Here I’ve compiled a list of songs containing one of my favorite lyrical quirks: emphasizing the wrong syllable of a word, but making it work. Obviously I know that language is constantly evolving and the purpose of language is communication so it’s not necessarily wrong et cetera et cetera. By “wrong” here I really mean “contrary to the the recommendation given by either of the Mr. Merriams and/or Mr. Webster in their eponymous dictionary (specifically the online version of said dictionary because that’s what I have easiest access to).” I mostly use the word “wrong” so that I can use the phrase “if this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
- “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones – In the second line of the bridge (following the third verse) Mick Jagger sings “I could not foresee this thing happening to you.”
- “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd – In the final verse, the word “follow” is sung with heavy emphasis on the second syllable. Pertinent to the subject of this post, the album title gives the phonetic pronunciation of the band name: Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd.
- “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac – In the chorus, Stevie Nicks (and the rest of band on backing vocals) hit the second syllable of “washes” really hard.
- Rap (all of it) – The entire rap genre is sort of cheating for this category because syllabic emphasis is played really fast and loose (and often to good effect). As such, I’m lumping it into one point. Examples include “Sega Genesis” in “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G., “Sassoon” in “California Love” by 2Pac, and “episode” in “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg). For further evidence pay attention to the emphasis in the n-word by various rappers and songs. It’s remarkably varied for a two-syllable word.
- “Karma Police” by Radiohead – The title and the first two words of the song. In the song: “Karma police.” In the dictionary: “Karma police.”
- “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton – It appears in the chorus, so it happens a few times, but by the end of the song she is careening at full strength into the “to” of “into” in “into the sky.”
- “New Slang” by the Shins – In the second verse: “never should have called.”
- “Dirty Little Secret” by The All-American Rejects – This one even gets a background vocals echo. In the chorus “regret” is made to rhyme with “secret.”
- “January Hymn” by The Decemberists – It happens a few times in this song, most notably in the chorus with titular “January.”
- “Brave” by Sara Bareilles – I’m not positive about this one because it might just be a cadence thing, but in the first verse she really hits the “to” of “into.”
- “Oslo” by Anna of the North – The song that inspired this list. She says “Oslo” instead of “Oslo.” I’m pretty that’s not just a weird Norwegian pronunciation thing. She does give the “s” an “s” sound instead of a “z” sound, which kind of is a weird Norwegian pronunciation thing, but this is one circumstance (and probably the only) when I’m ok deferring to the Norwegians.
A playlist of these songs is available here.
Tony graduated in 2012 with majors in mathematics and economics. He now lives in Chicago and is pursuing graduate study in economics. He also has a very good cultural trivia podcast called “Here’s My Number, So Call Me Ishmael” available on Libsyn, iTunes, and Google Play.