We each have songs that, to our particular ear, sound like nails on a chalkboard. And some songs should be deconstructed on a chalkboard…for bad grammar. I’m not talking about slang, colloquialisms, or innovative language. I’m not being punctilious about making sure you don’t end a lyric line with a preposition. In fact, the first dance song at my wedding reception was “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” I think it would have lost a little something if it were “To You It’d Be So Nice To Come Home.” Nobody wants to sound sort of like Yoda.
What I’m talking about is crappy syntax. Artistic license is one thing, language mangling is another. Bad grammar is jarring; it takes me out of the flow of the song.
Here’s how I define unnecessarily bad grammar in a song: when it wouldn’t change the rhyme scheme to use the correct word or when the syntax results from being lyrically lazy.
Like this, from the Paula Cole song “I Don’t Wanna Wait”:
"So open up your morning light / And say a little prayer for I"
That lyric makes me say a prayer for the objective case.
Bryan Adams also pulls one of these in “Run To You”:
"She says her love for me could never die / But that'd change if she ever found out about you and I"
Or maybe he’s just speaking Canadian.
I’m not a lyricist, but I am a writer. If there’s a sentence I’m composing that bends the laws of language or just doesn’t sound right, I rewrite it until it does. Sometimes that means scrapping it entirely and expressing myself differently. In the case of musicians like the ones above, I’d prescribe a little more creative diligence rather than copping out by using the easy (and egregiously incorrect) rhyme of “I.”
Here are a few more:
“Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton
We all remember the 6th grade lesson about “lay” vs. “lie.”
“Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani:
"If I was rich girl (na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na nah) / See, I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl"
If she were a rich girl, she might buy a tutorial in subjunctive.
On the other hand, Beyoncé gets big credit for using the subjunctive in "If I Were a Boy."
And then there’s…
“Play Me” by Neil Diamond:
"Songs she sang to me, Songs she brang to me"
Of course this is from the man who brought us these lyrics, which are grammatically sound, but accidentally hilarious:
Faith is a regular contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!
She’s also a panelist on the BBC America series, “Would You Rather…?” with Graham Norton. She was the host of Bravo’s The Approval Matrix and of the Planet Green series Treehugger TV. She’s appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Anderson, CNN, HLN, Bravo, VH1, and she’s written for Slate.com, O, The Oprah Magazine, and CNN.com. She hosted PRI's Fair Game with Faith Salie for its 300-episode run.
She’s probably the only Rhodes scholar who does stand-up comedy. Faith is on a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine collectable trading card that is worth hundreds of cents.
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