The top 10 songs whose titles contain grammatical errors – Slog
Kleenex Swiss women don’t have time for your English grammar rules.
Bad grammar runs through song titles and lyrics with as much frequency as strained metaphors and awkward similes. It’s a pretty common occurrence, but musicians take a lot of slack on that front, especially if the sounds surrounding the gaffes are sublime. Sometimes bad construction is the far right construction…and even if it’s not, such linguistic missteps can often enhance a song’s emotional resonance. And in some cases, classic songs are simply endowed with solecisms that neither spoil nor enhance the work. With all that in mind, I’ve compiled the top 10 songs with ungrammatical titles. I’m not too proud to admit that narrowing this poll down to just 10 wasn’t easy. (As soon as I send this post to my editor, I’ll think of 50 more examples. That’s how this stuff always works. Ah well…)
Kleenex, “It’s Not You”
The women of Kleenex (later known as LiLiPUT) were Swiss, so their use of “Ain’t” shows an early understanding of the English vernacular and deserves extra credit. The song itself is a shiny slab of splenetic post-punk. I described it in an obituary on band member Marlene Marder: “[I]It’s an odd combo of contrasting vocal deliveries, bulging glam-punk guitar riffs, and weirdly rising dynamics cohesive in a virtuous anthem. The song is both as serious as an injustice and as whimsical as a Monthy Python’s flying circus sketch.” All of this is still true.
Jimi Hendrix Experience, “If 6 was 9”
Sir. Hendrix’s mastery of the subjunctive left something to be desired, but all is forgiven when the result is my favorite left-handed guitarist’s scariest and most striking song. Deployment of “If 6 Was 9” in Easy Rider truly exposed the remorseless blues-funk power of the Experience in its most severe form.
The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get) Satisfaction”
Always a hoot when a college graduate Brit drops double negatives all over the store. But, you know, in the case of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” that crude phrasing helps listeners believe that one of the most famous, coveted, and big-lipped rock stars in the business ‘ The 60s struggled to find carnal fulfillment. It doesn’t hurt that the song has one of the most empowering guitar riffs and crucial tambourine shakes of all time.
Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine”
When your heart is broken by loneliness, you are not at all concerned about good English. Bill Withers’ minimalist, orchestral masterpiece has eradicated double-negative ignominy by consoling nostalgic romantics around the world for decades. The song still works, even after your 971st listen. I speak from experience.
Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band, “There’s No Santa on the Evening Stage”
Howling Wolf Acolyte Don Van Vliet got really into bluesman mode on the 1971s star child, and where there is blues, there are liberties with the King’s English. “There’s No Santa on the Evening Stage” finds the captain and crew scrounging up some very menacing and filthy bluesmongering. Those early Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds records were striving for that sort of terminal dread effect, but they had the downside of not being American.
Stevie Wonder, “You Did Nothing”
Stevland Hardaway Morris’ toughest funk workout paired with his fairest political message – is about a double positive canceling out a double negative. The song’s target, President Richard Nixon, resigned from office two days after the song was released. Coincidence? Probably. But still, Stevie deserves some credit for this happy turn of events.
Gang Starr, “Speak Ya Clout”
DJ Premier’s lean and wicked funk production sets the stage for Guru, Jeru the Damaja and Lil’ Dap to brag with gusto regardless of the wonky slang of the title. I’ve never heard the phrase “speak your influence” uttered outside of this terrific track, but maybe I’ve been hanging out with the wrong people.
Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay”
Even the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature can botch the language. What is the correct use, class? “Lie, lady, lie”? You are right. Dylan surely chose “Lay Lady Lay” for assonance (I’m an assonance man too), but would it have killed him to add commas? Anyway, this 1969 single tickled the hairs on my neck when I heard it on the radio as a boy, and it sticks in my mind as one of the most beautiful and most haunting of Mr. Zimmerman.
Love, “I will follow you”
Debut album Love is so full of garage joy, as evidenced by “You I’ll Be Follow.” The odd syntax of this phrase, which hardly anyone in English history has deployed except Love’s genius/leading man Arthur Lee, is actually a big part of the song’s charm – its strange formality at odds with the youthful exuberance of the melody.
Mudhoney, “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet Anymore”
When you craft rock as raw and unforgiving as “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” the intricacies of grammar fly out the broken window. And in any case, educated cats like Mudhoney – like most Rhodes Scholars – like to romp in the studio dirtying the English language. If I can let you in on a trade secret…