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  • Writer's pictureGuy G. Gorman

"Electricity Comes From Other Planets"

The other day I was drumming along to my cassette version of "VU" by the Velvet Underground. It had been a long time. I was having a blast living in the moment and remembering how much I enjoyed "VU" when it was on heavy rotation on my Walkman back in '85.)

Tastes change. Sometimes you feel as though you've outgrown music. Other times it's fun to remember how much you liked it back in the day. Sometimes the music still moves you in same way. And on occasions your appreciation grows.

That last feeling was especially strong when "Temptation Inside Your Heart" came on. I laughed out loud while keeping the beat in my little man cave downstairs. I was especially struck by the ad libbed line "Electricity comes from other planets." I remember loving that line when I first heard it. I still find it inspired.

"Temptation..." is presented as an attempt by Lou Reed to sing a serious, 60's-style pop song, which is sabotaged by other band members, chiefly Sterling Morrison (my best guess). Reed keeps asking for someone to shut the door to the recording booth so that he can continue unmolested.

I was curious about the song. I wanted to know about the circumstances surrounding the recording. Who were the other voices? Was it in fact as off the cuff as it seems? I couldn't discover much online, but I did learn that I wasn't the only person who likes the electricity line. It's brought up in a chat room and also in the comments on the YouTube video.

But the line really shouldn't work.

For one, it's not even true. (One YouTube commenter was put in the corner by his sixth-grade teacher after vehemently insisting that it WAS true because the Velvet Underground had said so. :-D )

Two, it doesn't have anything to do the subject matter of the song. It introduces the guitar solo, but it's kind of a non sequitur.

As a songwriter I'm particularly interested in why some lyrics or music work even when it's hard to explain why.

Why is it that sometimes three or four chords can be more compelling than a song that changes keys with carefully-crafted modulations. "This is the Life" by Amy MacDonald is just four chords repeating over and over. (I've played this song nearly every week for over a year and haven't grown tired of it yet.) I was listening to "Blood on the Tracks"--certainly one of Dylan's greatest--and noticed a similar song structure. In fact, I was struck by how repetitive musically several of the songs were. (Admittedly the lyrics are not, but I wasn't really listening to them.)

Also why is it that that nonsensical, stupid, or even unintelligible lyrics can be enjoyable or even considered classics of a sort? Think "Surfin' Bird", "I Wanna Be Your Dog," or "Da Da Da" by Trio (unintelligible if you don't know German).

I think there's a very complicated mental dynamic going on. It probably involves the interplay between the listener's experiences and the artist's references.

There's also the fun factor.

But what makes something fun?

With apologies to Lloyd Dobler: I can't figure it all out tonight, Sir. I'm just going to enjoy the music.

P.S. You may not agree with me on the specifics, but you probably have your own examples of this sort of thing: lines that you like for no apparent reason, songs that can't be defended intellectually. I'd enjoy hearing about them.

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