Edwin Starr’s plea for peace

Almost fifty years ago, Edwin Starr belted out an anthem simply called “War.” Written by Barret Strong and Norman Whitfield, Starr’s disdain for war and its aftermath comes through in his powerful rendition.

As I thought of this song, I mentally included it with two others – John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” he sang with CCR and Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers gone,” sung so well by Peter, Paul and Mary. These three songs come at this topic with sadness, skepticism and disdain.

But, for now, here are the lyrics to “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all
War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh good god, why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
War, whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die, ah, war-huh, good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But lord knows there’s got to be a better way
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for you tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it nothing

Truly, what is it good for? Starr asks an excellent question, one we must ask before we send our young men and women into harm’s way.

Ain’t no fortunate son – Tribute to CCR

You know a song has staying power when current events make you think of it, even though it was written over 40 years ago. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of those songs. Everytime I hear politicians eager to send troops into harm’s way, I tend to think that very few of them have had sons or daughters placed in harm’s way. This may be why many of us are so perturbed by the fabrication of weapons of mass destruction by the Bush/ Cheney leadership team, as Americans and our allied troops died for a false pretense. Here is a sample of the meaningful lyrics:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag. Ooh, they’re red, white and blue.
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief” Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no Senator’s son. It ain’t me, it ain’t me. I ain’t no fortunate one, no.

This song was an anthem for its time, but Creedence Clearwater Revival, had so many more. John Fogerty, his brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford formed CCR back in San Francisco in the mid-late Sixties. They usually are voted one of the greatest American bands for good reason. Their music and impactful lyrics resonate with so many and are reflective of America from its bayous to its towns. In fact, some refer to their music as “roots rock” or “swamp rock” depending on what source you read. Yet, rock they did and they did it so well, their songs are covered by others. The most noteworthy copy is probably “Proud Mary” which launched Tina Turner to another level with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue’s version.

Two of my favorite songs have the word “rain” in their title. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is probably voted by many as their favorite.  Here is a sample:

Someone told me long ago, there’s a calm before the storm.
I know, it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say, it’ll rain a sunny day.
I know, shinin’ down like water.
I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain? I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain, comin’ down on a sunny day?

I like this song because of John’s almost crying out, mournful lyrics. His voice seems to be suited for slower songs as they became more enriched. I feel this song is saying life will throw some challenges at you, even when things seem OK. It will even rain on you when things are sunny, so you just take the good with the bad and wake up the next day.

The other rain song is “Who”ll Stop the Rain?” Here are a few lines that resonate:

Long as I remember the rain been comin’ down.
Clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages tryin’ to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain?

Unlike the previous song, I feel this one is saying life is hard for some people. They don’t have as many opportunities, so it always seems like it is raining on them. There is an element of luck in where, when and to whom we are born.

One of my favorite songs which I used to sing to my kids while rocking them is “Lodi.” The song speaks of how we journey out to find ourselves, then for some reason get stuck someplace and make do. Lodi is that place.

Just about a year ago, I set out on the road.
Seekin’ my fame and fortune, lookin’ for a pot of gold.
Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you will know
the tune. Oh ! Lord, Stuck in Lodi again.

CCR’s most famous tune is “Bad Moon Rising” in part because it is one of the most misunderstood lyrics of all time. No, there is not a bathroom on the right – it is “there’s a bad moon on the rise.” This song is telling our Vietnam troops to be wary. They had several Vietnam oriented songs. Here is a sample:

Hope you got your things together. Hope you are quite prepared to die. Looks
like we’re in for nasty weather. One eye is taken for an eye.
Well, don’t go around tonight. Well, it’s bound to take your life. There’s
a bad moon on the rise.

There are many other favorites – “Down on the Corner,” “Green River,” ‘Run Through the Jungle,” and “Commotion” just to name only a few. CCR would not want to be called an American institution, so let’s call them who they are – they are us. We are not fortunate ones and have to work hard for what he get. We get scared and we have things go wrong. And, some of us don’t get as many chances.

For those of you who have never dived into their music and lyrics, you are in for a treat. Their lyrics are still pertinent and poignant. They should be voted one of America’s top bands. As they are.

Did Parsley Save Rosemary in Time?

I don’t know where I heard or read it, but a mother was telling the story about her young son riding in the backseat of her car asking this question after hearing the famous Simon and Garfunkel song on the radio. “Did he?” asked the boy. “Did what?” she replied. He answered with the obvious question, “Did Parsley save Rosemary in time?”

“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”  is a chorus from “Scarborough Fair,” one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, but if you are not a cook or an older eater, the lyrics can throw you. One of the most fun websites is called www.kissthisguy.com named appropriately after one of the most misunderstood lyrics of all time. For those who don’t know the famous Jimi Hendrix song, the song lyric from “Purple Haze” goes ” ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.” But, like many, I misunderstood the lyric as it made sense. Someone doing acid decided to kiss this guy.

John Fogerty, of one of the greatest rock bands – Creedence Clearwater Revival – had a field day with misunderstood lyrics. His creative license to sing stretched the lyrics into unusual directions when he performed his songs. The most famous malapropism is “There’s a bathroom on the right.” This lyric is what most people heard, but what he was trying to say is “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” But, his music was so good, we did not care as much that we did not understand what he was saying.

Misunderstood lyrics even hit the Rolling Stones. One of my favorites is from “Beasts of Burden” when Mick was clearly heard to say “I”ll never leave your pizza burning.” Then there is the song “Jumpin Jack Flash.” This song is so hard to understand, when Whoopi Goldberg starred in the movie of the same name, her character had to listen to this Stones’ song for a clue to a password. After listening umpteen times and with more wine in her, her character blurts out “Mick, what in the f–k are you saying?”

Bon Jovi did not escape being misunderstood on occasion. Their anthem of the 1980’s “Livin on a Prayer” had a line that was heard by more than a few – “It doesn’t make a difference if we are naked or not.” This was likely his female audience having dreams about the lead singer, but I digress. My wife would be in the category.

Let me close with my two favorite misunderstood singers – Elton John and Elvis Costello. I think both are terrific performers and songwriters. Elvis Costello is more easily misunderstood as he has some very interesting lyrics on occasion. On some of his songs, I just had to get the CD out and see what the name of the tune was. “Oliver’s Army” is a great song, but I had a no idea what he was singing about at first. Then, there is “Watching the Detectives” as I ranged from watching with the dead girl to who knows what. Now, it is appropriately used by the “History Detectives” show as their theme song. And, if you really want to get confused listen to “New Laced Sleeves.”

Elton John has written some of the best music of all time and partnered with Bernie Taupin who wrote the lyrics to most. Their songs are classic and, if you ever go to an Elton John concert, you will witness several generations of family members singing his songs word for word. His is one of the most amazing concerts I have ever seen. It is good that everyone learned Taupin’s lyrics, as it is very hard to glean them from Sir Elton. You may say that I am all wet, as we all know the lyrics of their songs by now, yet when you heard them for the first time, you definitely had to pull out the album insert. This was before the internet. so we could not easily do a search. I will leave you with a few and let you match them up with the actual lyrics:

“Levon likes to warble like a clown.”

“She’s got electric boobs, a mohawk too…”

“Your cat can’t pee in the penthouse.”

“Hold me closer Tony Danza.”

Check out this website, if you have not already. I am sure you will find several lyrics you have heard differently than those intended by the author. And, the answer to the boy’s question, Parsley did save Rosemary in time. She was about to get run over by a bus on the way to Scarborough Fair and Parsley saved her in the nick of time.