Songs I can’t Sing
Not that these are necessarily songs where I can’t hit the notes. Maybe I can. Maybe I can’t. That’s not the point.
Perhaps it would be more correct to say: Songs I shouldn’t sing. Or, more more correct: Songs I shouldn't perform.
Here’s how I started down this particular rabbit hole. I was home sick and scrolling through reels on Facebook. I wish I could say that I was scrolling on Instagram. That would be slightly cooler. But I want to keep things real between you and me. So, here I sit, uncool but honest.
I came across a video of a woman in her 20s with a big bass guitar. She had an interesting look and a pastel green bass, so I stopped. Then she started playing Stevie Wonder’s hit song, “I Wish” from Songs In The Key Of Life. It’s about wishing to relive childhood. Super. Love that song.
The woman with the bass began singing, “Looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy.” I immediately wondered why she didn’t change the words to “...little girl.” I’m 99.9% sure this person was never a little boy. Yes, these things happen. But you’re gonna have to go with me on this one.
It always bothers me when someone covers a song and doesn’t change the obviously incongruous words to fit them. It creates a believability issue and takes me out of the song. When I was in a band (don’t ask and don’t look for videos), I’d always change the words so the song fit me. And not just for the listener. If I was to sing Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” I wouldn’t sing, “I'm driving in my car I turn on the radio. I'm pulling you close you just say no. You say you don't like it but girl I know you're a liar…” I’d change it to, “You say you don't like it but BOY I know you're a liar…” How hard is that? Zero percent hard.
SIDE NOTE: I wouldn’t sing that song anyway because it sounds like a true crime podcast waiting to happen. Like the singer is a repeat sex offender forcing themselves on someone who wants out of the car the second the singer’s back is turned. RUN! RUN!!!
Back to Stevie Wonder. I asked myself, How would I sing the song, “I Wish”? First line, “Looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy.” So, nappy? Doesn’t seem to fit for a little white girl. I would change that to, fuzzy. As a kid, I had zero interest in how I looked. My long curly hair was often unbrushed and in the humidity of a northeast summer, “fuzzy” is a kind word for how it looked. So, first line, “Looking back on when I was a little fuzzy headed girl.” That works.
Next line. “Then my only worry was for Christmas what would be my toy.” I’m Jewish, so I’ll need another edit. “Then my only worry was for Hanukah, what would be my toy.” It adds an extra syllable, so I sang it several times to figure out the best way to squeeze “Hanukah” in there as smoothly as possible. A little funky, but fine.
Moving on. “Even though we sometimes would not get a thing…” Here we have a real problem. There was never a time when we wouldn’t get something for Hanukah. Never. I remember one year, my mother was totally over trying to come up with eight days of gifts for three kids. (If you didn’t know, Hanukah lasts eight days and little kids often get a gift each night.)
That year she decided to take a left turn. On the first night of Hanukah, we were each presented with a basket containing eight envelopes that had our names written on them. In each envelope was money. Every night, we’d pick one of our envelopes to open and see how much was in it. It might be a five dollar bill. It might be a ten. I think the biggest envelope had fifty dollars in it. (Don’t quote me on that.)
Basically, my mom had turned Hanukah into a gameshow. And even though we all knew that the total amount we got at the end of the eight days wouldn’t change based on what order we opened our envelopes in, it was suspenseful and exciting. Looking back on it, I believe my mom’s idea was genius.
But it left me with a problem. How to change that line of the song? “Even though we sometimes would not get a thing…” Hmm. “Even though we sometimes, wouldn’t get OUR thing?” Meaning, not what we had wished for. But I don’t think I love that solution. It makes us sound, ungrateful. Maybe, “Even though we sometimes, didn’t want to sing?” No. We never sang the one and only Hanukah song we knew. How about, “It was always hard to wait, for the opening?” Maybe. What kid doesn’t have a hard time waiting to open a wrapped present? (Or a mystery envelope full of an unknown amount of cash.) I’m going with it.
Next line. “We were happy with the joy the day would bring.” We just hit a hard stop. Why? Jews just aren’t that happy. My family usually ended up arguing at Hanukah, and every other holiday. It’s how we communicated.
And if there was nothing new to argue about, someone would bring up some slight from five or ten years earlier. Something like, “Remember? We were just sitting there at the table waiting for your family to show up. Waiting and waiting and the brisket got so dry. It was like the Sahara. Remember? Then that damn brisket strand got caught in my teeth and I had to floss it out and I lost a crown. Remember? And what dentist is going to see you on a Friday night? Do you remember that?”
Full disclosure, that is not an actual story from my youth. But every true story I thought of had the potential of getting one of my relatives upset all over again and I just don’t want to take the chance of starting a “thing.”
So, what did that leave me with for lyrics? My version of “I Wish” is now:
Looking back on when I was a little fuzzy headed girl
And my only worry, was for Hanukah what would be my toy
It was always hard to wait, for the opening
And we were always irritable, cause that’s a Jewish thing
Bottom line, I just shouldn’t sing that song. It would be a lie. A big one. There is no amount of word changing that would make that song fit the true narrative of my life. And if I did change it to fit my life, I could only perform it in the Catskills.
Now that you know how the game is played, what song should you never perform?
Cheers and stay carful-ish,
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Honey Parker has been writing, writing, writing for decades, decades, decades. In there, she has also been a standup comedian, a Hollywood screenwriter, a director, and a co-author of edgy business books. Careful-ish is her debut novel. It is the first in a trilogy. It is comedy-ish.