GUEST POST: An Essay On Why “Around the World,” By the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Is Just A Terrible, Terrible Song
Today we've got a special treat: a guest post from a longtime friend of this blog. Oh--it would behoove you to press play on the song below prior to reading:
“Around the World” has all the hallmarks of a disastrous RHCP song. Specifically:
- Anthony Kiedis describing allegedly sexy topics in a fairly un-sexy manner;
- A bass line that is supposed to sound bad-ass but really just sounds like it was programmed on an 8-bit NES;
- Dramatic attempts to fit unrelated words into the lyrics simply because they rhyme (see “beautiful: dutiful,” “mountains: fountains,” “Johnson: Wisconsin,” “Guy-Oh: Ohio”), and;
- Gratuitous use of polysyllabic state names.
Now I don’t think lyrics have to be good all the time, especially if the author doesn’t really care about lyrics. Unfortunately, I think Anthony Kiedis IS trying. I read one account of this song which described Kiedis’ “struggling to write the lyrics,” which sort of reminds me of a pig struggling to use a hammer. The problem is, I get the sense that once many of their hits are written, the RHCP are actually convinced of the truth-telling profundity of lines like, “Can’t stop – addicted to the shindig.”
So let’s take a look at this song about life and love around the world (ie five states and three other regions, by my count), verse by verse. Bear with me, as it gets a bit tedious, or Kiedious, as the case may be.
CHORUS: “I know, I know, for sure / that life is beautiful around the world / I know, I know, it’s you / you say “Hello” and then I say, “I do.”
It is tempting to slam the RHCP off the bat, but I won’t. While I might expect better from, say, George and Ira Gershwin, I’ll say this: this is probably the one line in the entire song that actually represents a coherent thought. This is the closest this song comes to grasping subtlety: The hello / I do line is at least an interesting way to say that he falls in love with everyone he meets in this beautiful, beautiful world he seems to live in. This is not the most profound thing ever said, but at least I understand what he meant. OK, that being said, let’s hit the verses . . .
VERSE 1: “All around the world, we can make time / rompin’ and a-stompin’ ‘cause I’m in my prime. Born in the north and sworn to entertain ya / ‘cause I’m down for the state of Pennsylvania.”
I have several problems with this, most of which hinge on Kiedis’ inability to understand what the word “’cause” means. Generally, and this is an oversimplification, but “‘cause” means that the second thing—wait for it—CAUSES the first thing. Instead, Kiedis is using the word “’cause” as a synonym for, “oh, and also, unrelatedly.” Being down for the state of Pennsylvania probably isn’t the reason he is sworn to entertain ya any more his being in his prime has an effect on his ability to romp and a-stomp.
I could probably spend some time complaining about the fact that “we can make time” has no context and that being “down for the state of Pennsylvania,” doesn’t make a ton of sense (Which of these doesn’t fit? “Sure, I’m down for roller-skating.” “Sure, I’m down for Indian food.” “Sure, I’m down for the state of Pennsylvania.”), but Jesus, we still have a lot of song to get through.
Verse 2: “I try not to whine but / I must warn ya / ‘bout the motherf**king girls from California / Alabama baby said / Hallelujah / Good God girl / I wish I knew ya.”
So, so far in this opus about the incredible diversity and beauty that Anthony Kiedis has seen, far and wide, in this great big world of ours, we have visited the exotic lands of California, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. Did this guy get his passport revoked?
Or maybe it was stolen by some of the motherf**king girls in California, whom he hates for indecipherable reasons. There’s no way to tell since he didn’t finish his thought; we’re left with a vague warning. Though I do appreciate that he tries not to whine about it—nothing’s worse than a song that is both lyrically bankrupt AND grouchy.
Verse 3: “Come back baby ‘cause I’d like to say / I’ve been around the world, back from Bombay / Fox hole love, pie in your face / livin’ in and out of my big bad suitcase.”
Re the last two fox hole / pie-face / suitcase lines, I refer you to Buster Bluth, “I don’t know what that means. But it sounds disgusting.”
Once again, I suspect Kiedis’ inability to understand what “’cause” means is the first line’s saboteur. Whoever he is beckoning will likely be annoyed to learn that the reason she was coming back was for Kiedis to simply regale her about his latest trip to Bombay. (“C’mon, baby, let me tell just one more anecdote about the time I romped and a-stomped through the temple.”) Also, technically it is “Mumbai,” which begs the question, are the Red Hot Chili Peppers closet British colonialist sympathizers? Someone should look into this.
Verse 4: “Bonafide ride step aside my Johnson / Yes I could in the woods of Wisconsin / Now wake up the cake, it’s a lake, she’s kissin’ me / as they do, when they do, in Sicily.”
OK, we are now getting into eye-gougingly bad territory, lyric-wise. After finally referencing a city in another country, we’re back in the decidedly unexciting woods of Wisconsin, thanks in part to Anthony Kiedis’ Johnson. As for the Sicily reference, I’m guessing this is an urban legend, as the Wikipedia page for lakes in Sicily shows little, if any, evidence of women rousing men from their slumber.
Also, the phrase “Wake up the cake,” does not exist. Not even close. This sounds like it probably was an awesome phrase in various rube towns in the 1920s (“Well wake up the cake, Johnny done picked all yer apples!”), but here it seems to mean “I’m about to say to say something about Sicily.”
Verse 5: “Where you wanna go? Who you wanna be? What you wanna do? Just come with me / I saw God and I saw the fountains / You and me, girl, sittin’ in the Swiss mountains.”
This seems to be the point at which Kiedis realizes he doesn’t know any other countries and gives up on the song entirely. I’d also be really curious about which fountains he saw, if it weren’t so obvious that he had to say he saw fountains since that’s the only word that rhymes with mountains. (He probably could’ve forced something in about “Laotians” if he want to stay true to the song’s theme.)
Final Verse: “Me, oh, my, oh / me and guy oh / freer than a bird, ‘cause we rockin’ Ohio / Around the world / I feel dutiful / take a wife / ‘cause life is beautiful.”
And we finish strong, on what is possibly the worst verse in the song. Almost every word is useless, and every time three or four words are strung together, it constitutes a lyrical disaster. The many mysteries of the last verse include: Who is this mysterious Guy Oh? Why would rockin’ Ohio make you freer than a bird? Who even rocks Ohio, a state known for industrial decline and being where your cousins live? In a song advocating promiscuity on some level, why would the main takeaway all of the sudden be “take a wife,” and why don’t we get an explanation about how he arrived at that conclusion?
And rhyming “life is beautiful” with “I feel dutiful” . . . sigh.
Oh, and Also: The final chorus, as you may remember, goes something like, “I know, I know for sure / Ming ming mong mong ming meng mong mong ming meng.” Relatively speaking, this lyric is actually one of the stronger ones.