Illustrations by Violeta Noy
Ah, music. Isn’t it wonderful? Music and lyrics can take you on the proverbial rollercoaster ride of emotion, from being madly in love to being mad at the one you loved. Music allows artists to enter their wonderful, mysterious places of creation to produce beautiful pieces which move us. Three or four minutes of genius which can whisk you away to places you’ve never been to, real and fictional. Whatever mood you’re in, music is there for you.
Yeeeeah. So, that’s great and everything, but I’m not here to talk about that.
There’s a dark side to music and its lyrics: its attitude toward grammar. You can’t see this, but even just typing that last sentence has brought out my “how dare they” face. And how dare they?! Just because you’ve spent 3 years working on your concept album which came to you “in a vision,” it doesn’t mean you can play God with the rules we all must follow. Because that’s where it starts, you see. The breakdown of all communication. One day you’re ignoring grammar, and, before you know it, there are only a few of us left — wandering an apocalyptic wasteland looking for the last unopened can of fruit.
Am I being overdramatic? Perhaps. Should grammar be sacrificed for art? I’m offended you even asked. Either way, take a look at these examples. Then you and I can talk. Or you and me can talk, as most pop stars would probably say.
I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown
Original: “I Got You (I Feel Good)”
Fixed: “I’ve Got You (I Feel Well)”
Godfather of Soul, definitely. Godfather of Grammar1? Less so.
Sorry, Mr. Brown, you can’t dance your way out of this one. Or hide under a cape. You might argue that “I feel well” doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I would argue that I don’t care. Because you have committed the classic sin of using “good” as an adjective to modify the verb “feel.” Which, as we all know (RIGHT?), you should use an adverb to modify. An adverb like “well,” or, in the case of me thinking about the state of this line, “down.”
You would think you couldn’t fit any more mistakes in a 6 word title. But you’d be wrong: “I got you” should also be “I’ve got you.” Because when you use “got” – the past participle of “get” – to show possession, it is as “have got.” As in, “I’ve got a list of people I will never speak to again after telling me grammar doesn’t really matter.”
1A title I am trying to claim for myself.
Hungry Eyes, Eric Carmen
Original: “I feel the magic between you and I”
Fixed: “I feel the magic between you and me”
When there’s a lofty disregard for the correct usage of pronouns, there can never be any magic. Ever.
For those of you wondering about the details of this linguistic turn-off, let me explain. The “thing” performing the action of “feeling” in this sentence is the singer. So he’s the subject, the thing performing the action. He’s singing the song, “I” is the subject pronoun for the first person singular, and it was correctly used here. Managed to get that right, at least.
So, the remaining “things” are objects; the singer (again) and the person he’s singing to (the object of his affection, if you must). The object pronoun for the first person singular is “me,” not “I.”
To add insult to injury, the previous line is “I’ve got hungry eyes.” He stomped all over grammar to rhyme “I” with “eyes.”
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
Original: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”
Fixed: “I Can’t Get Any Satisfaction”
This is another common one seen in songs past and present — the double negative. I mean, how can you not get nothing. If there’s nothing there in the first place, then, well, there’s nothing to get and nothing to not get. Think about it, people.
Wait… I may have slightly confused myself. Either way, in short: this was bad, I fixed it. Me: right. Rolling Stones: wrong.
Rich Girl, Gwen Stefani
Original: “If I was a rich girl”
Fixed: “If I were a rich girl”
Oh, Gwen. I can put up with average songs boasting about riches you (apparently) don’t have. But what I will not put up with is an incorrect type 2 conditional sentence!
This is a conditional sentence which describes a hypothetical situation. When you use it, it should be “if I were” and not “if I was.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Looks like it’s not easy enough.
Everytime You Go Away, Paul Simon
Original: “Everytime You Go Away”
Fixed: “Every Time You Go Away”
These stars always find new and inventive ways to upset the Grammar Gods. I say that because the issue here is only in the title, and is something you might miss if you didn’t see it written down. But I did see it written down. And how I wept when I did.
So, to make it clear… Are you ready for this? The word “everytime” doesn’t exist. The word “every” exists. Ditto for the word “time.” “Everytime” exists as much as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and my ability to let terrible grammar go without comment. It is not a real compound word like “everyday” or “anytime.”
Ghostbusters, Ray Parker Jr.
Original: “Who you gonna call?”
Fixed: “Whom are you going to call?”
Is the answer “the Grammar Police” with your confession in hand? Or the local library to lend you a decent book on grammatical concepts?
Urgh, where to start with this one. Firstly, “gonna” isn’t a real word – did Ray Parker Jr. listen to too much Paul Simon at the time? So that should be “going to.”
Then, it’s my old nemesis again: subject and object pronouns. The object pronoun of “who” is “whom.” The subject here is you, the person doing the calling. The person you are calling is the object. So… it’s “whom.” Oh, and the “are” is now also added where it should be (rolls eyes).
Anyway, I am not impressed that I have to explain this again. Will these so-called “talented” artists ever learn? I need to slap some cold water on my face and lie down (NOT lay down – keep reading).
Lay Lady Lay, Bob Dylan
Original: Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed.
Fixed: Lie lady lie, lie across my big brass bed.
Now listen here, Bobby. You may have received a Nobel Prize in Literature and won more awards than I’ve had hot dinners, but this is a monstrosity of a mistake you’ve made.
To “lay” is to put something down somewhere. It requires a direct object. For example, “Lay that book (direct object) on the table.” To “lie” is to rest or recline. It requires a subject. For example, “I (subject) will lie down because listening to this song has given me a migraine.” The lady in these lyrics is the subject. She is not being laid down on the bed, she is lying down on the bed herself.
What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner
Original: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
Fixed: What does love have to do, have to do with it?
It’s time for some action on this contraction (I enjoyed a little smug smile to myself after thinking of that). Anyway, “what’s” is a contraction of either “what is” or “what has,” but in this sentence the correct word after “what” should be “does,” so the contraction used here is incorrect.
In fact — I am not done with you yet, Tina — the correct expression is “have to do with (something),” not “got to do with (something).” For example, “What does proper grammar have to do with everyday life?” Everything, that’s what.
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da, The Police
Original: De do do do, de da da da
This is not so much an offense in grammar as an exercise in deliberate gibberish.
One to file under the “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” section, this reminds me that I generally prefer my song lyrics to make some sort of sense — even if Sting claims he wrote it as a comment on the way politicians, entertainers, and other people in the public eye use words to manipulate others.
Although, if I am honest, I actually quite like it. So catchy. See, I’m not the rage-filled monster people say I am.