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December 22, 2009


Tom Freeman

I'm afraid there was no 'Golden Age' of pop songs with rational lyrics. Take the Beatles.

All You Need Is Love contains lines such as: "There's nothing you can do that can't be done/ Nothing you can sing that can't be sung". These, though, are trivial tautologies. If you can sing something, of course it can be sung.

Did they want to say that love gives you the power to make necessary truths still true? Of course not. On the other hand, this does (unwittingly) illustrate a sounder point: that love can make the banal seem profound.

Even so, they should have reworded it thus: "There's nothing that can be done that you can't do/ Nothing that can be sung that you can't sing". I'm sure the Beatles would have been more successful had they followed this advice.


Cheryl Cole surely ought to know that there are loads of things worth having but not worth fighting for - a lollipop being sold in a nightclub toilet, for example.


thinking about it, what about Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues"

"Early one morning while making the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
I went back home and I went to bed
I put that little 44 beneath my head"

this man clearly understands nothing about joint consumption functions. While he might have individually increasing utility in the goods of both {committing murder while injecting stimulants} and {a nice snooze}, these are obviously substitutes, not compliments; he would have done much better to have had his nap first, then woken up refreshed and ready for a day's drug-fuelled violence.


It's nothing new - analyse the lyrics of many an opera and you'll find just as many bad examples.

Andrew Russell

Further sampling bias occurs in the carol Once in Royal David's City in the lines:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as he

where, by using the extreme example of the Word Made Flesh as the template for childhood, the author fails to consider that other children may be incapable of achieving the same standards.

On the other hand, the narrator of the Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go is often lambasted for failing to realise that the answer to his dilemma is obvious - he tells us, after all, that if he goes there will be trouble, but if he stays there will be double. However, what he doesn't tell us is how the benefits stack up. It may well be that staying with his girlfriend would, despite her obvious controlling/sadistic tendencies, give him (and her?) more than the twice the pleasure that being alone would offer. Without that information, neither we nor he can make a decision.


I have been a fan of this blog for only a few months. To save me trawling the archives back to this time last year could any long term readers confirm whether this sort of bizarre rambling nonsense is a Festive tradition or not?

(Layman) Mike

Lyrics can be modified in the light of events, which is Bayesian, isn't it? A few years ago, the Joker line of Motörhead's Ace Of Spades:
"You know I'm gonna lose,
And gambling's for fools,
But that's the way I like it, baby,
I don't wanna live forever ...
And don't forget the Joker."
Was changed to:
"But apparently I am."
in the light of Lemmy's unexpected survival.

Andrew Russell

Oh, and on the Black Eyed Peas: you might be guilty of your own fallacy when you assume that your experience of the probabilities of having a good good night is in any way a model for will.i.an's chances of pulling. I'm prepared to bet that his average night is considerably more successful than any of ours. Whether the fact that we're scribbling nonsense on blogs while he's a multi-platinum rock star is cause or effect is a more difficult question.

Richard J

Passing the Dutchie on the right side isn't a crippling social solecism, unlike passing the port likewise.

john b

I'm not sure that Lady Gaga is exempt from criticism here. She implies that being caught in a bad romance (ie dysfunctional love affair) is qualification to co-write a bad romance (ie poor quality novel).

I can't think of any examples at all of poor novels being co-written by people in dysfunctional love affairs with each other. Or indeed, of good novels being co-written by such people.

In fact, the closest I can think of is Liz Jones and Nirpal Dhaliwal's assorted columns about their relationship, which I'd hope Gaga would join the rest of the world in wanting to forget and erase from their minds forever...

john b

@andrew, very good point - it's conventional to model "trouble" as an inverse proxy for "utility" when analysing that song, but you're right that this isn't a valid assumption without further information on the narrator's preferences.


This is brilliant


Regarding Cocaine Blues, it's also true that his legal defence strategy was heavily influenced by the optimism bias.

"Oh yes sir, my name is Willie Lee, if you've got a warrant just read it to me..."


Very good!


To address the question of whether this is a new phenomenon, I refer my honourable friend to the Christmas number one single of 24 years ago.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality

We begin here with a blatant self-contradiction. If there is no escape from reality then the questions 'is this the real life, is this just fantasy?' has to be redundant.

And don't even get me started on "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango"

John Terry's Mum

"To know you is to love you
. . . To love you is to be part of you"

Doesn't the fact she knows him, disqualify the "beautiful stranger" Madonna addresses herself to, from being a stranger?

However, her honesty in admitting to a lack of intelligence is refreshing
("If I'm smart then I'll run away
But I'm not so I guess I'll stay")
which may explain her misapprehension of the word "stranger"

john b

She could be using 'know' Biblically, which would still leave him a stranger I reckon...


Impressed but slightly disappointed that Chris resisted the temptation to favour us with a scantily clad pic of Lady Gaga or Cheryl Cole...


At last! A thread to dig my nails into the most maddening itch of the year. I speak, of course, of Lady Gaga's line...

"Russian roulette is not the same without a gun."

Of course it bloody isn't; Russian roulette necessitates a gun. Without a gun it wouldn't be Russian roulette...


Merry Christmas.

Blue Eyes

This has to be one of the best blog posts I have ever read.

Merry Christmas!


Of Cheryl Cole you accepted her statement that
"Anything that's worth having
Is sure enough worth fighting for"
This surely opens her up to contradiction, what about peace or nonviolence, fighting for those ideals would be indefensible.

I think I shall be applying my knowledge of logic and fallacies to more popular music from now on.


I wonder what cognitive biases there are in Christmas carols. Have a good one, Chris.


I'm pretty sure you're an idiot.


At the risk of taking the torch of realism to what is clearly flippancy: there's a little nice lesson to be learned by all of this.

Pop is pure emotion, as divorced from good reasoning as you've just demonstrated.

Clearly, the secret to happiness (or unhappiness, or angst, or paranoia, or pronoia) has been found: choose your cognitive biases well.


Why will this blog post not be reported in the Daily Fail or something similar, while some academic musing about Thomas the Tank Engine being anti-feminist whose views are equally irrelevant incite rage in half the population?


What bugs me about 'The Climb' isn't the time inconsistency, but the fact that Joe/Miley start out by wanting to move the mountain, but end up climbing the thing.

Also, of course it 'ain't about what's waiting on the other side'. If you wanted to know what's on the other side of a mountain, any sensible person would walk around it, not climb over it.

Disco Biscuit

Economists would have quite a bit to say about pop music, too. Take marginal utility. Whilst Joe might enjoy climbing his first or second mountain, he may well not enjoy his fourth or fifth.

Similarly, whilst we might have enjoyed the first couple of X Factor-type shows, we are surely by now fairly sick of them.


All of you are missing the point, Joe is not primarily conncered about what actually is "waiting on the other side" its the climb itself(yeah) that is important not the final outcome.
He presents us with a choice either we climb or we stand still and if we stand still we might find ourselves in a fight with some cloakroom assistant over a lollipop.
Joe clearly mindfull of this encourages us to keep on moving not in terms of "everything is gonna be alright" but admonishing us that "sometimes we're gonna loose".
This is almost prophetic in that he forsees the day when he might loose the Xmas Number 1 to some old men from America who have seen better days.

But of course Joe is not dismayed by this, on the contrary he steadfastly instructs us to "keep the faith keep your faith "( Woah)


"At last! A thread to dig my nails into the most maddening itch of the year. I speak, of course, of Lady Gaga's line..."

Nope. A similar, but far worse example, was Miley Cyrus:

"I've got my sights set on you/and I'm ready to aim."

Once you've got your sights set on someone, then you've already aimed. Retard.


"Forget that guff about Rage against the Machine vs. X Factor - truly, a herd of independent minds."

This is undoubtedly true,I was thinking the other day a CD single release of john cages 4'33 beating Joe mc for the christmas no 1 would have been a far more satisfying achievement.

Nick Brown

Showing my age, the most annoying lyric in pop history is that bit in Mike Oldfield's "Moonlight Shadow" when Maggie Reilly informs us that it's "4 a.m. in the morning". Of course it is, you halfwit.


"Are we human, or are we dancers?"

Brandon et al seem to presume that these two states are mutually exclusive. Although they are from Las Vegas, and I'm sure they'd be prepared to argue the distinction based on a sample of evidence from nights in Sin City.

Miss Debs

Hmm. How come there is always another mountain for Joe to climb if he is potentially able to make them move? Surely climbing it would prevent him focussing on moving said obstruction. I think he should turn to a life of meditation. Or perhaps write his own songs. Either would be entertaining.

The North Briton

Very good indeed sir.

Charles Frith

Great post and comments though 'Nothing you can do that cant be done' is a tautology possibly expressing and exempting people from guilt. I'd also argue that its sublime but I have plain ol' bias with regard to the Beatles.


There's nothing that can be done that you can't do/ Nothing that can be sung that you can't sing".

I disagree with this interpretation- it should be more like:
Everything you can achieve as an individual can already( eventually - if you're a pioneer) - be done -

Love is what makes us individual and special man


lighten up guys. and. dont diss our cheryl. you never heard of "fight the good fight"
dalai llama "never give up"
paul cohello "fight the good fight"
geordie spirit will never die"
annie battle is wore ganny
genetic ya see
n lemmy rocks.hes me ole mate.northern trooper.

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When thing seems up in the air And everything is so unfair And you stumble and fall Just pick yourself up and sing

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