With a juvenile delinquent—a kid who never attended a day of school and couldn’t even be bothered to get a proper case for his guitar—as its Jesus Christ figure, rock ’n’ roll couldn’t exactly be expected to produce anything approaching a Byron or Shelley. But surely a well-formed sentence or two isn’t too much to ask. Here are some of the best-known examples of the kinds of elementary grammatical mistakes that can be found on almost any rock record—some forgiveable, some not.
“Insatiable an appetite” (Queen): In “Killer Queen,” Freddy Mercury’s loving ode to a high-class prostitute with fascist tendencies, this bit of linguistic nonsense is hardly the biggest crime. But we ignore clear warning signs like this at our peril: A year later, the quartet recorded the execrable “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and by then it was too late.
“You and me ain’t no movie stars” (Alice Cooper): Alice hits the Trifecta: an incorrect subjective “me,” an “ain’t,” and a double-negative, all in one short line. A classic rock ’n’ roll attempt to mimic the language of an illiterate early-twentieth-century plantation worker—especially impressive considering that the lyrics were written between rounds of golf with George Burns in Palm Springs. Surely nothing could top this? Well, how about…
“I can’t get no satisfaction” (Rolling Stones): …a glaring double-negative from a London School of Economics graduate?
“This ever-changing world in which we live in” (Paul McCartney & Wings): Macca is undoubtedly too self-conscious and aspirational not to have spotted this obvious redundancy, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was an attempt at clever wordplay—like “the movement you need is on your shoulder.” Yeah, that one wasn’t so funny either.
“Well since she put me down I’ve been out doin’ in my head” (Beach Boys): Turning the microphone over to Al Jardine is just asking for trouble.
“I love she, she loves me” (Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd): LSD. Case dismissed.
“ I’m going back to the ones that I know, with whom I can be what I want to be” (Jethro Tull): This is actually perfectly grammatical, but who the hell uses the word “whom” in a rock ’n’ roll song? Did Ian Anderson have his fourth-grade English teacher proofread his lyrics?
“I ain’t got no cigarettes” (Roger Miller): Miller did not attend the London School of Economics.
“Time Will Tell Just Who Has Fell” (Bob Dylan): I guess it’s possible that Dylan is actually saying “fallen” (the correct past participle) here—he’s so annoyingly nasal on this song that it’s hard to be completely sure one way or the other.
“If you love somebody set them free” (Sting): Is Sting trying to avoid sexist pronouns, or is he oblivious to the fact that the grammatical numbers of “somebody” and “them” don’t match? Three guesses.
“Till the Stars Fall from the Sky for You and I” (Doors): This grade-school misuse of “I” in the objective case is almost as offensive as exposing yourself onstage, but when you’ve slept with Nico you can criticize Jim Morrison, OK?
“Death and hatred to mankind” (Black Sabbath): Given the quantities of cocaine and barbiturates that were coursing through his system at the time, can we fault the young Ozzy Osbourne for this bizarre prepositional screw-up? Of course we can.
“You shoulda heard just what I seen” (Bo Diddley): WTF?
“We don’t need no education” (Pink Floyd): Tell me about it.
Thanks to the following generous people for lyric suggestions: Peter Keepnews, Scott Williams, Joe McGasko, Vartkes Baboghlian, Mr. Finewine, Debbie Daughtry, Stork, Ira Kaplan, Brian Turner, Michael Feldheim, Hova Najarian, Charlie Lewis, Mary Wing, MAC