Friday, 17 June 2011


Is there a less rock-and-roll word than "very"?

In the sense of "extremely, but not as extremely as 'extremely' would have suggested"?  I don't think there is.  It contradicts something pretty innate in how i imagine rock music to be: surely, rock is all about extremes, extremes, not slight intensifications.  Rock is implicitly all extremely very.  When the Beatles sing "Because the wind is high, it blows my mind", it is clear that they mean the wind is very high.  When Bob Dylan sings "Purple clover, Queen Anne lace, crimson hair across your face", we're clearly not talking about a sort of light mauveish clover or moderately brownish-red hair, possibly dyed or something; he obviously means very purple clover, very crimson hair, and presumably the Queen Anne lace is authentic, also.  I am somewhat aware that my point has now lost all credibility because of how ridiculously terrible my examples are, but hopefully you more or less get the idea.  "Very" is a flat redundancy in most rock lyrics.  Most pop lyrics, in fact; how about this one: "Don't'cha [sic] wish your girlfriend was hot like me?"  That the Pussycat Dolls mean very hot, not just kind of alright-looking, is very clear.

However, can you imagine them actually singing "Don't'cha wish your girlfriend was very hot like me?"?  I can't.  That would be stupid.  And, in fact (that's right, FACT), it is statistically provable that "very" features surprisingly little in popular music lyrics.  Observe:

"Very" returns about 5 billion hits from Google, and apparently Google indexes more or less 45 billion pages; that's one in every seven pages which contains the word "very".  [that seems mad.  Let's carry on though.]  On the other hand, SongMeanings has 16,459 results for "very" and 538,661 overall; that means "very" features in only 0.21 out of every seven songs.  You don't need a Master's degree in musicology to realise that this is far less.  You are ALMOST EXACTLY FIVE TIMES less likely to encounter the word "very" in a song than you are on the internet.

I think this is a good thing.  Because, as i suggested above, "very" often seems redundant.  I'm not even going to try to describe how disappointed i was when i discovered that Stevie Wonder was singing "Very superstitious" at the start of that song; what a drab lyric.  And how about Johnny Cash's "I find it very very easy to be true" from "I Walk the Line" - well, that just seems insincere.  [also, this is apparently a fair assessment, if the song was written for his first wife, as is claimed.]  Two fantastic songs, both almost ruined by the word "very", very sad.

I wonder if the music sort of performs the type of intensification that "very" never seems to need to provide in songs.  That is, if we might better transcribe a song's lyrics as "very [(the actual lyrics)]" - with the "very" being basically implied simply by the presence of some music. Maybe this would also explain why one of "very"'s most common replacements in pop, "so", seems so much less daft.  While it would have been ridiculous for the Beatles to sing "I'm very tired" (of course you are, otherwise why would you have written a bloody song about it), "I'm so tired" is absolutely fine - maybe because we can interpret "so" here as in (something like) "thusly", ie. referring to the music.  Probably not though i suppose.

As if to prove my point, here is a song called "Very" by Moby, which isn't particularly interesting and therefore perhaps might just as well have no title at all.

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