I’ll never leave your pizza burnin’

“Don’t go ’round tonight, it’s bound to take your life, there’s a bathroom on the right…”

Well, up ahead there may indeed be “a bathroom on the right,” but what John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival was singing in their 1969 hit single was, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

When we listen to a song lyric, there are often a lot of distractions that hamper our ability to understand the words.  First, there’s the recording itself.  Perhaps it’s not very well produced, or was recorded or mixed in a below-average studio.  There may be multiple layers of guitars, keyboards, horns, drums and more that drown out the vocals.  Or maybe the vocalist didn’t enunciate clearly, either by design or because the voice just isn’t very good in the first place.  And of course, the listener must often cope with ambient noise —  nearby conversations, car horns and traffic, enthusiastic crowds.

In a fascinating article last year in The New Yorker, blog writer Maria Konnikova explained the science and psychology of how we listen.  For instance, she points out that we tend to comprehend more fully when we can see the person who is talking; we have visual cues that help us put the words in order and assign meaning to words and phrases.  The same conversation heard over the phone might require occasional clarification because the visual cues are absent.

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Play me my song, here it comes again…

It’s generally agreed that the late ’60s/early ’70s was an especially fertile period in rock music history, and perhaps the most provocative genre at the time was progressive rock (or “prog” among devotees), the dense, complex, lengthy, ambitious, lyrically puzzling music produced by a handful of British bands who strove to bring rock a degree of sophistication and critical respect.

I say prog rock was provocative because it truly provoked reaction.  It was a proud and radical departure from the three-minute mainstream rock, soul and pop songs that dominated the musical scene in the 1965-1977 period.  A huge, largely male demographic embraced it fully, spending hours under the headphones absorbing every nuance of these song suites and extended opuses, and religiously attended their concerts.  Others, though, turned up their noses, dismissing it as excessive and pretentious, and counter to the prevailing wisdom that “rock was and should remain tied to adolescence and youthful rebellion, not some medieval fairy tale,” as one writer put it.

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