I am not the first (or seven thousandth) person to complain about dumb lyrics in contemporary pop music, but I am prone to the occasional rant on the subject. Which is why, when I heard America’s “A Horse With No Name” on the radio the other day–a song that I like–I felt somewhat guilty. So, to alleviate my guilt, here’s a concession: there have always been brain-numbingly stupid lyrics in pop music.
In case you need a refresher:
Sample lyric #1: “There were plants and birds and rocks and things.”
This is almost understandable. In a literary sense, lists are hard to write. When Kimiko Hahn visited a workshop I was in, she mentioned that the cleverness or humor or insight of any given item in a list must be greater than that of the item that came before it. Otherwise, your poem is getting worse. I’m not as strict as that, but still: c’mon, America. Surely we can brainstorm more than three nouns for the desert. How about bones? Wolves? Sage, snakes, Jeeps, garbage from Burning Man?
Sample lyric #2: “The heat was hot.”
This is an observation so obvious it borders on nonsense, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that this line is actually worse than any number of similar lines that make less sense. Like, “the heat was cold” or “the heat was purple colored” or “my mustache was hot.” The noun implies the adjective.
Sample lyric #3: “The ocean is a desert with its life underground.”
No it’s not.
I admit that I don’t have a lot of room to criticize. Writing lyrics is hard, and the very few times I’ve tried it the results were so embarrassing I immediately destroyed all evidence. I’m not, for example, Randy Newman. Fortunately, Randy Newman has shared his opinion on “A Horse With No Name.” He said that it sounds like it’s “about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid.” Note that choice of verb.
I still like the song.