Pretty Much Pop #142: Song Lyric Literality w/ Dave Philpott

Since 2008, Dave has written cheeky (but actually heavily researched) letters to rock stars that point out logical flaws in and/or deliberately misunderstand their lyrics. Many of these have been answered by the artists and housed in three books: Dear Mr. Kershaw, Dear Mr. Popstar, and Grammar Free In The U.K

Mark Linsenmayer and Al Baker talk to Dave about the “green ink” stereotype in British comedy (that is the personality invented by Dave’s father behind these letters), metaphors in song writing, how meaning escapes the intentions of the author, the clash between lyrical meaning and musical style, how in many songs only one line is really essential and the rest is rhyming filler, avoiding clichés, building the song around a lick vs. writing lyrics first, bands where the singer and/or lyricist is disconnected from the writing of the music, the relation of musical quality to pop sensibility, and songs about writers block (the one Dave couldn’t remember is Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”).

Some of the letters that we bring up on the show address Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Ace’s “How Long,” Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” Squeeze’s “Tempted,” Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” The Miami Sound Machine’s “The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” and Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.”

Mark refers to his interview with Wesley Stace that featured an interesting lyricist/musician collaboration. Here’s his song about it being hard to write songs. 

Follow us @DerekPhilpott, @ixisnox, @MarkLinsenmayer.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by

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