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Thread: Altering lyrics? Do you do it?

  1. #1
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    Default Altering lyrics? Do you do it?

    “Baby it’s cold outside” is in the news and many other lyrics are contentious or sexist. A rousing Irish song I like goes “some say the devil is dead...some say he rose again and joined the British Army”. So - sympathy with the original rebel cause, but I am British and live in the town where the SAS are.

    There’ll be songs you wont sing, some you daren’t but “updating them” to a new cause is that a thing?

    I appreciate some will say “just get a life” but, especially with songs from the 60’s onwards, do you re-version them, is it legal?

    I’ve certainly rewritten Joleen as a lesbian song!
    Trying! (Apparently very trying...)

  2. #2
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    I sing for me. If it makes me uncomfortable I will change it or not sing it.
    And I was amused that our local mall disagreed with the furor over Baby it's Cold Outside. It seamed to be playing every other song while I picked up presents for the family.

  3. #3
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    Sitting in my porch swing
    Strummin’ My four string
    Making up verses as I go along
    It don’t really matter
    If they’re gooder or badder
    I’ll take Jimmy’s music
    and make it my own

    Updating songs, rewriting lyrics, and repurposing tunes are a thing, but they’re not a new thing. Music is not stonework. The times they are a changing, and so are the verses.


    • Americans repurposed “God Save the King” as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in 1831
    • Canada now commands patriot love in “all of us” not just in her sons.
    • Cee Lo Imagined all religion instead of no religion as ideal
    • Paul Simon can’t decide if everything is better or worse in black and white.
    • Jimmy Buffet probably hasn’t sung Margaritaville as written in decades.
    • Weird Al. Just Weird Al.


    Music (and life) are all about context, and contexts change both on the small scale (Ireland to your SAS town) and large scale (the Baby It’s Cold Outside conversation)

    I don’t think anybody has serious problems with the loving tributes and parodies.

    If you’re going to fix a lyric then know your audience and be deliberate and careful to make the point that you want to make. If you don’t know your audience, especially if your audience is broad, and if you don’t want to engage in social conversation then go elsewhere.

    Don’t fear offending people, but don’t offend people casually. Make sure you understand what you’re singing, if it may be offensive to your audience, and why. Then be deliberate about if that’s a point you want to make.

    Updating your Irish song is good because it directly insults your audience, and that’s not your point. Know thy audience

    Updating BICO is good if you want to make a point about consent.

    Updating Imagine was bad since Cee Lo didn’t intend to make the point he made. He was just trying to avoid controversy, and you can’t mess with Lennon’s message without making people talk.

    There definitely are songs that I won’t sing because external context gives them meaning that I don’t intend. In several cases this was meaning that I didn’t even have the context to understand just from the lyrics.

    And there are some songs with lyrics I find vile and yet are so compelling I love and sing them anyway. Looking at you, Shaggy

  4. #4
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    Being a big Tom Petty fan, I was happy to hear him change the lyrics of "Friend of the Devil" in a live performance, covering the song. Referring to a child, the original lyric went :

    Got a wife in Chino, and one in Cherokee, first one says she's got my child, but IT don't look like me

    He changed it to say:

    Got a wife in Chino, and one in Cherokee, first one says she's got my child, but SHE don't look like me

    A small change to be sure, but I always disliked the cold & impersonal reference to a child as an IT, as did Tom apparently.
    Last edited by Ukecaster; 01-10-2019 at 08:14 AM.
    John

  5. #5
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    I would sometimes wish I had the inspiration to rewrite som lyrics.

    I recently learned "walking my baby back home".
    Lyrics: " She says if I try, to kiss her she'll cry. I dry her tears through the night".
    Omg. Hope that they are tears of joy or sentimentality, but it sound so much worse than "baby its cold outside". I considered coming up with something different, but didn't have the time/inspiration.

    I say whatever suits the audience you are playing for, and/or what you are comfortable with. You can lean on thats how they wrote songs back then if you are comfortable with that and you expect your audience to understand.
    Or you can change it if you like. I would definately change lyrics if I believed that someone in the target audience would be genuinely offended.
    You can't predict everyone who might get offended by something historcally conditioned, then on the other hand I am not a fan of keeping historical lyrics just to piss people off.
    Last edited by UkingViking; 01-10-2019 at 08:33 AM.
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  6. #6
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    I've changed the lyrics to several songs that I've worked up and put in my book. The changes are usually small, one or two words or part of a line. I've eliminated stuff like profanities, blasphemies/falsehoods about God, drug consumption references, overt sexual references, cruel references and I've reworded clunky lines to make them flow better. The songs I've changed are a small percentage of the total songs in my book and if I were to perform them, I doubt that many people would even notice the change. I won't update a song to make it current or for a new cause. I'd find doing that kind of annoying or even off-putting.

    (BTW, I'm on the side of the argument that thinks the umbrage over "Baby It's Cold Outside" is ridiculous. I take more offense over "Santa Baby" and I don't hear complaints about that song.)
    Last edited by mikelz777; 01-10-2019 at 10:55 AM.
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  7. #7
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    Ha, I don't think I'd play Petty's "Get to the point...roll another joint" at a family event, or Friend of the Devil in church!
    John

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ukecaster View Post
    Ha, I don't think I'd play Petty's "Get to the point...roll another joint" at a family event, or Friend of the Devil in church!
    I remember hearing that line from the Petty song on the radio. The station I was listening to had an altered version of the song where the word "joint" was slurred so it kind of sounded like the word but it wasn't actually saying the word.
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  9. #9
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    Go ahead, change the lyrics.

    Sometimes I (and lots of other folks) have done that, because of forgotten or misheard lyrics, other times to update the song. I've done that with Eve of Destruction. Just give credit where credit is due - With Eve of Destruction, I say "Here's a song written by P.F. Sloane in 1965. I changed a few of the words - unfortunately, it is still germane."
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  10. #10
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    I do it all the time. I try to make them more relevant to my audience.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

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