Contrary to popular belief, English majors don’t just read books, talk books, and say, “The book was better than the movie.” Speaking as a member of this illustrious group of party animals, I can say without a doubt that we love good tunes almost, if not as much, as hardback first editions. Here are some songs that speak to our MLA ears.
“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend
[Oxford comma: a comma between the final items in a list, often preceding the word `and' or `or', such as the final comma in the list newspapers, magazines, and books]
“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Ezra Koenig sings in the first line of this song. Well, some of your professors care about it. And while it may seem a small thing at first, as you take more and more English classes, you latch onto it. Grammatical things will start to bother you, you will become entrenched in a position on the Oxford comma, among other things. Personally, I think two spaces after a period is pretty irksome.
“Parentheses” by The Blow
[parentheses: either or both of a pair of signs () used in writing to mark off an interjected explanatory or qualifying remark, to indicate separate groupings of symbols in mathematics and symbolic logic, etc.]
This is the love song for the English major into indie pop. This track from Paper Television is cute and danceable—a must for the mix you plan to give the alluring man or woman in class who always brings up punctuation when talking about poetry. “When you’re holding me / we make a pair of parentheses” makes even the most Norton-hardened heart flutter. I can’t think of a set of cozier set of grammatical marks.
“I Palindrome I” by They Might Be Giants
[palindrome: a word, line, verse, number, sentence, etc., reading the same backward as forward, as Madam, I'm Adam or Poor Dan is in a droop.]
This is a classic older TMBG song and demonstrates, maybe more than any other TMBG song, the band’s penchant for wordplay. John Flansburgh’s sings “Man o nam / Man o nam” while John Linnell sings the song title during the choruses. The song’s numerical length is a palindrome (2:22). The most impressive palindroming comes at a lyrical bridge, where Linnell sings:
“Son I am able,” she said. “Though you scare me.”
“Watch,” said I.
“Beloved,” I said, “watch me scare you though.”
Said she, “Able am I, Son.”
Of course, this isn’t the only TMBG song that has literary references (see: “I Should Be Allowed To Think,” “Lie Still, Little Bottle,” and “Rhythm Section Want Ad” among others).
“When I Write My Master’s Thesis” by John K. Samson
You’ve graduated! Congratulations! Oh, you wanted to do something with your English degree? Time to go to graduate school and sit back as it consumes your life. John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthans and a literary fellow in his own right, penned this song that is maybe too relatable for the graduate student in English. Even after completing a thesis that you’ve worked tireless on, there’s no guarantee of a stable job. But it’s not all bad news. When it’s over, the English major’s heart can rest easy. In a life outside of the Academy, there’s “No more marking first year papers / No more citing sources.”
“My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” by Moxy Früvous
I dare you to find a song with more literary name-dropping. I can’t help singing along to this fun, a’cappela-infused song. There are books everywhere in this song which creates a lighthearted tension that escalates through the choruses: “My heart’s so broke and bleedin’ / Baby’s just sittin’ there / doin’ some readin’,”; “We’ve been livin’ in hovels / spendin’ all our money on / brand new novels.” Even though these lyrics sound a little dire, the music and harmonized vocals assure that the couple’s story ends well, and it does:
I like to go out dancing,
my baby loves a bunch of authors.
We’ll be together for ages
eatin’ and sleepin’ and (x3)…turnin’ pages.
Check out the version of this song on Live Noise for a faster, hand-clapping good time.