Chapter 10: I Write the Songs (And Then People Wonder What the Hell I Was Thinking)

My lifetime total of songs written stands, at press time, at one. It would probably be at zero, except for one fateful assignment: to demonstrate how easy it was for anybody to use ProTools software, Rolling Stone sent me to Los Angeles to record a song in the home studio of Butch Vig (drummer for Garbage and producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind). The fact that I am almost completely devoid of musical talent was regarded as a feature, not a bug.

A decade of reading reader-submitted misheard lyrics for my ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy books and page-a-day calendars had taught me that most misheard lyrics were about either sex or food. Makes sense: they’re both primal motivators. But while the pop charts are full of songs about sex and lust, tunes about food are few and far between. I decided to fill the gap and provide the public with what they wanted to hear about, so I called my song “I’m Hungry.” The lyrics, mostly written while I was stuck in traffic on the 405 on the way to my hotel, featured lines such as “You want to love me, I don’t care / I just want clam sauce on angel hair” and “Grill the vegetables, indirect heat / Set the table, it’s time to eat!” After an evening at the house of Butch Vig (who, I should emphasize, exercised superhuman patience with my rank-amateur self) I had decided that writing a song was not, in fact, that hard, and that recording the music was downright easy, especially if you had the assistance of a first-class producer. But singing it? For years, I had mocked Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, a California boy through and through, for singing with a British accent. To my horror, I found that I did the same thing myself.

  1. What is Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” about? My friend says it’s some kind of woman-muse, but I think he’s singing to his penis.
  2. Does Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” refer to The Lord of the Rings, or am I crazy?
  3. I’ve never been able to make out the beginning of the second verse in Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and there’s no lyrics sheet. “I tickle mobile line looking for mookie”? Help!
  4. What are the lyrics to Interpol’s song “PDA”? No one seems to know.
  5. How many of the United States has Bruce Springsteen mentioned on his albums?
  6. What’s that “gizzer” chorus in Missy Elliott’s “Gossip Folks”?
  7. What house, exactly, were Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing about in “Our House”?
  8. Where did the idea of a prostitute come from in Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls”?
  9. Is the person being addressed in “Hackensack” by Fountains of Wayne (“I see you talkin’ to Christopher Walken”) real or fictional?
  10. Who was Elizabeth Reed, the woman immortalized beautifully in the Allman Brothers song?
  11. I noticed U2’s “Running to Stand Still” doesn’t use the title of the song until the very end—are there other songs that do the same trick?
  12. On the White Stripes album White Blood Cells, there’s a song called “Hotel Yorba”–is that a real hotel?
  13. In the first line of “Chuck E.’s in Love,” Rickie Lee Jones sings, “How come he don’t come and P.L.P. with me down at the meter no more?” What does “P.L.P.” mean?
  14. What exactly were Paul Simon and Julio doing down by the schoolyard? We only know it was against the law.
  15. I’ve been wondering: were the songs on Wilco’s album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot written before or after 9/11/01? If before, they are eerily prophetic. If after, then they are the subtle emotional expression that inspires me with Wilco.
  16. Did Barry Manilow really not write “I Write the Songs?”
  17. Who and what is Audioslave’s song “Cochise” about?
  18. This has always bugged me—what does the line “paying your H.P. demands forever” in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” mean?
  19. How many Randy Newman songs have the names of cities in the title?
  20. I need to know: What lyricist said “Angels had guitars even before they had wings”? Please help.
  21. I’ve heard a million different stories—who was Carly Simon actually singing about in “You’re So Vain”?