Bad English: When Awful Grammar Happens to Good Songs

It ain’t nothing. Sometimes words must bend to melody.

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L.A. Salami’s 2016 album cover (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Good grammar is hard to find these days. Pop songs don’t make it any easier. As an American expat who has spent much of the past 12 years living in and traveling through countries where English isn’t the native tongue, I’ve come across so many people who learned to speak my language by watching TV and listening to music.

As much as I admire their ability to make entertainment fun and educational, I wouldn’t recommend this route in lieu of English 101. Television, even in the U.K., and the radio — especially the radio — are not exactly brimming with the Queen’s English these days. That said, I understand that sometimes words must bend to melody. Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” just wouldn’t have had the same catchy spark if she’d called it “That Doesn’t Impress Me Much.”

In a grammatically perfect world, The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” would be “(I Can’t Get Any) Satisfaction,” Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” would be “Lie, Lady, Lie,” Don Williams’ “Lay Down Beside Me” would be “Lie Down Beside Me,” and Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” would be “Lie Down, Sally.” Just not the same, right?

“Lay” is no earwormy substitute for “lie” when it comes to love interests crawling into bed with you. Of course, if you pick them up first, you can lay them down, as Conway Twitty promised to do to his underappreciated lover in his 1980 hit. But Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down” aside, few song titles ever seem to go there. Frankly, though, I wouldn’t want to live in a grammatically perfect world where song lovers lie down side-by-side. It’s so much sexier to get laid.

So English students, turn it up and dance … if you want to. Feel free to sing along, too, but when the following songs are over, ain’t nobody want to hear you talking like that.

“Ain’t No Way” Aretha Franklin

Ain’t that peculiar?

“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” Stevie Wonder

“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” Crystal Gayle

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“Don’t Mean Nothing” Richard Marx

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” Prince

“Don’t Take It Personal” Jermaine Jackson/Monica

“You Gotta Love Someone” Elton John/“You Gotta Be” Des’ree

“Me & U” Cassie

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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