When we previously discussed the limitations of viewing songs as vibes and not paying attention to their mention, the phenomenon was viewed largely as a contemporary one. This is not necessarily the case. Indeed, a great many songs which are at present highly disparaged by music critics are disparaged precisely because they were originally appreciated as vibes and their lyrics do not happen to make sense when viewed in detail. Indeed, in at least one of the cases of such songs, a version of the song was written and recorded which made sense, but which was not liked nearly as much as the nonsensical version which preserved a certain vibe, even if it does so at the sake of illogic. It is curious as to why this is the case.
Let us consider some of these examples, at least briefly. The aforementioned song that was recorded in multiple versions was “I Want It That Way,” written by Max Martin and recorded by the Backstreet Boys, a song which has the singers commenting about how they want things that way that happen to make no sense. Oddly enough, having the lyrics make sense made them less appealing, and so the nonsensical version was preserved which allows for a more romantic mood, I suppose. Spandeau Ballet’s “True” is a song that has had a long life inspiring samples, as, for example, in PM Dawn’s “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” a song that was itself covered (interestingly enough) by the Backstreet Boys on their debut album. While the song is legendary for its smooth jazz vibe, the song’s lyrics also make no sense. What does the singer know is true? Why does he think that it is hard to write a line of the song that says that he wants the truth to be said or known? The truth of the song appears to be an enjoyment of passion and the sensuality of Marvin Gaye’s music, but the lyrics indicate that not everything going on in the narrator’s situation is apparently all that positive, although the mood of the song is a positive one, and has led to the song being enjoyed without being understood, if it indeed can be understood as written.
One of the most baffling examples of a vibe that was inexplicably popular was Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me,” which is incoherent on multiple levels. Most of the song is a slow dirge in terms of its music, but the song has a random upbeat bridge that goes to midtempo. And while a song as slow and as basic in its instrumentation and production would appear to indicate a desire that the attention of the audience should be focused on the lyrics in the absence of an alternative to pay attention to, the song’s lyrics don’t happen to make any sense either. In the song’s chorus, the singer appears to be calling upon someone else (perhaps a partner) to communicate with a goal of togetherness and to praise what is natural, but this is juxtaposed with verses that sing about such subjects as strange dreams involving people in a masquerade, which would be the very opposite of the natural togetherness that the author appears to be singing about. It is possible that the lyrics are a mere stream of consciousness and not meant to be paid attention to all that closely, but if that is the case, then the song needs something else to focus on besides those nonsensical lyrics. And yet the song’s vibe, for what it’s worth, appealed strongly enough to people to make the song a #1 hit during the 1980’s.
And lest it be assumed that I dislike songs that are a vibe whose lyrics do not happen to make a great deal of sense, there are indeed quite a few cases where I enjoy a song because of the way it sounds, even as I wish the songs made more sense. One such example is George Michael’s, “Heal The Pain,” where the song’s lyrics completely fail to meet the expectation of the beginning lyrics that appeal to the singer’s desire to tell a simple story, a story that is never told because the singer spends the entire song engaged in trying to manipulate someone to love him so that he can heal their pain from a past (or current) bad relationship, with the obvious reluctance of the object of the narrator’s affection leading him to repeat the appeal over and over again and, again, never get to telling a story at all. And despite the lyrical failure, the song itself is a beautiful one as produced, with gorgeous guitars and layers of vocalization, in addition to the disappointing lyrics. The song itself is designed to produce a mood of longing and yearning, and the lyrics reflect this, but the lyrics are by far the weakest element of the song and the song is itself best enjoyed when listening to the guitar and vocal sounds and not when trying to dissect the lyrics.
What does all of this mean? It is not a bad thing for a song to be a vibe. As human beings, we not only resonate with words, but also with instrumentation and with production. We like the way that certain sounds make us feel, or we can relate to the combination of certain sounds and instruments together, as those sounds can form parts of the soundtrack of our lives. Given this effect, which is often skillfully used by those who create and produce music, it may seem a bit unpleasant to subject the songs that lead to this powerful effect in making ourselves feel understood and appreciated to severe scrutiny that often exposes that the songs that evoke such feelings do not tend to make much sense or be praiseworthy when it comes to their actual message. We do not want that which means something deep and difficult to explain to us to not really mean anything at all, or to mean something troublesome or problematic. And yet that is a problem we have to deal with when we look at art and how we respond to it.