What makes a good song?
I really can’t answer that, but I do think I can recognize a good one when I hear it. A good song is one that while you listen to it you are carried away in thought. So deeply in thought that even if you vow to listen to the lyrics and try to memorize them , you just can’t do it. Because while you listen, even intently, your mind is carried away by it and before you know it the music is over and you’ve been in la-la land imagining, visualizing or dreaming in another place. Listening to your favorite music technically to catch the lyrics is the worst thing to do, you will never hear it the same again.
An example, the Beatles “Come Together”. I loved that song and music. The first 15 years that I listened to it, I had no fricking idea what the lyrics were. It didn’t matter, I listened to it and I loved it without understanding what the hell they were talking about. It carried me away whenever I heard the beat, the rhythm and the blending of the words, the weaving word play. And then one day in 1985, my children had reached teenage hood. “Come Together ” was playing on my local oldies station. Both of my kids were reading in the living-room with me and my daughter pipes up, “what do they mean by that?”
“What do they mean by what?”
“Those lyrics “Toe-jam football”, what the heck is he saying, am I hearing that right? What does that mean?”
I was trying to raise my kids right. I exposed them to “good music” every chance I got. The oldies station at home, cassette tapes in the car while traveling. I admit I was probably a “60’s music Nazi” when I had command of the radio or tape player. That’s what they called me under their breath and while they were alone in their rooms listening to that crappy 80’s shit. but by 1985 they had a little bit of an appreciation for CCR, the Stones, the Beatles and DC5. They were miles away from Pink Floyd, the Animals or Van Morrison. But they were developing an appreciation. That weekend, it was the Beatles and I was holding court.
You have to remember in 1985, there wasn’t much of an Internet. Lyrics weren’t at our fingertips like they are now. The closest thing to Wikipedia was 6 blocks away at the local library. Or 30 miles away at Walden’s Bookstore. It was hard to find information at that time. Even of the two sets of encyclopedias we had, one was going on 20 years old and the other was a cheap set my wife got at the grocery store with trading stamps. The lyrics to “Come Together” were not going to be found in either of them and probably not at the local library either. The only way to get lyrics would be at a music store if the song was popular or maybe on the back of original vinyl album cover which I didn’t have, Abby Road, I think. But we did have a pirated tape with “Come Together” on it. So the only way we had to do it, we transcribed it with pencil and paper.
So, for their musical lesson for the day, we stuck in the tape and listened to “Come Together” together for a little while. Rewinding, listening, fast forwarding listening, writing down the words the best that we could understand them. About 30 minutes of that and the kids “got bored” and recessed to their rooms to listen to more of their 80’s shit. But my wife and I persisted and transcribed a pretty accurate copy of the lyrics.
When we were done, the kids noticed that the damn song wasn’t playing anymore and one by one emerged from their rooms. There on the dining room table was the full handwritten , scribbled musical transcript of “Come Together”. And for a couple joyful hours we all sat together as a family and read, and laughed and memorized every word of John Lennon’s screwed up but beautiful inter-imagination. I am very proud to say that to this day my two children, my wife and myself know ever word of “Come Together”. Well, my remembrance is sometimes a little foggy but give me a line and it comes right back to me.
But damn it! The song hasn’t been the same since. I know all the words. Everyone has a different idea of the meaning of the song. But even Lennon said it was gobbledygook just put together by him and later Paul while in the studio. It started out as a campaign song for Timothy Leary when he was running for governor of California against Ronald Reagan. But Lennon couldn’t get into the politics of it all and just sang what popped into his head. It didn’t matter, Leary went to prison for possession of marijuana and the campaign was forgotten. But this song meant a lot to Lennon. It was a “free write”, a song put together with no meaning and only words, proof that a writer can put together a melody and words and the listener will do the rest. They will be taken away in their own imagination and place their own meaning to what they hear.
Here’s the Beatles version. This sounded much better mono, on over the air AM radio. The cleaned up sterile versions on YouTube sounds nothing like they did over a mono car radio with only a front and back speaker or from it’s first release 45 record on your cheap mono record player with the subliminal scratches.
Here is what I think is the best Lennon live version. This is the only Beatles song that he would sing solo after the break up of the band.