You make me laugh, you make me smile

Some people love to quote lines from classic movies. Others cite the best lines from their favorite poems. Me? I’m all about classic rock lyrics! But my readers already know this, seeing as how this will be my 12th Lyrics Quiz on Hack’s Back Pages.

In the past, I’ve selected lyrics from Beatles songs, Paul Simon tunes, soul records, songs from movies, hit singles, deep tracks and more. This time around, I’ve chosen 20 classic rock songs with lyrics that make us smile, chuckle or laugh out loud.

Take a look at the 20 lines listed below, ruminate on them, and write down your answers on a piece of paper. Then scroll down to see how many you identified correctly, and read a little bit of background about each one. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end so you can listen to where the lyric appears in each track.

Music’s here for us to love each day. Let’s have a little fun!

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1 “My Maserati does one-eighty-five, /I lost my license, now I don’t drive…”

2 “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…”

3 “Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister Customs Man…”

4 “There’s a light in your eye, and then a guy says, ‘Out of the car, longhair!’…”

5 “I told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been…”

6 “Is there nothing I can take to relieve this bellyache?…”

7 “Now I’m playing it real straight, and yes, I cut my hair, /You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care…”

8 “Well, there’s nothing to do, and there’s always room for more, /Fill it, light it, shut up and close that door…”

9 “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?..”

10 “I wanna squeeze her, but I’m way too low, I would be runnin’ but my feets too slow…”

11 “When I began the game, hear me singin’ ’bout fire and rain, /Let me just say it again, ‘I’ve seen fives and I’ve seen tens’…”

12 “That cigarette you’re smokin’ ’bout scare me half to death, /Open up the window, sucker, let me catch my breath…”

13 “Putting drumsticks on either side of his nose, snorting the best licks in town…”

14 “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes…”

15 “I whipped off her bloomers and stiffened my thumb, and applied rotation on her sugar plum…”

16 “I was so pleased to be informed of this, that I ran twenty red lights in His honor, /Thank you, Jesus…”

17 “The owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a fence post…”

18 “So put down your books and pick up a gun, we’re gonna have a whole lotta fun…”

19 “Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best, and he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest…”

20 “I’m blowing the day to take a walk in the sun, /And fall on my face on somebody’s new-mown lawn…”

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1 “Life’s Been Good,” Joe Walsh, 1978

Walsh, one of rock’s best guitarists, has always been one of rock’s more colorful characters as well, joking about life and keeping things light. In his biggest hit from his aptly named “But Seriously Folks” album, he makes fun of himself and his excessive rock star tendencies in multiple verses. I love the irony in someone owning an expensive car but unable to drive it because his license was taken away!

2 “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon, 1973

Most of us have memories of suffering through required high school classes full of useless information we’d never need later in life. Simon found a way to nail this nearly universal sentiment in one of pop music’s most cynical opening lines. The rest of “Kodachrome” is a breezy yet thoughtful appreciation of the things that color our world, but that first line cracks me up every time I hear it, and I always sing along at top volume.

3 “Comin’ Into Los Angeles,” Arlo Guthrie, 1969

Guthrie had made his name as a wry songwriter with the epic “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” in 1967, and then cemented his street cred at Woodstock, where he opened his set with this jocular song about a stoned hippie trying to sneak some marijuana into the country.  He’d recorded “Comin’ In to Los Angeles” earlier that year, but its appearance on the “Woodstock” soundtrack album was what made it famous.

4 “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” Loggins & Messina, 1972

Jim Messina’s song tracks the life of a typical teenager stuck with square parents who try to limit his fun times with his girlfriend. On one occasion, they’re gettin’ busy in the back seat when they’re interrupted by a cop, who overreacts with “Out of the car, longhair!” I saw Messina perform here in L.A. a couple years ago, and this song, played near show’s end, is still a big crowd pleaser.

5 “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels Band, 1979

The tale of a fiddle competition between Satan and a good ol’ Southern boy was Charlie Daniels’ ticket to the Top 5 of the pop charts in 1979.  Making a deal with the Devil is serious business, but Daniels found a way to make it clever, with the Devil coming out on the short end and the young man Johnny defiantly declaring victory as the better fiddler.

6 “Coconut,” Nilsson, 1972

Harry Nilsson was a very creative songwriter who was once singled out by Lennon and McCartney as one of their favorites, which was no small achievement. He penned some serious, thought provoking songs as well as some whimsical ones, the best known of which was probably “Coconut,” which builds and builds as it repeats the prescription for the protagonist’s bellyache and other ills.

7 “Hip To Be Square,” Huey Lewis and The News, 1986

Huey Lewis and The News were pegged as a frat boy party band, with a relatively clean look and stage persona. So it wasn’t too much of a stretch when Lewis and the band wrote this fun tune that claimed it was OK to follow the rules and conform to society’s expectations. Hipsters of the ’80s loved the irony of the lyrics and took to cutting their hair short and wearing “square” clothing styles. What a hoot.

8 “Shanty,” Jonathan Edwards, 1971

Edwards, best known for his 1971 hit “Sunshine,” also wrote this wonderfully cheeky song about staying home and putting a good buzz on. There was plenty of that going on in the early ’70s, but at that time, songwriters had to be relatively discreet in talking about it, and Edwards did a fine job of using humor to do just that.  I love singing along to this one, usually with a knowing wink and a smile.

9 “With a Little Help From My Friends,” The Beatles, 1967

As sessions for the landmark “Sgt. Pepper” album were drawing to a close, they still hadn’t come up with a song that featured Ringo on vocals, as each previous album had done. So John and Paul collaborated on this self-deprecating singalong, with lyrics that poked fun at their drummer’s sometimes shaky vocal abilities. Pretty gutsy, and amusing, to begin a song by apologizing if the singer sounds off-key.

10 “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu,” Johnny Rivers, 1972

In 1957, the US was hit with outbreaks of both the “walking” pneumonia and the “asian flu.” Huey “Piano” Smith, an R&B artist who helped influence the direction rock and roll music would take, turned those illnesses into musical maladies in this lighthearted rocker. His version stalled at #56 on the pop charts, but in 1972, singer Johnny Rivers revived the tune and made it a #6 hit in early 1973.

11 “Money Machine,” James Taylor, 1976

Taylor writes and sings a lot of “feel good” music with lyrics that evoke warm thoughts and emotions, but he’s not exactly a jokester as a rule. Still, the occasional deep track offers a playful line or two that makes me smile. Consider this lyric from “Money Machine,” an exuberant song from his 1976 LP “In the Pocket” that satirizes his breakthrough hit “Fire and Rain” while skewering the endless pursuit of fame and fortune.

12 “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” Three Dog Night, 1970

Newman is most recently known for his delightful tunes in the “Toy Story” trilogy and other animated films, but he’s been writing sardonic, wry lyrics since his late ’60s career debut. He’s the guy who wrote “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the humorous #1 hit for Three Dog Night in which the naive narrator shares his anxiety and discomfort attending a party where drinking and drug use are rampant.

13 “Lather,” Jefferson Airplane, 1968

Grace Slick was the most striking, visible member of the band with a fabulous rock voice, but she didn’t write very many songs. But when she did, she made them count: “White Rabbit” is hers, as is the captivating leadoff track from the “Crown of Creation” album, “Lather,” which she wrote about Spencer Dryden, the band’s drummer. Her description of his cocaine use always struck me as funny.

14 “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Jimmy Buffett, 1978

Buffett has made a successful career writing and performing songs that make us smile and laugh: “The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful,” “It’s Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet,” “Off to See the Lizard,” “Last Mango in Paris.” He somehow found a way to turn one of his funniest songs — an ode to the almighty cheeseburger — into a lucrative restaurant chain. How do you like your cheeseburger?

15 “Dinah-Moe Humm,” Frank Zappa, 1973

From the early Mothers of Invention LPs to his many solo albums, Zappa had his tongue firmly in cheek when he wrote his lyrics. Sometimes clean, often dirty, his songs went where other songwriters dared not tread: “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” “Valley Girl,” “Your Dirty Love,” “Stick It Out.” Top of the list is the outrageously hilarious “Dinah-Moe Humm,” which focuses on a wager about an orgasm(!).

16 “Far Away Eyes,” The Rolling Stones, 1978

Thanks to the influence of the late Gram Parsons, the Jagger-Richard songwriting axis often leaned toward country rock, most notably on “Wild Horses” in 1971. On their ferocious 1978 comeback LP “Some Girls,” The Stones wrote their most country-ish song of all, “Far Away Eyes,” in which the narrator recalls listening to gospel radio and preposterously concluding God will let him get away with ignoring traffic laws.

17 “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me),” Tom Waits, 1976

Jazz/blues/rock singer Waits writes wryly perceptive songs about the underbelly of society, delivered in a gravelly voice that gives them realism. On his 1976 album “Small Change,” Waits offers this marvelous example of wordplay in a droll, stream-of-consciousness manner that’s as amusing as it is profound. You decide — is it Waits or the piano that’s been doing the drinking?

18 “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” Country Joe and The Fish, 1967

There were plenty of creatively strange musicians in the Bay Area in the ’60s, and “Country” Joe McDonald was certainly one of them. Of the many anti-war songs written during the Vietnam era, McDonald’s “we’re all gonna die” folk tune was the morbidly funniest. In the “Woodstock” film, his performance of it was accompanied by a trailer at the bottom of the movie screen with lyrics and a bouncing ball!

19 “Excitable Boy,” Warren Zevon, 1978

There are probably a dozen or more songs in Zevon’s impressive catalog of original material that qualify as humorous, topped by his 1978 surprise hit “Werewolves of London.” I’ve always been partial to the title song from that same album, “Excitable Boy,” which has background vocals by Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes. The crazy young man does several gruesome things, but the incident in this lyric is just bizarre.

20 “Daydream,” The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966

John Sebastian, the happy-go-lucky singer and songwriter behind The Lovin’ Spoonful, wrote some of the best “good time jug music” of the ’60s, hitting the charts a dozen times during their four-year run. One of the silliest and most popular was “Daydream,” which encouraged everyone to chill and enjoy watching the days go by. This lyric image always made me chuckle when it came along on the radio.

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Takin’ care of business, and workin’ overtime

A few years ago, Hack’s Back Pages took a look back at some of the jobs various future rock stars held before they hit the big time. I wanted to show how even future musical celebrities did stints at thankless jobs, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Whether you earn a living at a high-paying profession in medicine, law or banking, or at a more modest-paying job in service work or manual labor, or somewhere in between, these are all honorable occupations that make up the fabric of our national economy.

It occurred to me that I had never gotten around to compiling a playlist of songs about occupations. I expected my research would turn up several dozen candidates among the classic rock archives, but I was surprised to find pickings were few. Still, I think the 14 songs I’ve chosen here are solid, and the honorable mention list isn’t too bad either. There is, as always, a Spotify playlist at the end for you to listen as you read.

If your profession isn’t represented here, perhaps you can find a song that fits the bill and pass it along to me. Off to work!

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“Please Mister Postman,” The Marvelettes, 1961

Being a mail carrier can be a tough job. You’re threatened by dogs, you have to trudge through snow and rain, and you often are the bearer of bad tidings. But sometimes you get to make someone’s day with a long-awaited letter from a loved one. At least, you did back in the days when people still sent love letters! That’s what this golden oldie by The Marvelettes is all about. “Please, Mister Postman, look and see, /Is there a letter in your bag for me? /’Cause it’s been a mighty long time, since I heard from this boyfriend of mine…” It ended up as Motown Records’ first #1 single in late 1961, and The Marvelettes charted six more Top 20 tunes in their decade-long career (“Beechwood 4-5789,” “Playboy,” “Don’t Mess With Bill”). The Beatles covered “Please Mister Postman” in 1963, and The Carpenters’ rendition in 1975 also reached #1.

“Ice Cream Man,” Tom Waits, 1973

Waits is one of the most eclectic songwriters of the past half-century, with lyrics that swing between tender, morose, vicious and hilarious. On his marvelous 1973 debut LP “Closing Time,” one of the tracks he offered was this tribute to the fellow who sells ice cream from a truck that cruises through neighborhoods. This guy, though, seems to be interested in offering something more salacious than drumsticks and creamsicles: “Baby, missed me in the alley, baby, don’t you fret, /Come back around and don’t forget, /When you’re tired and you’re hungry and you want something cool, /Got something better than a swimming pool, /’Cause I’m the ice cream man, I’m a one-man band, /I’m the ice cream man, honey, I’ll be good to you…”

“Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” Chris de Burgh, 1982

This eerily dramatic tune, written and recorded by British rocker Chris de Burgh, seems to disparage the honesty of the man who skippers the ferry boat: “In the rolling mist, then he gets on board, now there’ll be no turning back, /Beware that hooded old man at the rudder, and then the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, /Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, /Don’t pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side…” I’m sure most ferry boat captains are honorable, but not in this song. In the UK, de Burgh has had a long and mostly successful run, from 1974 to the present day, with nearly two dozen albums in the Top 40. “Ferryman” cracked the Top 40 in the US, the first of only two to make the charts here (1986’s “Lady in Red” was a huge #1 hit).

“Paperback Writer,” The Beatles, 1966

In their early years, Lennon and McCartney wrote relatively simple songs about love and boy-girl relationships, but soon enough, McCartney found he enjoyed writing lyrics about other subjects, and fictional characters. As The Beatles were working on their magnificent “Revolver” album, Paul came up with this catchy tune about a struggling writer who wanted more than anything to be a published author. He wrote it in such a way that listeners couldn’t help rooting for the guy to succeed: “If you really like it, you can have the rights, it could make a million for you overnight, /If you must return it, you can send it here, but I need a break, and I want to be a paperback writer…” It became yet another #1 hit single for The Beatles in the summer of 1966.

“Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Warren Zevon, 1978

The late great Zevon loved to write about sketchy characters — outliers, criminals, people living on the fringes. On his “Excitable Boy” LP, his commercial peak, he finished the album with a track he said was based on a true story. “My manager and I were partying in Mexico, and we took the party on the road into a creepy area of town,” he recalled. “My manager held an imaginary phone to his mouth and said, ‘Send lawyers.’ I immediately added, ‘And guns. And money!'” The song reinforces the importance of having a good lawyer when you run into trouble: “I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk, /Send lawyers, guns and money, Dad, get me out of this… Now I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man, /Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan…”

“Salesman,” The Monkees, 1967

Craig Smith was an L.A.-based singer/songwriter in the mid-’60s who recorded with Chris Ducey as Chris & Craig and later as Penny Arkade. He wrote songs that were recorded by Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and others. He befriended Michael Nesmith of The Monkees, who selected one of Smith’s songs for inclusion on the group’s 1967 LP, “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” Nesmith sang lead vocals on “Salesman,” Smith’s catchy tune that explored the world of the hard-working traveler peddling his wares: “Salesman, with your wooden cart that you push along while you walk, /Hey, salesman, got a little dog whose tail wags when you talk, /You always wear a smile, even though you’ve gotta walk ten miles, short lifespan, good-time salesman…”

“The Doctor,” The Doobie Brothers, 1989

Tom Johnston was founder, guitarist, singer and songwriter of The Doobies for the venerable band’s first five albums, but ulcers and exhaustion forced him to the sidelines in the late ’70s while singer/songwriter Michael McDonald took over for a while. When the band returned in 1989 with the LP “Cycles” after a decade-long hiatus, Johnston was back in charge, and the hit single was a song Johnston co-wrote called, appropriately enough, “The Doctor.” In this case, he was singing not about his previous medical woes but the metaphor that “music is the doctor” that heals us: “If you ever wonder how to shake your blues, /Just follow this prescription and get the cure for what’s ailin’ you, /Music is the doctor, makes you feel like you want to, /Listen to the doctor just like you ought to, /Music is the doctor of my soul…”

“If I Were a Carpenter,” Tim Hardin, 1967

Hardin was an acclaimed folk musician/composer who came up through the Greenwich Village scene in the early ’60s, and while his own recordings weren’t particularly successful, several of his songs did well in versions recorded by others. Bobby Darin reached #8 with a cover of Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter,” and Johnny Cash, The Four Tops and Robert Plant also did their own renditions. On Hardin’s “Tim Hardin 2” LP, his original take on the song considers carpentry (and other similar trades) to be humble, honest work: “If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway? Would you have my baby? /If a tinker were my trade, would you still find me? Carrying the pots I made, following behind me? /Save my love through loneliness, save my love through sorrow, /I give you my ‘only-ness,’ give me your tomorrow…”

“Millworker,” James Taylor, 1979

Taylor wrote this fine tune for the Broadway musical “Working,” which was based on the Studs Terkel book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” The track appears on Taylor’s enigmatic 1979 LP “Flag.” Biographer Mark Robowsky describes this powerful song as “a transfixing self-portrait through the tired eyes of a female laborer chained by life to her machine”: “Yes, but it’s my life that has been wasted, and I have been the fool to let this manufacturer use my body for a tool… /So may I work the mills just as long as I am able, and never meet the man whose name is on the label, /It be me and my machine for the rest of the morning, and the rest of the afternoon, and for the rest of my life…”

“Politician,” Cream, 1968

There are few professions that have worse reputations than those who pursue careers in politics. Indeed, originally, it was supposed to be a noble calling for a few years, not a lifelong career. These days, the graft and corruption seem so widespread, and people are hard-pressed to find any office holder worthy of their trust. In 1968, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and lyricist Pete Brown collaborated on the biting “Politician,” which appeared on Cream’s #1 album “Wheels of Fire” that year. The title character is not only untrustworthy but unsavory as well: “Hey now, baby, get into my big black car, /I wanna just show you what my politics are, /I’m a political man and I practice what I preach, /So don’t deny me, baby, not while you’re in my reach…”

“Waitress,” Emily Hackett, 2018

In her 20s, my daughter Emily spent time as a restaurant waitress, and after one particularly tough night full of demanding customers and bad tippers, she was moved to write this song about what it’s like to be a waitress. “For me,” she said, “I was not only waiting on people, I was just trying to make ends meet, waiting for my career as a songwriter to take off.” She ended up including the tune on her 2018 EP “By the Sun,” and she makes sure to tell audiences to be kind and generous to those who wait on them. “I’m at your service, I hope you enjoy it, /Come back and see me, you know where I’ll be, /Waitin’ on you, waitin’ on pay, waitin’ on tables, waiting all day, /Waitin’ on a savior to walk in this place and take me away, /Well, I’m just a waitress…”

“Teacher,” Jethro Tull, 1970

Educators are increasingly under attack these days by people who don’t seem to understand how demanding the job of a teacher can be. From kindergarten to college and beyond, teachers provide lessons, literature and learning tools to make us smarter and wiser in the ways of the world. In Jethro Tull’s classic “Teacher” from 1970’s “Benefit” album, songwriter Ian Anderson points out the importance of making time for fun: “Well, the dawn was coming, heard him ringing on my bell, /He said, ‘My name’s the teacher, or that is what I call myself, /And I have a lesson that I must impart to you, /It’s an old expression, but I must insist it’s true, /Jump up, look around, find yourself some fun, no sense in sitting there hating everyone, /No man’s an island and his castle isn’t home, /The nest is full of nothing when the bird has flown…”

“Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell, 1968

Songwriter Jimmy Webb recalled driving across Oklahoma one summer afternoon when he noticed a lone telephone line worker high atop a pole and thought, “What a lonely job that must be.” He was moved to write an ode to the dedicated man who does this important work, and the result was the achingly beautiful “Wichita Lineman,” which became a #3 hit in early 1969 for singer/guitarist Glen Campbell. Webb said he’d intended to write another verse “to flesh out the imagery a bit more” but he ran out of time before Campbell’s scheduled recording session: “I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road, /Searchin’ in the sun for another overload, /I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine, /And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line…”

“Sweet Painted Lady,” Elton John, 1973

We mustn’t leave out what has been called “the world’s oldest profession.” Prostitutes, now often known as “sex workers,” have been selling their bodies for thousands of years, and while there will always be moral arguments about whether it’s an honorable occupation, millions worldwide choose this way to earn a living. Elton John did a fine job of describing the life in “Sweet Painted Lady,” which can be found on his excellent “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” LP from 1973: “So she lays down beside me again, my sweet painted lady, the one with no name, /Many have used her and many still do, there’s a place in the world for a woman like you, /Oh, sweet painted lady, seems it’s always been the same, /Getting paid for being laid, guess that’s the name of the game…”

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Honorable mention:

Blue Collar,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, 1973; “Cracked Actor,” David Bowie, 1973; “Cook of the House,” Wings, 1976; “Happy Nurse,” The Sugarcubes, 1992; “Someday I’ll Be a Farmer,” Melanie, 1971; “For a Dancer,” Jackson Browne, 1974; “Taxi,” Harry Chapin, 1972; “Sky Pilot,” Eric Burdon, 1968; “Highway Patrolman,” Bruce Springsteen, 1982; “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” The Moody Blues, 1972; “Son of a Preacher Man,” Dusty Springfield, 1968; “Banker Bets, Banker Wins,” Ian Anderson, 2012.