Pop/rock songwriters are notorious for their bad grammar. Any English teacher can tell you that. But some are equally clueless about geography and history. Such as the writers of the following nine tunes:
- "Pride (in the Name of Love)", U2, 1984. Probably the most famous lyrical error, Bono pinpointed the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. as occurring on "early morning, April 4th..." The problem? King was assassinated in the early evening on April 4, 1968. Yes, it may have been early morning in Ireland during that fatal moment... but it was already April 5.
- "Kids in America", Kim Wilde, 1981. "New York to East California/There's a new wave coming, I warn ya." Technically, there is an East California. But nobody lives there. So while New Wave might have been big in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the early '80s, it wasn't so much in Barstow, or Needles, or Lake Tahoe - nearly the only towns in the eastern part of the state. Don't blame Kim for this boo-boo; her father Marty and her brother Ricky, Britons both, were the songwriters.
- "Smooth Operator", Sade, 1984. Soulful British singer Sade Adu and Raymond St. John wrote this song, which contains a blunder obvious to any American: "Coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago..." Chicago isn't exactly on the East Coast. It's on the shore of Lake Michigan, which is not at all the same thing.
- "Do They Know It's Christmas", Band Aid, 1984. A year of goofups, 1984. Written by Ultravox's Midge Ure and the Boomtown Rats' Bob Geldof, this UK charity single intended to raise money to feed those starving in drought-plagued Ethiopia contained the dubious line about the entire continent of Africa: "Where nothing ever grows/No rain or rivers flow..." Of course the continent is rich with vegetation and precipitation, and is home to the mighty Nile and Congo rivers. Even if you claim that they're only singing about Ethiopia, guess where the source of the Blue Nile is?
- "We Are the World", USA for Africa, 1985. Not to be outdone by the English, the Americans were determined to feed even more Ethiopians, and so Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie penned this anthem. Willie Nelson's line "As God has shown us, by turning stone to bread..." is the boner here. According to the Bible, it was the devil who tried to get Jesus to turn stone into bread. (The big J.C. refused, uttering his famous "Man does not live by bread alone" bit.) Nowhere else in the good book does it state that either God or Jesus performed this miracle.
- "The Night Chicago Died", Paper Lace, 1974. Back we go to the United Kingdom to find more Brits (in this case, Peter Callander and Mitch Murray) revealing their ignorance of American geography. And so this saga of gangland battles during Prohibition features the nugget "My daddy was a cop on the East Side of Chicago..." Chicago has no East Side. East of downtown Chicago you'll find nothing but Lake Michigan, as mentioned above.
- "Tuff Enuff", The Fabulous Thunderbirds, 1986. Remember these blues-rock dudes who copped a 1950s vibe? "Tuff Enuff" was their biggest hit. Their math wasn't so good, however. Frontman Kim Wilson vows, "I'd work twenty four hours, seven days a week/Just so I could come home and kiss your cheek" but doesn't acknowledge that, when working 24/7, one has no time to come home or kiss anyone's cheek. An empty promise, I say!
- "Nashville Cats", The Lovin' Spoonful, 1966. Even Americans can be bad at American history and geography, and so this band - more famous for their hits "Summer in the City", "Do You Believe in Magic" and "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" - bungled their facts in their since-forgotten #8 pop hit, wherein they sang, "And the record man said every one is a yellow Sun Record from Nashville..." Surely you know that Sun Records was in Memphis?
- "Another Saturday Night", Sam Cooke, 1963. The great Sam Cooke wrote this chart-topper (later covered by Cat Stevens) about being unlucky in love and crooned about getting set up with an ugly girl: "She had a strange resemblance to a cat named Frankenstein." We can forgive Cooke, since almost everybody confuses Frankenstein's monster with Dr. Frankenstein himself. But as you've probably heard, Frankenstein's monster was just "the monster". He was not Frankenstein. Though I guess Cooke could be implying that the girl did look a bit like the noted mad scientist. I'll leave you to your own conclusions.