“Confessional” compositions and Dudes

So I’ve been belatedly catching up on all the Dude Rock sturmdrang that seems to have started with two Ladypalooza guest posts from Silvana and K over at Tiger Beatdown:

In the first post Salvina reminisces on how the rock band she played in years ago made her feel that her opinions about anything they were doing and any music they liked to listen to OBVIOUSLY sucked because she was a GIRL (and also, women singers are just SO HARD TO LISTEN TO), in the second post K wonders why when a male singer/songwriter riffs on his own experiences in his songs it becomes a UNIVERSAL message that extrapolates the personal to an illumination of LIFE IN GENERAL, but when a female singer/songwriter riffs on her own experiences in her songs it becomes self-absorbed CONFESSIONAL diarising from a WEIRD ANGRY GIRL with no universal aspect whatsoever.

In other words, look at which singer/songwriters are widely described as “confessional” and which are widely described as “storyteller” and (a) count out how that falls out along gender lines and (b) come up with a meaningful difference between the two terms. The irony that the Confessional school of poetry from which the term derives was begun and popularised by men is just a delicious extra dollop of double standards here.

The whole Ladypalooza week at Tiger Beatdown looked at sexist double standards in the public reception of creative art from women and men. Sady Doyle posted on a similar vein at Feministe: (NOT REALLY A) WEEKEND ARTS SECTION: Manic Pixie Songwriting Dream Girls, A History in Youtube and Published Slur gives many details about how women with many-faceted musical and other creative accomplishments get their whole careers summarised by some quirky, “elfin” moment in general discussion.

Anyhoo, I thought it might be fun to just have a thread listing all the songs from male performers/songwriters that draw on personal experiences and which have not been widely described as “confessional” or “diarising”. Bonus internets points to anyone who can match that with a song by a woman (as K does with Phair/Cuomo) which covers almost exactly the same territory but which has not been widely described as “illuminating” the human condition.

Now (totally cheating by looking at a website of 100 most popular love songs for weddings) here’s a sample from male singer/songwriters of very personal, intimate lyrics about love which have not, to my knowledge, been regarded as “confessional” by most music critics:

And I Love Her……. The Beatles
Maybe I’m Amazed……. Paul McCartney
If I Fell……. The Beatles
Can You Feel the Love Tonight?…….Elton John
I Want to Know What Love Is……. Foreigner
When a Man Loves a Woman…….Percy Sledge
I Want You To Want Me……. George Michael/Wham!
Can’t Smile Without You……. Barry Manilow
More Than A Feeling…….Boston
I Just Called To Say I Love You…….Stevie Wonder
I Would Die 4 U…….Prince
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic……. The Police
I Just Want To Be Your Everything…….Andy Gibb (written by Barry)

I also note on that list (under Most Cheesy) are the songs Hopelessly Devoted To You and The Wind Beneath My Wings, which are both songs written by male songwriters (respectively John Farrar and Larry Henley/Jeff Silbarto) but most famously sung by women – what about the ways in which such songs are viewed when they are NOT written by the female performers themselves, and/or how men write songs meant to reveal the emotions of women? Does anyone know whether The Wind Beneath My Wings was reviewed differently when it was first recorded by Roger Whitaker in 1982 before it became a hit in 1983 for Gladys Knight and then was an even bigger hit in 1989 for Bette Midler?

Of course, these songs are all Celebrating love – what about those Weird and Angry songs that so many women are accused of writing nothing but? What sort of Weird and Angry (or just Confused) songs by men have been celebrated as illuminations of the human condition (or at least not just dismissed as being self-absorbed TMI)? Google helpfully suggested “angry songs about breaking up” from which I have extracted just these few from a single link on the first page of results:

Here’s a quarter call someone who cares – Travis Tritt
She’s Gone – Hall & Oates
Love Bites – Def Leppard
Already Gone – The Eagles
Goodbye – Gravity Kills
In The End – Linkin Park

What jumps to mind for you?

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, language


12 replies

  1. In “angry songs about breaking up”, Song For The Dumped by Ben Folds Five springs imm to mind. (Lyrics, with misogynist-language warning; Video, part English and part English-captioned Japanese.)

  2. Hard not to keep coming back to the Beatles for self-absorbed entitlement pitched as an illumination of the human condition. First thoughts for songs under the angry breakup banner: we have the self-rightious “Pamela” the controlling “You Can’t Do That” and the deeply scary “Run for your Life”.
    Without meaning to get off topic, I remember being told a story that Mahommed Ali commissioned composers to write a song to thank his coach, which resulted in “the Wind Beneath My Wings”, which means originally it wasn’t about romantic love at all. Haven’t tried to verify this, I just like the story.

  3. Even in “Beaches”, WBMW was about friendship, wasn’t it? The whole rest of that movie was, anyway, so I’m assuming.
    It’s just that it’s easy to listen to it as a romantic song too.

  4. A couple of songs by male artists which strike me as “confessional” – I was about thirteen when they were popular, and felt at once fascinated and voyeuristic:
    Live – Dolphin’s Cry
    The Whitlams – No Aphrodisiac (a whole lot of Tim Freedman’s work is deeply personal, right up to the “dude wtf DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR WANKING HABITS” point. He’s also very good at “weird and angry”)
    Most of Silverchair’s early stuff is deeply confessional, in the teenage angsty way – as far as I know, the fact that I wasn’t Daniel Johns or male or anorexic did not stop me or anyone else from identifying with “Ana’s Song/Open Fire”.

    • @highlyeccentric

      deeply personal, right up to the “dude wtf DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR WANKING HABITS” point

      I don’t know what song(s) you’re referring to, but a shamefaced part of me wishes I did. How marvellously disturbing.

  5. orlando: Or the oh-so-sympathetic and compelling “Baby’s In Black” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVYuGVdGhhE and lyrics at http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/beatles/babys+in+black_10026360.html ), or as I think of it, a Nice Guy’s Anthem?
    Hmm, male “storytelling” that would be “confessional” for a woman…how about “Is She Really Going Out With Him” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SPogGqCgeM and lyrics at http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/joe+jackson/is+she+really+going+out+with+him_20072729.html), “Brick” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wt5EHAqhR1c and lyrics at http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/ben+folds+five/brick_20016573.html ), “Your Love” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQxdB1XngRI and lyrics at http://www.lyricsdownload.com/outfield-your-love-lyrics.html), and a lot of “Dark Side of the Moon”?

  6. There are a lot of songs about dudes’ wank fantasies. Who did that “I was alone / I was all by myself / no one was looking / I was thinking of you” bit? For bonus, he breaks into her house.
    I compare that to Pink’s “Fingers” and wonder why Pink makes me blush bright scarlet but I catch myself humming the former all the time.
    ETA: It’s also interesting to me that a lot of these songs are quite blatant about being based on real stuff. “Here’s a quarter” and Alanis’ “You Oughtta Know” are both based off bad breakups.
    Other songs that are “universal” but based off male experiences: “Save the last dance for me” and “lady in red”.

  7. This is not wholly on topic as I can’t look up music right now.
    Every time I listen to the radio I’m struck by how many songs sung by men deny women agency (or are outright rape-y). I keep hearing lyrics like “I’m going to make you love me” “I’m going to win you over” “you might be running away from me but I’ll get you in the end” (and these are all supposed to sound romantic wtf!) These are all paraphrases btw. I’m coming to the conclusion that very few people actually listen to the lyrics when they listen to music.

  8. Um, everything by John Mayer? And Roger Waters? And Gordon Lightfoot? And Green Day? And…
    Well, every guy in the “men sing soulfully about their self-absorbed lives” category of songwriting.

  9. Sorry people, I know this is slightly off topic, but I was listening to the radio the other day and some stupid teeny song came on, two of the lines of which were ‘Drunk girls like to be seduced/Drunk girls like to make allegations’ (not verbatim, but ‘seduce’ and ‘make allegations’ were in there).
    People often do not listen to the lyrics of songs!!! The radio show host was waxing lyrical about the coolness of this band and all I’m thinking is, WTF?! Now would that song be autobiographical, I wonder?

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