8 songs that tell us what rockers have to say about journalism

jkidd@beaufortgazette.comMarch 4, 2013 

I felt a lot smarter about my 1,000-CD music collection -- about 70 percent of which consists of heavy metal and hard-rock discs -- after reading that linguistics expert Martin Jacobsen has launched a college course based upon the genre.

Jacobsen, who teaches at West Texas A&M University, used a song from Iron Maiden’s 2000 album “Brave New World” to teach sentence structure, diagramming sentences as the music played. Riffing off that idea, Jacobsen developed an entire semester class around that lesson and argues many metal lyrics have been inspired by the works of history’s greatest writers.

That’s certainly true with Iron Maiden, which set “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to music in a 13-minute opus ...

... and also told the story of the flight of Icarus in a song of the same name.

So it seems heavy metal is indeed good for something other than head-banging. (Pfft. As if that were not gift enough.)

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I sought to use this medium for a blog post here at Inside Pages. However, I soon realized that metal and hard rock — notwithstanding all they can teach us about Coleridge and the ancient Greeks — lack for didactics about journalism and newspapers.

Oh, sure, there’s the line in Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” inquiring if we’ve read the news “in the Soho Tribune,” which I’m fairly certain didn’t exist at the time and was created only after the fact as a blog by a Motley Crue fan. Moreover, there lots of metal songs that mention newspapers and journalism, but few metal songs about newspapers and journalism. For that, we have to poke around in other genres.

And it’s not nearly as fun as a romp down Sunset Strip, let me tell you. I mean, just check out “Press Corps” by the Japandroids. This song is awful. At 2:12 in, we finally get lyrics ... and they were NOT worth the wait. No professor will soon be mingling this outfit with Sophocles.

This would explain why I stopped short of a top-10 favorite songs about journalism and newspapers and settled on eight. Why force it?

Here they are:

8. “A Letter to the New York Post,” Public Enemy: Not exactly a love ballad, it contains the line, “The worst piece of paper on the east coast” and enough potty mouth lyrics that I decided it is best not to link to the video here. You guys have the Googles if you want to see it.

7. “The Daily Mail,” Radiohead: This song’s dirge-like quality could be newspapers’ theme song for the 2000s ...

... 6. “Fred Jones, Part II,” Ben Folds: If Radiohead didn’t do enough to leave you gloomy, this veritable horror-movie soundtrack for ink-stained wretches will do the trick.

5. “A Day In The Life,” The Beatles: Ummm, OK, I’m noting a trend here. Why are all the songs about newspaper so damn depressing? At least the tempo of this Fab Four dittie picks up about two minutes in.

4. “Sunday Papers,” Joe Jackson: The song is mediocre, but I love the video, primarily because of the part where he holds up a tabloid with “Death cell monkeys” screaming across the front page. If that headline doesn’t entice you to read further, you’re hopeless.

3. “Network News,” Robert Plant: Never thought “Fate of Nations,” released in 1993, quite measured up to 1988’s “Now and Zen,” which is one of my favorite albums of the late 1980s. But this song closes out the former in decent fashion. “Environmental terrorists Tease propaganda's paper fist/Whose trade is all the truth that fits Who often lies but never sits” is great songwriting ... but another reminder that journalist should not look to music to find love.

2. “Dirty Laundry,” Don Henley: This is about broadcast news, not newspapers, but the ticker-like cadence to this song is infectious.

1. “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy,” Mac Wiseman: Next to hard rock, bluegrass is my favorite genre. This song was adapted by the Carter Family in 1929 from an earlier version credited to William Shakespeare Hays in 1875. It has been covered by a bunch of bluegrass artists, including Flatt and Scruggs, and Bill Monroe. But my favorite is the solo version by one of Monroe’s former Bluegrass Boys, Mac Wiseman.

Not exactly Bruce Dickinson and Maiden, I grant you, but Mac has his own way of putting his mark on classics, too.

Wanna hear more? Click here to listen to these songs on a Spotify playlist (with the exception of “Dirty Laundry,” which inexplicably seems unavailable. Probably the bubble-headed bleach blonde’s job to post that song.)

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