I’ve always been quite a stickler for getting lyrics right when singing/rapping along to songs. It used to annoy me when someone got the lyrics wrong. It shouldn’t have done. But it did.
I don’t know when it started but for as long as I can remember, I’ve slightly obsessed over the lyrics of songs by artists I rate. You know what it’s like. You go to gigs and and look down your nose at the people that don’t know the lyrics. Singing along at the top of your voice is a badge of honour to show you’re a ‘real fan’ and thus, more of a fan than the person that just mutters along to the chorus. It’s weird. Why can’t you just enjoy listening to it(?) The people on stage are undoubtedly doing it better than you are. Also, when they occasionally switch up the delivery of a line, you end up sounding stupid.
When I was younger, I actually used to spend a decent amount of time transcribing lyrics to various songs for the Original Hip Hop Lyrics Archive (OHHLA). Back when I first discovered OHHLA, there weren’t really any alternatives online for finding complete lyrics to songs. It was amazing. Before then, I used to write them out in notepads. With a pen. On paper. Imagine that. I’ve still got entire A4 binders worth of sloppily written down Wu-Tang lyrics.
This was also before mp3’s really kicked off, so if you were going to transcribe the lyrics to a song, you pretty much actually had to own the song. I was really into Chino XL around then, and NONE of his tracks were anywhere on mp3. Or even in Real Media. Nor did they stock his music in the little old HMV in Plymouth. I spent literally tonnes acquiring his back catalogue via eBay and off of people from various forums. I seem to remember paying upwards of £40 for the promo 12″ of ‘Purple Hands In The Air’ (it was purple vinyl!) because I’d never heard it / even seen it anywhere else before then; but I’m trying to block out that memory because, it really really wasn’t worth that much money looking back at it. Ah well. It was dope at the time. The b-side, ‘Dark Night of The Blood Spiller‘ killed it.
Anyway, the point is, I had these copies of things that most people didn’t have, so I felt it was my duty to contribute to the world wide hip-hop community by writing down the lyrics to those tracks and sending them to OHHLA. A lot of the lyrics I submitted are still up there. In fact, nothing much has changed about OHHLA at all in the years that have gone by. But that’s another story.
At the time, I thought that my contributions were valuable. There were occasionally bits that were unintelligible on some songs (especially those early Chino records.. he went in for that double time Fu-Schnickens esque style), but generally, I thought I did a good job. It wasn’t until years later that I looked back at them and realised that my versions were sometimes really off. (Just like most of OHHLA actually). A lot of those hip hop lyrics rely on a good grasp of pop culture and/or a specific region or scene. A grasp that 15 year old from Plymouth such as myself just couldn’t have. Age has given me wisdom, a wider knowledge of the world, and a sense of embarrassment of my younger self. Little things like mistaking ‘going out like the USFL‘ for ‘going out like DUSFL‘. I had no idea what either of those were, but now I get the reference to the short lived American Football league. There’s plenty of other, more shameful examples that I wont share.
I’ve sort of lost track here :), but to summarise:
- I used to get annoyed when people got the lyrics wrong to songs
- I thought I was really badass at getting the lyrics right
- It gave me an enormous sense of wellbeing
- Then I realised I was fallible. I was crushed
- So then I gave up caring if people get the lyrics wrong. It’s irrelevant really
This little trip down memory lane came about because yesterday I got picked up on a getting a lyric wrong, by the original artist that wrote the song. So ashamed.
Since the proliferation of various other lyric sites online, there have been more and more people contributing incorrect lyrics to them. No more so than with hip-hop lyrics. Or at least, that’s where I notice it the most, because that’s what I listen to. I don’t really look at lyric sites anymore, mostly because I don’t often need to / care that much about learning the lyrics, but also because they’re just awful most of the time. But when I do see them and I spot a mistake, the mistake sticks in my head as source of mirth and I sometimes purposely sing the wrong lyric because they’re frequently so stupid that it’s funny. Such is the case with ‘Deep Space 9mm’ by El-P. Great track. Though I don’t know it all word for word, I do know that in the hook at the end, there’s a line that says “my generation just sit like ducks”. Because y’know, it refers to the idea of a ‘sitting duck’, get it(?) However, most lyric sites claim that it says “my generation just sit like dust”. Alluding to that concept of a sitting dust. Obviously. Because that makes sense.
While it’s clearly wrong, it’s always stuck with me. So when I tweeted about the video to ‘Deep Space 9mm’ yesterday, I casually threw in the ‘sit like dust’ line and thought nothing of it. People that know me and know the song would get it and it might cause a small smile. I didn’t expect to get the reply that I did.
That’s the actual real El-P picking me up on misquoting his lyrics. The shame! I even knew the correct lyric!
From here on out, I’m resuming my lyric snobbery and shouting at people who get them wrong. It’s much safer that way.
(Final confession: for far too long than is forgiveable, I genuinely thought the chorus to ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?‘ went “people, ooo-oo!” (as opposed to “feed the wooorld”). Really. I still sing my version.)