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Internally Contradictory Song Lyrics--Esp. Ballads

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Mar 29, 2022 - 5:28:54 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

26062 posts since 6/25/2005

It's quite common for ballads about real events to get some of the facts wrong--names, places, dates, etc. Less usual are songs that present internal contradictions, sometimes leaving the listener/reader to say "Huh?" But ballads, fictional or fact-based, don't always make perfect sense within themselves. Probably the best known example is "Folsom Prison Blues," where the singer "shot a man in Reno," a Nevada city, and yet is serving his sentence in Folsom, a California prison. Writer Johnny Cash reportedly replied to a question about the contradiction, citing "poetic license," probably as good a reason as any.

One lyrical contradiction that I noticed, from Doc Watson's version of "The FFV," concerns the fireman, who in the song leaped from the engine into the river when faced with a certain crash and derailment--yet "waved his hand at" the engineer as the engine flew by. But the engine would have been well beyond him--whatever momentum his leap obtained from the engine's speed.

So it goes. Have other members run into such internal lyric contradictions? There must be a number; I just can't think of any others that quickly.

Mar 29, 2022 - 8:18:53 PM
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4236 posts since 3/28/2008

I suppose one could argue that the Reno shooting was not the crime that landed Cash's character in prison.

But all too many people sing the chorus to "I'd Rather Be Alone" incorrectly in a way that makes it self-contradictory. As originally recorded by Flatt and Scruggs in 1953, it states, “I’d rather be alone and have you dream of me only, and to have you say you’re sorry that we are apart; I’d rather be alone and have you dream of me only, than to be in your arms, but never in your heart” (emphasis added). This elaborate parallelism, repetition, and delaying of the antithesis is so unlikely to occur in normal speech that many singers alter the chorus to, “I’d rather be alone and have you dream of me only, than to have you say you’re sorry that we are apart….” (emphasis added). Although this wording makes the chorus self-contradictory, its superficially more straightforward syntax has ensured its adoption not merely by anonymous jammers, but also by professional singers like Larry Sparks and Tony Rice.

Mar 29, 2022 - 10:20:34 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

26062 posts since 6/25/2005

Good catch and thoughtful analysis.

Mar 29, 2022 - 10:24:26 PM

chuckv97

Canada

64397 posts since 10/5/2013

In “I’ll Go Steppin’ Too” Lester sings “I’ll lock the door, put out the cat, and I’ll go steppin’ too”. Kinda tough to put out the cat after you’ve locked the door.

Mar 30, 2022 - 2:23:02 PM

Owen

Canada

11255 posts since 6/5/2011

I question "...nobody knows but me" in Long Black Veil. Seems to me that the woman who was central to the story/song would at least have an inkling.

['Course there's always the possibility that I've missed some obvious fact/slant/interpretation or other.]

Edit: I've heard, but have been too lazy to check it out, that the lay of the land in Wagon Wheel is off.... Cumberland Gap?  ...Johnson City?  ....heading west?

Edited by - Owen on 03/30/2022 14:30:40

Mar 30, 2022 - 3:23:38 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

64397 posts since 10/5/2013

Take Me Home, Country Roads ,,,, the Shenandoah Valley is in Virginia not West Virginia.

Edited by - chuckv97 on 03/30/2022 15:24:17

Mar 30, 2022 - 3:29:18 PM
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4236 posts since 3/28/2008

Except for that little bit of it at Harper's Ferry, where the Shenandoah empties into the Potomac. FWIW, when he wrote the song, Bill Danoff had never actually been to West Virginia.

Mar 30, 2022 - 7:19:06 PM
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1992 posts since 2/10/2003

Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets” opens with the line:

I got a ‘69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a hurst on the floor”.

Fuel injection (ie fuelie heads) could not fit on a 396 big block. They were made for the small block Chevys.

Mar 30, 2022 - 8:06:28 PM
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416 posts since 6/15/2021

Harry Chapin's WOLD. A radio station in Boise would have a call sign starting with a K.

Mar 30, 2022 - 8:15:48 PM
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304 posts since 2/11/2019

quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97

Take Me Home, Country Roads ,,,, the Shenandoah Valley is in Virginia not West Virginia.


The Shenandoah River, not valley is referenced in that song.  It passes through both Virginia and West Virginia.

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Mar 30, 2022 - 8:48:16 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

64397 posts since 10/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Mad Hornet
quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97

Take Me Home, Country Roads ,,,, the Shenandoah Valley is in Virginia not West Virginia.


The Shenandoah River, not valley is referenced in that song.  It passes through both Virginia and West Virginia.


True enough, as Ira also noted. Not much is in WV though. (don't mind me,,, I'm a bit of a map nut)




Edited by - chuckv97 on 03/30/2022 20:53:09

Mar 30, 2022 - 8:58:01 PM
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304 posts since 2/11/2019


I'm a bit of a map nut


You ain't alone in that bro!  Good to know some of us could still get around without GPS LOL

Mar 30, 2022 - 9:27:57 PM
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59118 posts since 12/14/2005

It seems to me that a woman who KNOWS the man about to be hung is innocent, and is the wife of the hangee's Best Friend, could very easily shed a tear at his hanging, and the crowd would NOT suspect her of adulterous infidelity, but MIGHT just naturally assume that, since it was her husband's best friend, she'd be weeping that her husband was losing his best friend.
What makes one's spouse unhappy, might also make oneself unhappy.

Mar 31, 2022 - 12:05:34 AM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

26062 posts since 6/25/2005

quote:
Originally posted by pianojuggler

Harry Chapin's WOLD. A radio station in Boise would have a call sign starting with a K.


Likely, but not necessarily. There are a number of "W" stations west of the Mississippi. WKY in Oklahoma City and WNAX in Yankton, SD, to name a couple. ...And, of course, on the flip side, there's KDKA in Pittsburgh. 

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 03/31/2022 00:20:07

Mar 31, 2022 - 2:37:17 AM
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488 posts since 7/13/2008

Journey's "Don't Stop Believin." "Just a city boy, Born and raised in South Detroit." There isn't a South Detroit. Windsor, Ontario is south of Detroit. So I'll second those of us who prefer maps. Maps are for those of us who prefer road trips and possibilities rather than point-to-point and just getting there.

Mar 31, 2022 - 6:24:36 AM

Owen

Canada

11255 posts since 6/5/2011

Mike: "It seems to me that a woman who KNOWS the man about to be hung is innocent...."

I don't disagree about the possibility you bring up. My point is that IF the woman KNOWS and the dead guy knows [IF a dead guy can "know"* something]............ then it's more than "me." Or is my logic (?) wonky?

* = I don't see why not.... after all, he wrote/sang a song, didn't he?  wink

Mar 31, 2022 - 6:47:16 AM
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RB3

USA

1309 posts since 4/12/2004

I think that the song lyrics of Long Black Veil clearly establish that the protagonist was hanged, but the suggestion that he was hung is purely conjecture.

Mar 31, 2022 - 7:05:41 AM

Jbo1

USA

1140 posts since 5/19/2007

In the song "Tennessee Waltz", the main character is dancing with his darling to the "Tennessee Waltz"! Are there two such songs, one he is dancing to, and the other he is singing?

Mar 31, 2022 - 9:54:47 AM

416 posts since 6/15/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers
quote:
Originally posted by pianojuggler

Harry Chapin's WOLD. A radio station in Boise would have a call sign starting with a K.


Likely, but not necessarily. There are a number of "W" stations west of the Mississippi. WKY in Oklahoma City and WNAX in Yankton, SD, to name a couple. ...And, of course, on the flip side, there's KDKA in Pittsburgh. 


There are a very few exceptions left, but I don't think there was ever a W call sign west of the Great Plains and certainly not west of the Continental Divide.

http://www.earlyradiohistory.us/kwtrivia.htm

Mar 31, 2022 - 11:47:04 AM

1035 posts since 10/4/2018

John Lennon sings I am the Walrus, and later, on Glass Onion, he corrects himself saying "The Walrus was Paul" after he realizes that the walrus from the Lewis Carol poem is just a glutton.

Mar 31, 2022 - 12:33:32 PM
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4236 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Jbo1

In the song "Tennessee Waltz", the main character is dancing with his darling to the "Tennessee Waltz"! Are there two such songs, one he is dancing to, and the other he is singing?


Many of us have wondered the same thing. In fact, one could argue that there's a fairly large genre (?) of such self-referential waltzes, many of which have geographical names.

Mar 31, 2022 - 12:57 PM
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13342 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97
Not much is in WV though. (don't mind me,,, I'm a bit of a map nut)

But someone from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, would regularly see the river and associate it with home.

In any event, real West Virginia wasn't the inspiration for the song. Clopper Road near Gaithersburg, Maryland, was. It was a 2-lane blacktop back in the 70s and driving it was very much like driving a country road -- even though it was part of the greater Washington, D.C., area. 

Mar 31, 2022 - 2:38:58 PM

434 posts since 10/3/2012

The Grammy for self contradictory song lyrics has got to go to, "Oh, Susanna". No contest, I mean, "It rained all day the night I left, the weather it was dry, the sun so hot, I froze to death.". In what universe does that make sense?

Mar 31, 2022 - 3:52:32 PM

Owen

Canada

11255 posts since 6/5/2011

... now ^^ we're getting into I'm My Own Grandpa territory: https://genius.com/Ray-stevens-im-my-own-grandpa-lyrics

Mar 31, 2022 - 4:35:31 PM

303 posts since 8/25/2009

Guy Clark's "Black Diamond Strings" has an early verse that goes:

"Black Diamond strings are like white flour and grits.

You play Black Diamond strings cause it's all you can git."

The next verse goes:

" Black Diamond strings on a catalog guitar.

That's pretty high cotton whoever you are!

Break one, you change one, that's as good as it gets

You can play all year long on two or three sets.'"

I have thought of changing the second verse to:

" Black Diamond strings on a catalog banjo.

That's pretty high cotton however you go!

Apr 1, 2022 - 10:00:29 PM

59118 posts since 12/14/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Jbo1

In the song "Tennessee Waltz", the main character is dancing with his darling to the "Tennessee Waltz"! Are there two such songs, one he is dancing to, and the other he is singing?


When I first met Irene, she was the divorced mother of 4 kids.

It was she who pointed out to me that "Tennessee Waltz" is considered a SAD song, because the  singer's darling runs off with a gal he's just met.....

 BUT, if you're dating a guy who is SO SHALLOW that he'll dump you THAT easily, better he should dump you during the dating period, than after you're married and have several small children!

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