After writing a recent blog-post about the significant role of print and paper in our culture, I started thinking about how that has to show up in our popular music as well. And since blog-posts love to take the form of lists, why not take a look at how print, paper, and ink have been portrayed in popular song…
Paperback Writer – The Beatles (1966)
Seems appropriate to start the list with a classic from pop music’s royalty. The paperback novel emerged in it’s mass market format in the 1930s, and quickly became the affordable, accessible way for works both great and less than great to reach new mass markets of readers. Lennon & McCartney show a man desperate to land a job as just such an author. 1000 pages? That’s one thick paperback.
If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot (1970)
Sticking with the theme of a paperback novel, the simile in Lightfoot’s ode to lost love is a comparison between his thoughts and a book, “the kind the drug stores sell.” The hero, the broken heart, the ending that’s “just too hard to take.” A ton of romance novels have carried that plot-line over the years.
Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello (1983)
The best example I know of a song trying to be a book – Costello describes his love affairs ups and downs as chapters, paragraphs, seeing himself as a man with a mission in “two or three editions.” He knows that regardless of how the affair plays out, he will “still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.”
Paper Roses – Marie Osmond (1973)
Well, originally is was Anita Bryant who had a hit with this tune. But a very young Osmond, well before Weight Watchers and Dancing With the Stars, sang about a false love with a comparison between real roses and ones made of paper. Let’s make it clear, however, paper roses last longer than the real thing, are also biodegradable, and require no pesticides to produce. No reason to go around knocking paper roses!
Centerfold – The J. Geils Band (1982)
An iconic publishing image, the centerfold of a magazine was spotlighted in this 80’s song about a young man discovering his high school homeroom angel in a porn magazine.
Black and White – Three Dog Night (1972)
A hit in 1972 for Three Dog Night, the song uses the image of ink on paper to flesh out their metaphor of racial equality and harmony. Interestingly enough, the song was first written in 1954 in response to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools. The original verse: “Their robes were black, Their heads were white, The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight. Nine judges all set down their names, To end the years and years of shame.” Pretty cool, huh?
Yesterday’s Papers – The Rolling Stones (1967)
A lesser known Stones ballad compares a fading love affair to old newspapers. A clear illustration of how print and the daily newspaper for many years were central to our culture: “Every day means the turn of a page / Yesterday’s papers are such bad news / Same thing applies to me and you.”
Want Ads – Honey Cone (1971)
A big hit in the early 70s, long before match.com, Tindr or Grindr. This song, redone by Taylor Dayne in the 90s, is about a time not so long ago when trying to find a match by running an ad in the classified section of the newspaper was a novel approach. “He’s been lying… I’m going to the Evening News.”
Signs – The Five Man Electrical Band (1971)
A big, angry protest song from the early 70s, this tune decries the exclusion and intolerance of society for the “long-haired, freaky people.” The printed signs… “blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind.”
Paper and Ink – Tracy Chapman (2000)
Chapman’s fifth album reminds us how print can be valued – especially when printing money.
Legal Tender – The B-52’s (1983)
When print goes bad: the B-52s gave us what is arguably the best dance song ever about a federal crime. Jelly jars and heavy equipment, the B’s were in the basement learning to print.
Any songs yet about a Kindle or iPad? I don’t know, but I’m sure there soon will be. I purposely didn’t include any songs here about letters or mail – there seem to be enough good titles on that topic to merit a future blog-post.
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