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Music 101

Songs to Spell Along With

by Raymond Cummings

Songs to Spell Along With

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Sometimes in pop music it isn't quite enough to simply say something; one must adopt an almost pedantic approach, and spell out key words to get across an important point. This intermittent urge to corner and educate a target, or a larger audience, is usually as anthemic as it is self-amused.

While on M.I.A.'s "Ba-na-na Skit" and Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" the word "banana" is broken down to its component parts, the artists' goals are divergent -- the former drawing attention to a nutritional staple in some third-world countries, the latter simultaneously saluting her own perceived badassery and attempting to confer that swagger to listeners. Ashlee Simpson's "L.O.V.E." transforms emphatic spelling into a head-knocking scrum of pro-sisterhood. With "Y.M.C.A," The Village People turned the acronym into a campy middle school dance staple. Meanwhile, Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator make each letter on Earl's comeback single "Whoa" sound Gotham City-esque gnarly when plunked atop a flurry of downcast piano scales.

The goofiest extremes of this approach are realized on indie rock deep cuts like the Magnetic Fields' ironic jingle "Washington, D.C." -- a hat tip to the opening of Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" -- and Stephen Malkmus' toy piano romp "Troubbble." But spelling in song is not to be dismissed easily: The-Dream employed it adroitly to turn "Love King" into a polymonogamist's mantra, and with "Glamorous," Fergie became heir to the crown of this paradigm -- second only, really to Aretha Franklin, whose balls-out "Respect" is without peer on every level.

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