Why do they call it the blues?

I think I mentioned somewhere that I was playing all of my record collection in chronological order. When I got through with the 1960s, I jumped to the end and started working my way back. Don’t ask me why.

So now I’m in 1987, which was quite a memorable year for me — starting film school, meeting Chiquis, and moving into my current apartment. And the music’s all over the place.

Elton John's Greatest Hits, Volume 3One of my little rules in this obsessive project is that I need to play every record in its entirety, no matter how bad. (Mind you, I’m not sitting still listening to this stuff. I do housework. I play Scrabble on facebook. I write my blog. I iron shirts.) If something is really awful, I put it in the garage sale pile. I guess I feel compelled to explain this so you won’t judge my musical tastes too harshly based on the records I talk about. I can find something to say about almost any record.

Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Volume 3 just came off the turntable. Do I even need to say the songs on this one are not as good as the ones on Volume 2, and that album is not as good as the first one? That’s kind of par for the course for these things. People get old and tired. God knows I have. But hey, the guy’s produced enough hits to fill three albums, so that’s something. Well, maybe “hits” is a stretch, but every song was at least released as a single. More than I can say…but then, I’m not a recording artist.

I was a huge, really huge, Elton fan back in my early teens. Honky ChateauIn fact, Honky Château was the first real album I got (not counting a cheap rip-off Pickwick version of Jesus Christ Superstar highlights — not a two-record set, not by the original artists — or the Monkees album I chipped in with my sisters to buy). Great record.

But not without its flaws. Even back then, I was bothered by bad grammar. You can bet I did not pick up any popularity points among my eighth-grade classmates by quipping, “Is it just me, or is the ‘no one there to raise them if you did’ line in the second verse of ‘Rocket Man’ grammatically incorrect? I mean, ‘If you did’ what?”

Go ahead, give it a listen and tell me if you don’t agree. Let’s blame Bernie — he wrote the lyrics. And now that line will bother you every time you hear that song for the rest of your life. You’re welcome.

That’s small potatoes. I just noticed there’s an even bigger problem with one of the songs on EJGH3: Listen to “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and then tell me, why do they call it the blues? Anyone putting this record on their turntable (or whatever it is people do to play music nowadays) hoping to discover why the blues is called the blues is gonna come away from that four-and-a-half-minute exercise mighty disappointed.

Look, if you’re gonna go and put two pronouns in one song title, you damn well better have two antecedents somewhere — if not in the title, then at least somewhere in the song. “It” is “the blues.” Fine. But what is the “that”? I haven’t the foggiest. Ideas?

I think that deserves a popularity point. Please? I would be most grateful if you did.


6 thoughts on “Why do they call it the blues?

    • Good one, Amber. Got me thinking. Small potatoes can be a big deal. “Those” would be small potatoes if I were talking about actual small potatoes, but since I’m using “small potatoes” in the idiomatic sense, they take on the singular or the plural, depending on what they’re defining…in this case, Bernie Taupin’s singular bad line in “Rocket Man.” (see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/small%20potatoes)

      I could have said that all of Elton and Bernie’s songwriting gaffes are small potatoes, but I don’t really think so. I think they’re a pretty big deal. Interesting how “big deal” works in the opposite way — singular, but can be either singular or plural in construction (they are a big deal; it is a big deal). As with small potatoes, if you were talking about big deals literally, as in “Monty Hall made some big deals on today’s show,” then there would have to be agreement. Agreed?

      And I would like some fries too.

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  2. I can’t believe it took me this long to notice that there are 3, not 2, pronouns in that song title. “They” refers to people in general, I guess…who cares, really, who it refers to. I still want to know why they call it the blues.

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  4. Pingback: 15 albums that shaped me | I can't believe Dave X Robb doesn't have a blog

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