3/03/2008

Lyrical Gibberish

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You know you've heard unintelligible or nonsensical lyrics before that had you saying, "Huh?!"

Like these.

"Yah-hee, icky thump"
-'Icky Thump,' White Stripes (2007)

Jack White borrowed a slang term from his wife for the title of this tune. Folks from the north of England -- a grouping that includes Mrs. White -- will often yelp "Ecky Thump" when surprised or dismayed (with 'eck being a PG-13 tone-down of 'ell).

"Shimmy shimmy
Cocoa what?"
-'Country Grammar,' Nelly (2000)

This St. Louis rapper might have been inspired by the nursery-rhyme cadence of the 1960 doo-wop hit 'Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop,' by Little Anthony and the Imperials. Considering, however, that the song is basically a celebration of the former Cornell Haynes trademark Midwestern slurring of urrthing that comes from his grill, who knows?

"Shoop, shoop, shoop"
-'Exhale,' Whitney Houston (1995)

Houston's been hailed as the kind of singer who could take on the L.A. phone book and make it sound good. That may have been helpful when she took on this Babyface, er, tune. Whitney herself even took a poke or two at the tune during her 1999 tour, when she'd introduce 'Exhale' by saying, "I thought he had ran out words ... the man comes up with a whole album and he gives me a song with every word being shoop."

"Wooly bully, wooly bully"
-'Wooly Bully,' Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1965)

This Chicano-rock oldie but goodie was one of the first songs to get yanked from the air waves because DJs had no clue what the lyrics meant. Domingo "Sam the Sham" Samudio didn't offer much by way of explanation, though he did admit that he named the tune after his cat.

"Gabba gabba, hey"
-'Pinhead,' Ramones (1977)

This phrase was actually borrowed from the creepy 1932 cult flick 'Freaks,' in which a host of side-show denizens surrounded an interloper and burbled "Gooble gooble, we accept her, one of us!"

"Na-na-na-na,
Hey hey, goodbye"
-'Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye),' Steam (1969)

One of the most inarticulate kiss-offs ever, this little song ranks among rock's great accidental hits. Hurriedly produced as a B-side by a band that had broken up by the time of its release, "Na Na" wasn't even finished -- merely a guide vocal laid down to be replaced by real lyrics.

"Ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang ba ba ding a dong ding"
-'Blue Moon,' The Marcels (1961)

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote 'Blue Moon' in 1934 -- but they didn't write that. Singers from Ella Fitzgerald to Elvis Presley have tackled the song, but Pittsburgh's the Marcels made it shimmy and shake by adding syllables that were far out even for doo-wop. Rodgers was so horrified by their recording he took out an ad begging folks not to buy it

"Da doo ron ron ron
Da doo ron ron"
-'Da Doo Ron Ron,' The Crystals (1963)

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich penned hits for various girl groups, including Phil Spector's Crystals. Stuck at the first line of the Crystals' new song, "I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still," they inserted the nonsense syllables "da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron" as a place holder. And the rest was history.

"In a gadda da vida, baby..."
-'In a Gadda Da Vida,' Iron Butterfly (1968)

Colorful, psychedelic, and so lengthy that it had listeners fidgeting in their fascination, people have always wondered about the title. What the heck does it mean?! According to drummer Ron Bushy, it came about when organist Doug Ingle polished off a whole gallon of Red Mountain wine one night and played this song on the keyboard. He was so drunk that when he would sing 'In the Garden of Eden,' it came out as 'In a Gadda Da Vida.' And the next morning, they woke up and decided to keep the title.

"Gitchy gitchy ya ya tata"
-'Lady Marmalade,' LaBelle (1974)

The song that did for hookers what the Beach Boys did for surfers is probably best known for the French come-on, "voulez-vous couchez avec moi?" -- translated as "would you like to sleep with me?" Co-writer Bob Crewe has said he overheard the phrase in New Orleans, which promised the sort of audacity that could only be delivered by, as the song states, a "Mocha chocolata ya ya."

"Shamon!"
-'Bad,' Michael Jackson (1987)

On the title song of Michael Jackson's album 'Bad,' is this line : "I'm bad, I'm bad, shamon!" And while it sounds as if Jackson is extolling the virtues of some sort of processed meat product, "shamon" is simply his unique way of saying "c'mon!"

"Ob la di, ob la da
Life goes on"
-'Ob La Di Ob La Da,' The Beatles (1968)

Paul McCartney found this family-friendly way to convey the notion that s*** happens -- by "borrowing" it from Nigerian percussionist Jimmy Scott. McCartney nabbed the title phrase, which means "life goes on" in the Yoruba dialect, and got (unsuccessfully) sued by Scott in the process.

"A-wop-bop a-loo-bop
A-wop bam boom"
-'Tutti Frutti,' Little Richard (1955)

Could this rock 'n' roll stalwart have been the first openly gay anthem? Richard, who was pretty unambiguous about his persuasion, originally wrote the tune to be decidedly raunchier -- basing it around the chant "tutti frutti, loose booty," later cleaned up to "tutti frutti, aw-rooty." The first half was a shout-out to the more effeminate males within earshot, and the latter is best left to the imagination. We probably don't even want to know what carnal act "a-wop-bop a-loo-bop a-wop bam boom" may have alluded to.

4 comments:

Hale McKay said...

Nice. A very informative piece on some of "Rock 'N Roll's" gobbledy gook.

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs also had an album cut - (I don't think it was released as a single, though it may have been a B-side.) - called Ring Dang Doo.

Makes we wonder about some others, such as:

Rama Lama Ding Dong, and Ooh Ee Ah Ah Walla Walla Ting Tang.

Serena Joy said...

Makes we wonder about some others, such as:

Rama Lama Ding Dong, and Ooh Ee Ah Ah Walla Walla Ting Tang


I've often wondered the same thing. Sadly, we may never know.:-)

Bilbo said...

The really interesting part of all this is that someone made a fair amount of money writing those memorable lyrics. Had Shakespeare only known, his plays would have probably been much shorter and less interesting. Bilbo.

Serena Joy said...

True, Bilbo -- which makes me grateful that Shakespeare never ventured there.:)