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Thread: Obscure and dated references in lyrics

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    Obscure and dated references in lyrics

    I was listening to Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly and in the song The New Frontier he sings: ‘Introduce me to that big blonde / She's got a touch of Tuesday Weld …’ I remember Tuesday Weld as an actress (just), but I bet anyone under the age of 40 (perhaps 50) would not know of her at all. It got me thinking about how many songs there are that refer to something/someone that anyone under the age of 30 now would not know a thing about (even though they may be able to guess from the context what it is; i.e., Tuesday Weld was a ‘big blonde’ so presumably they could work out she was a celebrity of some sort).

    In Tommy, there are the lines ‘Extra, extra. Read all about it / Pinball Wizard in a miracle cure.’ Even I cannot remember any newspaper seller shouting ‘extra, extra’, but they would have done so once. Again, in Tommy, how many people will remember holiday camps, such as ‘Tommy’s holiday camp, the camp with the difference / never mind the weather / When you come to Tommy’s, the holiday’s forever.’

    The Beatles, in Polythene Pam, sing: ‘Get a dose of her in jackboots and kilt / She’s killer-diller when she’s dressed to the hilt / She’s the kind of a girl that makes The News of the World / Yes, you could say she was attractively built.’ The sensationalist News of the World was axed in 2011, and, while it is clearly a newspaper, I wonder how many people will actually remember it in years to come. Even the phrase ‘killer-diller’ is no longer used.

    Roy Harper needed sleeve notes to explain he was referring to cricketers John Snow and Geoffrey (‘corridor of uncertainty’) Boycott in the lines: ‘When an old cricketer leaves the crease / you never know whether he's gone / If sometimes you're catching a fleeting glimpse / of a twelfth man at silly mid-on / And it could be Geoff and it could be John / with a new ball sting in its tail …’ (and after 50 years of watching the game I still am not sure where silly mid-on stands). Incidentally, Harper’s interview with Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special’s View from the Boundary is excellent, available on YouTube.

    There must be many such obscure/dated references out there. It would be interesting to see others.
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  2. #2
    I'll be 49 in a week's time and I know Tuesday Weld just fine. Remember her from a bunch of movies, notably Who'll Stop the Rain.

    But then again I'm a filmbuff and espec everything in regards to the New Hollywood era (1967-83).

    However, ask people under 40 about Karl Malden and they won't believe you even if you get to prove your point.
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  3. #3
    Probably any topical song about current events would apply. Would anyone today know what Neil Young's "Ohio" is about?
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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Munster View Post
    I was listening to Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly and in the song The New Frontier he sings: ‘Introduce me to that big blonde / She's got a touch of Tuesday Weld …’
    Of course that song is full of intentionally dated references. The title itself refers to the Kennedy administration.
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    "Hey, nineteen
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    He got a chauffeur that's a genuine dinosaur
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    We all came out to Montreux
    On the Lake Geneva shoreline
    To make records with a mobile
    We didn't have much time
    But Frank Zappa and the Mothers
    Were at the best place around

    Whose mother? In Montreal? I don't understand
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigbassdrum View Post
    To make records with a mobile
    recording music on a smartphone with an app is modern technology!

  9. #9
    Then there are large hunks of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, especially the song "Broadway Melody of '73", that I suspect your average modern audient wouldn't get:

    Echoes of the Broadway Everglades
    With her mythical Madonnas still walking in their shades
    -- how many kids will get that this isn't about Madonna?
    Lenny Bruce declares a truce and plays his other hand
    Marshall McLuhan, casual viewin', head buried in the sand
    There's sirens on the rooftops wailing, but there's no ship sailing,
    Groucho, with his movie trailing, stands alone with punchline failing

    Ku Klux Klan serves hot soul food
    While The Band plays "In The Mood"
    The cheerleader waves her cyanide wand
    There's a smell of peach blossom and bitter almond
    -- okay, not really dated, but how many people actually get these two lines, or connect them to Caryl Chessman?

    Caryl Chessman sniffs the air, and leads the parade
    He knows in a scent you can bottle all you made
    "In a scent"? Chessman innocent? Pfff.
    There's Howard Hughes in blue suede shoes
    smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston cigarettes

    And as the song and dance begins,
    The children play at home
    with needles
    Needles and Pins
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sturgeon's Lawyer View Post
    Then there are large hunks of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, especially the song "Broadway Melody of '73", that I suspect your average modern audient wouldn't get:

    Marshall McLuhan, casual viewin', head buried in the sand
    There's a McLuhan reference in the song "Oh Dear, Miss Morse" by Pearls Before Swine:

    Don't blame me dear
    Blame McLuhan
    His media
    Was your ruin

    And who they heck uses Morse code these days?
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    Member moecurlythanu's Avatar
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    That Genesis track was the first one that came to mind.

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    Pretty much the entirety of Billy the Mountain, right? Much as I love the JABFLA recording, that's the biggest impediment to turning other people on to the greatness of the piece. We didn't care in the midwest in 1977, but the references are nearly 50 now!
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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sturgeon's Lawyer View Post
    smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston cigarettes
    How is that a dated reference? They still make Winstons.

    Quote Originally Posted by proggy_jazzer View Post
    Pretty much the entirety of Billy the Mountain, right? Much as I love the JABFLA recording, that's the biggest impediment to turning other people on to the greatness of the piece. We didn't care in the midwest in 1977, but the references are nearly 50 now!
    Not only dated, but half of that album you won't get anyway if you didn't live in southern California at the time.
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    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    Pretty much anything political will absolutely sound dated in the future. If you listen to a standup routine from 20, 30, or more years ago about anything other than politics, or other current events, it still sounds fresh today. Political and/or current events humor, anything but.
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    Agreed on 'Billy The Mountain'. TV evangelists were another favourite target of Zappa's in later years, that was never a 'thing' in the UK.

    Certain tracks on Lennon/Ono's Some Time In New York City are, lyrically, total time-capsules. 'John Sinclair' and 'New York City' for instance. I think Ono came up with some better songs than Lennon did ('Sisters O Sisters', 'We're All Water')!

    I suppose there's also the 'Meet The Wife' reference in 'Good Morning Good Morning'. This was the title of a radio show from the time, I just thought he meant it literally!

    And then you have the novelties linked to films/TV shows like, I don't know, 'Kookie Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)'. That one really means nothing to me as I've never seen the TV show.
    Last edited by JJ88; 4 Weeks Ago at 03:34 PM.

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    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by syncopatico View Post
    recording music on a smartphone with an app is modern technology!
    ........

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Garden Dreamer View Post
    Probably any topical song about current events would apply. Would anyone today know what Neil Young's "Ohio" is about?
    Yes, because the Kent State massacre is still talked about regularly.

    Then there are large hunks of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,
    Neon Leon, in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway itself. I'm not sure if anyone outside of a small circle in NYC even knew who Neon Leon was, but I'm sure all these years later, there's even fewer people who know that one.

    Also, the line about Evel Kenevel in Riding The Scree. I'm just barely old enough to know who he was (I had an Evel Kenevel lunchbox when I was in the 1st grade), I imagine anyone even just a few years younger than me has no idea about him.

    How many know today who "that old man in that book by Nabokov" that Sting was singing about in Don't Stand So Close To Me? It was probably an obscure allusion even in 1979.

    Then of course there's Vera on The Wall. How many people who bought that record in 1979 knew who Roger Waters was singing about? How many who hear it for the first time now know?

  18. #18
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    Neon Leon, in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway itself. I'm not sure if anyone outside of a small circle in NYC even knew who Neon Leon was, but I'm sure all these years later, there's even fewer people who know that one.
    I have no idea who Neon Leon was, but the lyric in LLDOB is "Money - honey - be on - neon."
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  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    I have no idea who Neon Leon was, but the lyric in LLDOB is "Money - honey - be on - neon."
    Next you're going to be telling me that Jimi Hendrix didn't really sing "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" on Purple Haze. I suppose Bob Weir isn't singing "Flashing my keys down on main street" on Truckin' either, huh?

    Oh and Neon Leon was a rock musician in NYC back in the 70's. I ghather he was an early punk scenester, playing at places like Max's Kansas City. I always assumed the line in the song was an allusion to him (or at least I did after I found out about Neon Leon).
    Last edited by GuitarGeek; 4 Weeks Ago at 07:54 PM.

  20. #20
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I suppose Bob Weir is singing "Flashing my keys down on main street" on Truckin' either, huh?
    Sure, right after the bit about Arrows of Leon.
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    Guess Who -"Clap For The Wolfman" would be a complete mystery today.
    He did not know that the sword he'd hold, would turn his priceless empire into fool's gold...

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    All Things Must Pass spellbound's Avatar
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    Tuesday Weld is still alive, and will be remembered for her movies and beauty for a long time to come.

    I don't recall hawkers selling newspapers by shouting "Extra! Extra!" but I know they did so because I watched plenty of old movies.

    We in the states assumed holiday camps were an English thing. Never had them here, AFAIK. I like to think we learned a little as teenagers listening to the songs of the Kinks and The Who. The more curious among us could increase our anglo-knowledge by reading and by talking to English people, if we met any in the days before internet. The less curious became politicians, as described to us in a song by Cream.

    2011 was fairly recent. But you are correct that few will remember News Of The World in the future. Few remember actual newspapers now, even though a handful still put out print copies. Our local free weekly bought the farm due to the pandemic. Hope it returns someday. Knowledge of current events, and literacy, should not go the way of common sense in this country.

    Even though Harper's HQ album was released in the states as When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease (for reasons unknown to me), few in the US knew much about cricket, other than that it was a baseball-like English game. In 1975, few of us had even seen a game televised. Fewer still could understand it. Still enjoyed the album. Never knew the 'Geoff or John' referred to real people. Never made out the lyrics "silly mid-on." That part was unintelligible to me.

    I'll see if I can scare up a few examples of obscurities and anachronisms.

  23. #23
    Funny you should mention this, but I was just thinking of this very subject as I was listening to the self-titled third album by Babe Ruth, which had an annotated lyric sheet explaining the obscure references to dance/choreography in “Dancer” and the Victorian-era slang terms in “The Duchess of Orleans.”

    What was the song where Donald Fagen name-dropped experimental singer Cathy Berberian?
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    All Things Must Pass spellbound's Avatar
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    I remember the wolfman


  25. #25
    All Things Must Pass spellbound's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Progbear
    What was the song where Donald Fagen name-dropped experimental singer Cathy Berberian?


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