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Wacky Carnival Songs

by Raymond Cummings

Wacky Carnival Songs

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Tents popping up in typically empty local lots. Rusted, colorful contraptions on flatbeds groaning down the interstates. The sweet stench of funnel cakes. It's the season of carnivals, of jury-rigged tilt-a-whirls and shaky Ferris wheels, dubiously equitable games of chance, and exhausted parents openly swigging from bottles of Mylanta. Yes, indeed: It's carnival season. No surprise there; more startling, perhaps, is the number and breadth of popular songs that employ aspects of carnival culture.

For 50 Cent, the "Amusement Park" is just another in a (long) series of metaphors for his booty-knocking talent, while Keith Sweat's "Merry-Go-Round" presents the ups and downs of relationships as a different kind of romantic ride. Three Dog Night's "The Show Must Go On" is a lament presented via a carny's point of view, while The Dead Kennedys' gruesome "Funland at the Beach" turns the carefree idyll of carnival-going on its head. (Todd Rundgren's "The Night the Carousel Burned Down" treats the same idea with more nuance, and tenderness.) The Beach Boys, meanwhile, use "Amusement Parks U.S.A." as an excuse to take a break from harmonizing about surfing, California and melancholy.

Different artists portray the roller-coaster in different ways. For Sleater-Kinney, a roller-coaster stands in for disruption and uncertainty in life. On the other hand, for Everything But the Girl, the representation of the roller-coaster — on a line like "my life is just an image of a roller coaster” — stands in for a deadening lack of excitement. For The Model Rockets, though, a "Rusty Rollercoaster” is just a rusty roller coaster, to ride over and over again until the lights dim and the gates are shut for the night.

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