Digging back into my “to-do list” of /Tuesday Ten posts (I still have quite a few of those) was the order of the day again this week, mainly as I didn’t really want to continue with yet more lockdown-themed posts (unless I can come up with another one worthy of the time spent on it). This one, on the subject of Acronyms, initialisms and spelled-out words in song, was originally asked about, and had a suggestion thread on Facebook, back in August 2018.
Let’s define, first, from Merriam-Webster, what an Acronym is.
ac·ro·nym | \ ˈa-krə-ˌnim \
Definition of acronym: a word (such as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term
also : an abbreviation (such as FBI) formed from initial letters : INITIALISM
Acronyms are used an awful lot in song. From titles, to lyrics, to finding ways to get around being censored, and they’ve been used for a long, long time, and the songs I selected this week cover a host of genres and styles – and indeed in some cases, play fast and loose with the definition above. But they are all great songs, and they fitted the narrative I wanted to tell…
There were 123 suggestions for this one, twelve of which had been used before. 62 people got involved, with 107 unique songs in the suggestions. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who offered suggestions, and this week is proof that I do eventually get ’round to reading them all.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
We start this week with the explosive single that really got AC/DC going in the first place, setting their stall out with a template that they’ve barely need to change since. I mean, why fuck with such a good formula? Anyway, this was originally Bon Scott detailing a day in the life of a rough’n’ready Aussie bloke, through watching TV, drinking, fucking and fighting. T.N.T. (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene) is of course used as an explosive, but here helps to describe an impulsive, potentially violent man on the edge, that AC/DC somehow have sold to us as a fantastic, fist-pumping song.
It is genuinely amazing to think, in retrospect, that at the time of release many thought Angel Dust to be a disappointment. In sales terms for the label, sure, but it was an extraordinary leap forward for a battle-hardened band musically and in terms of vision, it was unparalleled at the time (and has since been a big influence on a whole lot of bands). Amid the sonic chaos of the album, too, were some amusing diversions. Such as Be Aggressive, written by gay keyboardist Roddy Bottum about man-on-man oral sex, complete with the title being spelled out like a cheerleader chant in the chorus. Roddy Bottum wasn’t yet “out” to the world – although he was of course to his bandmates – and I suspect Mike Patton relished doing this track to fuck with a few heads. Of course, there’s something amusing live, too, watching a crowd of metalheads singing along to this song.
/Let Love In
A sometime forgotten Bad Seeds song – certainly I was very surprised indeed to hear it live at that fantastic All Points East show a few years back – it shows Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the peak of their powers (as they were for much of the nineties). Rather than the self-destruction of many of their songs, here Cave plays with the idea of being a sex symbol and object of desire, projecting – with a glint in his eye – that he is the man you need. He then has fun spelling out what L.O.V.E.R.M.A.N. might stand for as an acronym, too, the second time gloriously concluding with “N is for any old time“…
Jarvis Cocker was thinking similar thoughts, perhaps, with the sweat-drenched, late-night filth of this glorious centrepiece from Different Class (and once again, it’s a phrase spelt out, I know). Jarvis is considering his position, so to speak, as his thoughts go into overdrive as he sits alone. What is love, why is he in this position, why do flashes of images of his lover cause him so much angst and presumably arousal? I generally find not overthinking such things, perhaps, and going with them. Love and lust are fun, or at least I see them as such. I’d rather not stress about it. Anyway, the lengthy titled gets spelled out in the chorus, of course, and this song was always best experienced in it’s explosive, thrilling live form.
At least here, LFO means something (low-frequency oscillation, something important to the rhythmic pulse of a synthesiser). One of the most important electronic songs of its time – it was just the fifth release on then-fledgling Sheffield label Warp in 1990, and the well-beyond 100,000 sales of it, not to mention chart success, must have been a hell of a boost for the future for them – low-frequencies boom across the propulsive rhythm, with higher-pitched synth hooks and that iconic circuit-bent Speak & Spell voice for the refrain, that basically makes a perfect track.
For some reason I rather thought that the phrase “What You See Is What You Get” was something popularised much earlier than the early seventies – but it was apparently popularised by American comedian Flip Wilson, in the form of his best-known character, Geraldine Jones. It later entered the lexicon in the form of editing software that allows you to see the end result, too. Pitchshifter used the phrase for one of their best-loved songs (and usually one of the closing songs at any of their sets from about 1997 onwards), a scorching three-and-a-bit minutes of drum’n’bass, punk, industrial and sneering sloganeering comment on – as far as I’ve ever been able to tell – Generation X failure and entitlement.
/Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
I’m not going to lie – I’ve been listening to this album for over twenty-five years, and I’ve never quite worked out what the fuck The Poppies are on about with this song. I mean, it certainly isn’t responding to a party invite (the usual use of R.S.V.P., which comes from the French phrase Répondez s’il vous plaît). Amid the terse drums and slabs of guitar, though, there are considerable hints toward hip-hop in the flow and sound (and also the lyrical flourishes), and I’m left wondering that R.S.V.P. simply works as an excellent hook in this context…
Perhaps uniquely in this week’s post, the term “SOS” is assumed to be an Acronym (variously for “Save our Souls” or “Save our Ship”), it being the morse code distress signal, but interestingly doesn’t officially mean anything at all. Here, though the song is a clear call for help, as Agnetha Fältskog sings a heartbroken song that desperately wants for better in a relationship that has soured. This was the first of their massive hits to deal with heartbreak in such a euphoric-sounding song (this song is from 1975!), but it would not be the last, that’s for sure…
/I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
What will probably remain forever Aretha Franklin’s signature song is, surprisingly, wasn’t hers originally. Written by fellow soul titan Otis Redding, who died aged just 26 later in 1967, in a plane crash, months after Franklin released her version of this song. Redding’s is a plea for love and respect from his partner, and like pretty much anything Redding put his hand to, it is fantastic, stomping and muscular soul. But Franklin turned the song on its head. Instead of pleading, hers is a powerhouse of demands for respect, and of course she adds the iconic “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” breakdown. Sure, it’s not an acronym (again), but is anyone really going to argue with this song’s place here?
Teeth of the Sea, despite being a broadly instrumental band, have long had fun with their song titles, often making puns or amusing wordplay along the way. Longtime followers of the band will know, too, that they have gradually evolved their sound, nowadays resembling more an industrial-psych-techno behemoth than the psych-post-rock band that they perhaps were originally. Perhaps the link between their later evolution and that early work is this soaring track, that raises a finger to “meaningful” songtitles by making a rather direct joke. Like a couple of other songs in this list this week, this is one best enjoyed live (and extremely loud), where it is heralded by a forbidding robotic voice reciting the title, before it is buried beneath squalling, proggy guitars, twinkling synths and a thundering rhythm.