Cracked magazine and, in response, Rolling Stone have published lists of the worst rhymes in pop music history. This is one of the subjects on which I am culpably curmudeonly (if you throw in “violations of meter,” I’ll be sent up the river for a long stretch). In fact, Josiah and I were kvetching about a non-rhyme rhyme (I don’t recall which song) just yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to mail him back to Vermont. Bad rhyming pushes my buttons hard.
At the same time, when I survey the lists in question, I respond with my usual “it’s more complicated than that.” The quality of rhymes shouldn’t be segregated from questions of genre and diction in general. If I wre to try to rhye the name of the former representative from California Robert Dornin with “mournin’ ’ it would probably sound artificial; if the President of the United States (who has developed an easy comfort with dropping his g’s) were so to do, it would sound consistent and fittin’. In the folk genre, rhyme should be more tolerant of elasticity. In more self-consciously ambitious lyrics, the rhyme should likewise aim at artfulness and ingenuity. Cracked cites Bob Dylan as author of the worst rhymes in pop music for “You have many contacts / Among the lumberjacks / To get you facts . . .” in “Ballad of a Thin Man.” While not wanting to let him off the hook entirely, I’d argue that naming this the worst rhyme in pop music history neglects the somewhat hallucinatory, evocative rhetoric that Dylan demonstrably adopts through his catalogue. Few Dylan songs — if any — escape the charge of outlandish imagery, and sometimes those outlandish images involve rhyming words.
Josiah anticipates writing a senior project about the relation of song lyrics to poetry; maybe he has something to say about this subject. . . .
Pretty good list from Cracked. I recall a long ago Doonesbury, back in the 80s, maybe, where Jimmy Thudpucker is talking with Bob Dylan, asking where his incredible lyrics came from, and the latter says something like “Man, I was only trying to make it rhyme!”