Really Crappy Lyrics
This page is dedicated to particularly bad examples of Broadway lyrics. These are lyrics that, when I heard them for the first time, made me cringe for some reason: bad rhyme, unpleasant image, incongruity, banality, obvious contrivance, or just plain stupidity.
Camelot (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner)
"Then You May Take Me to the Fair"
"You'll open wide him?
(I'll subdivide him!)"
Open wide your mouth and gag....
"The Seven Deadly Virtues"
"You'll never find a virtue unstatusing my quo
Or making my Beelzebubble burst"
I think these were Lerner's attempts to sound like Cole Porter. Of course, he just sounds precious and contrived.
Fiorello! (lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)
"The Very Next Man"
"And if he likes me
Who cares how frequently he strikes me
I'll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling
Just for the privilege of wearing his ring"
When Carousel came through Denver, much was made of the scene in which the dead Billy Bigelow slaps his daughter; she asks her mother if it's possible to be hit without being hurt; and mom replies, "Yes." Imagine what they'd say these days about this "I-want-to-get-married" gem from Fiorello! When I first heard it, I cried, "Oh no!"
The liner notes state that the lyric was meant sarcastically, but that audiences booed it in revivals, so Harnick substituted "If he proposes/I'll have him send me tons of roses." The problem with using it as sarcasm is that such an unpleasant sentiment will almost always overpower any mitigating sarcastic intent. You have to be a master of sick humor to make this kind of line work, and sick humor was never Harnick's forte.
Follies (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
"Will it be birds in spring or hara-kiri?
(Don't worry dearie)
Don't worry lad"
I practically worship Sondheim and am in awe of his lyrical ability--except for this weird lyric. He has said that he hates the song "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story because he didn't believe a young Puerto Rican girl would say things like "It's alarming how charming I feel." So does this lyric mean that he thinks chorus girls regularly use the term "hara-kiri"? This line doesn't even work as irony or parody, it's so off-kilter.
Mack and Mabel (lyrics by Jerry Herman)
"Look What Happened to Mabel"
"From now on this pile of flesh'll
Be considered something pretty special"
Every time I hear this one I imagine a little heap of shredded flesh on a concrete floor. Ugly, ugly image.
Miss Saigon (lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.):
"Last Night of the World"
"On the other side of the Earth
There's a place where life still has worth
I will take you
(I'll go with you)
You won't believe all the things you'll see
I know 'cause you'll see them all with me"
Wordy yet banal, repetitive, and trite, trite, trite.
Victor/Victoria (lyrics by Leslie Bricusse):
"Smack on the lake, this is a rare port
Someday, they say, we'll have an airport"
"Paris Makes Me Horny"
"Paris is so sexy
Riding in a taxi
Gives me apoplexy"
I'm not familiar with Leslie Bricusse's work, but I hope he's been better than he was on Victor/Victoria, which sounds like he wrote down a set of lyrics in a big rush and then never changed them again. How else to understand the stupidity of rhyming "sexy" with "taxi"? (In the same song he also rhymes "sexy" with "solar plexy," "Lisbon" with "has-been," "Stockholm" with "schlock home," and "horny" with "Californy.") At least "apoplexy" rhymes, though it's hardly the ideal image. And was "airport" such a difficult word to rhyme that the best Bricusse could come up with was the complete contrivance "rare port"? Why did he need the image of an airport (or a port) in the song anyway?
Here's a reader with a reasoned refutation of my point of view.
Wildcat (lyrics by Carolyn Leigh):
"Hey, Look Me Over"
"And I'll be up like a rosebud, high on a vine
Don't thumb your nose, bud, take a tip from mine"
Wildcat was my introduction to the lyrical stylings of Carolyn Leigh, and I was not impressed. Granted, nothing about Wildcat is anyone's best work (though "Hey, Look Me Over" is a fine, jolly song), but the lyrics are a real low point. The example above is typical. "Up like a rosebud"? Since when is a rosebud an image of triumph, high on the vine or not? And why should someone "take a tip" from anyone's nose? Exactly what does that mean, besides the feeble rose bud/nose bud rhyme? A good example of rhyme being more important than meaning--which is OK for a pop song but not for a Broadway tune, which has to tell a meaningful story.
All non-lyric material copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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