in praise of lyric sheets

So in my quest to start buying music in physical form as opposed to “digital rights” form, I’ve been hitting a few used record shops in San Francisco, namely the all famous Amoeba Music in the Haight and Rasputin’s in Union Square.  I used to go to the East Bay counterparts in Berkeley and Concord when I was in high school.  No doubt Amoeba had a far superior selection and was well-organized, but Rasputin had some fantastic deals (lots of $1 albums) and because is not organized well you could find some great hidden records if you took the time to hunt.

Which I did.

I probably should have actually flipped through my vinyl collection before hitting up Amoeba to refresh my memory as to what I already owned.  I didn’t and thus I now own two copies of Laura Nyro’s “Gonna Take A Miracle”, which is a great soul album that I love, obviously.

But I’ve been having a blast flipping through albums, aisle after aisle, for hours on end (I think I must have been in Amoeba for over four hours).  One of the more difficult tasks has been determining what albums I love vs. albums I want to buy.  And one piece of this criteria is whether or not that vinyl comes with a lyric sheet or lyrics printed on the back.

When I was a kid there was nothing better than getting a CD home, ripping it open, popping it into my CD player, and lying on my stomach on the floor and reading the lyrics along with each song on repeat.  To this day I can recite entire songs and albums from memory.  But with the advent of digital music I don’t do that anymore and I really can’t say that I can recall too many lyrics for any song I’ve bought over the past 10 years.

Of course most people will roll their eyes and tell me “Courtney, it’s called the internet.  Use it.”  Yes, obviously we can all find lyrics on the internet now and that’s how I normally do it.  In fact, I have two apps on my iPhone solely dedicated to displaying  the lyrics of any song playing on my iPod.

But, as I learned yesterday, the internet can be wrong.  No, really!  Stay with me!

One of my favorite Sleater-Kinney songs (I know, I know, I’ll stop talking about them eventually) is “Get Up”.  And for the longest time I thought Corin sang the following line: “Is there Splenda?  I am not ashamed.”  That was a really really weird line in the context of Sleater-Kinney, a band famous for singing about the negative female image issues.  “Corin’s singing about her love for Splenda?  Weird.”  Then again, I also thought it was kind of a cheeky line so I just went with it.

Then yesterday I bought “All Hands On The Bad One” on vinyl and looked at the lyric sheet as I was sipping at a coffee shop next to Amoeba called Rock’n Java.  There it was in black and white: “Is there splendor?  I’m not ashamed.”

Well, shit.  That makes a whole lot more sense.

I had a similar Facebook discussion with a friend of mine who thought that in “Skinny Love”, Bon Iver sings,

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be embarrassed
I told you to be kind

I on the other hand thought he sang, in the third line, “I told you to be balanced.”  Well I bought “For Emma, Forever Ago” yesterday and can confidently report that I’m right.

In addition to correcting my understanding of certain song lyrics, I was also reminded that sometimes lyrics don’t strike you until you see them in print.  One of the CDs I bought yesterday was a used copy of The Go-Betweens’ “Bellavista Terrace: The Best of The Go-Betweens”.  The Go-Betweens are a great 80s cult band from Australia who never made it big despite the fact that they sound a bit like The Smiths (especially with Robert Forrster sings) and write devastatingly beautiful lyrics.  I discovered them a few years ago after one of their members passed away and I’ve been re-listening to their albums(which I own digitally) a lot lately.

Flipping through the CD booklet I was completely floored, for what felt like the first time, by the beauty of their lyrics:

“And what will I miss?  Her cruelty, her unfaithfulness, her fun, her love, her kiss.” — “Part Company”

“‘When a woman learns to walk she’s not dependent anymore.’  A line from her letter; May 24” — “Bye Bye Pride”

“When the rain hit the roof with the sound of a finished kiss, like when a lip lifts from a lip.” — “The Wrong Road”

I had read these lyrics before on the internet, but something about seeing them on paper made them resonate even more.  Perhaps because it made them feel more personal.  These were words that were written down by these men, and not just digitally cataloged by strangers on the web.  I was so moved by these lyrics I kept pulling the album out as I was out with friends at bars and restaurants last night, waxing poetic about the lyrics and reading them aloud to anyone who would listen.  It was like I was high.

I’m such a nerd.  And not a particularly good dinner companion when I get in these obsessive moods.

But anyway.  Yay for lyric sheets and CD booklets.  They *do* serve more than just a practical purpose and they’re not a waste of trees.  They can completely transform how you experience a song or an album.

Oh, and while I’m at it, can I just throw in another plug for buying albums for album artwork?  Again, going back to S-K, I had previously only owned most of their albums in digital form.  For “The Hot Rock”, the cover of the album just looks like the band standing on a sidewalk hailing a cab.  Uh, ok.  I don’t really get it but sure.  Now, looking at the album, Carrie actually has a huge diamond ring on her finger that is sparkling rather brightly.  The back of the album is black and has nothing more than a huge diamond in the middle.  It’s only when I saw the album artwork that I remembered that Robert Redford had a diamond-heist movie called “The Hot Rock”.  Take all this along with the lyrics of the title track (which uses a diamond heist as a metaphor for a crap relationship) and it opens up a whole new understanding of the song, the artwork, and the album’s themes.  It’s a shame that artists do put a lot of effort and care into album artwork to further their artistic thematic vision and nowadays we completely ignore it because digital music often doesn’t give you the complete picture.

Anyway, I’m loving this music hunt.  I feel like a kid again.

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