say that I'm the only one
Will you still love me tomorrow?
The Shirelles

If saying your prayers you like,
If green pears you like,
If old chairs you like,
If back stairs you like,
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like,
Why, nobody will oppose!
Cole Porter, Anything Goes

I've been a pauper, a pirate, a puppet, a poet, - a pawn, and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing:
Frank Sinatra, That's Life

PARONOMASIA (figura etymologica)
I guess it would be nice,
If I could touch your body,
Because not everybody
Has got a body like you.
Wham, Faith

When the Winter weds the Northern Wind,
The child they bear is snow,
And the branches bow like worried bridesmaids
But the leaves will grow.
Sun and Earth in time will come together
God will give us back our summer weather,
But the mem'ries of that first sweet taste
of love pass away so slow.
Frank Sinatra, Dream Away, Child

Old Man River

'Cause L.A. is my lady
She's always there for me
L.A. is my lady
She knows how to care for me
No lady's sweeter - you know it the moment you meet her

I've been in love more times, than I care to remember
And love's kept me cool in July and warm in December
It may not have lasted, but each time I thought it was heaven
You name it, I've been there and back
Lookin' for someone who - I'd be faithful to.
Frank Sinatra, L.A. is my Lady

Girls (nom.) who are boys (nom.), who like boys (acc.) to be girls (acc.), who do boys (acc.) like they're girls (acc.), who do girls (acc.) like they're boys (acc.)

You (nom.) must have been a beautiful baby (nom.)
'cause, baby (voc.), won't you (nom.) look at you (acc.) now?
Bobby Darin

I get no kick from champagne,…
Some like the bop-time refrain,…
Some they may go for cocaine,…
But I get a kick out of you.
[Cf. Pindar, Olympian 1 and Sappho fr. 16 LP]
Cole Porter

Look at the stars, Look how they shine for you
Coldplay, Yellow

There could never be a portrait of my love,
For nobody could paint a dream.
It would take, I know, a Michelangelo
And he would need the glow of dawn
That paints the sky above
To try to paint a portrait of my love.
Matt Munro, Portrait of my Love

When they get to the part,
Where he’s breakin’ her heart,
It can really make me cry,
Just like before.
It’s yesterday once more

All my best memories
Come back clearly to me.
Some can even make me cry,
Just like before.
It’s yesterday once more.
The Carpenters, It’s Yesterday Once More

There's talk on the street. It's there to remind you.
in The Eagles, New Kid in Town
(Opening and before the guitar solo)

Cole Porter, In the Still of the Night (see below)

Short (… ὥς,)
Like a fool, I went a stayed too long
Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Or, will this dream of mine fade out of sight
Like the moon
Growing dim
On the rim
Of the hill
In the chill,
Still of the night?
Cole Porter, In the Still of the Night

Blue Spanish eyes (voc.), prettiest eyes in all of Mexico,
Blue Spanish Eyes, please smile for me once more before I go.
Soon I'll return, bringing you all the love your heart can hold.
Al Martino

Signed, sealed, delivered.
Stevie Wonder

All the honeys who makin' money,…
All the mommas who profit dollars
Destiny's Child, Independent Women
[N.B. Hebraic parallelism too]

You held your breath and the door for me.
Alanis Morisette, Head over Feet

I hope these illustrations will prove useful. Please send in further examples, especially of the ever elusive praeteritio.

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