Top Ten Songs Featurin’ Present Participles (Or Gerunds) With Dropped “G”’s
o some it's an accurate rendition of dialect; to others, a self-conferred badge of authenticity; to Bob Dylan, a tic. Whatever a songwriter's reason for excising the G from words he knows perfectly well end in one, he's not alone—though some particularly anachronistic compositions really have to know what they're doing. So here are ten songs that have to work for their apostrophes, and how they make their cases:
U2 - Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around the World
A refugee from the spotty second half of Achtung Baby, it's difficult to imagine which part of his imported groove Bono feels is worthy of the truncated "trying." Then you hear his mumbled spoken-word delivery of the third verse—"Yeah, I dreamed that I saw Dali / With a supermarket trolley / He was tryin' to throw his arms around a girl"—and the artificial cool is so overpowering that for an instant all is forgiven.
Talking Heads - Puzzlin' Evidence
Sadly, "Puzzlin' Evidence" is only available sung by an unwilling David Byrne rather than Land Before Time veteran John Ingle, whose snarling conspiracy-theory sermon in True Stories ("You know how the governor campaigned to get the FCC here? Do you know what their goal is? Well, ELVIS did!") seemed to be treading a slippery slope leading to an absurd musical number. The official Talking Heads version is thin, a little unremarkable, and overlong; like the original version of the Stop Making Sense soundtrack it feeds to survive on your memories of the film. And lo and behold—the apostrophe here seems a forced, unearned joke, with none of the gospel authenticity granted it by Ingle's invocations of fire, brimstone, and the Warren Commission.
The Wrens - Darlin' Darlin'
The Wrens used to write three-minute pop songs and smother them in rage and squeal for kicks. This highlight from 1994's Silver buries a bass-driven ping-pong melody with a great recycled hook—"Where am I going to get some sleep? Darlin' darlin', where am I gonna get some sleep this time?"—beneath the fuzzy clamor of early Wrens: part roaring guitar, part feedback, part incoherent vocals, part klaxon—a shoegaze song devouring a Pixies song. There's no time for politesse and certainly no time for Gs.
The Fiery Furnaces - Slavin' Away
"Slavin' Away" is one of the two or three actually tuneful songs on Rehearsing My Choir, a good radio play with a bad ad campaign that marketed it as music. Even Olga Sarantos' rumble, which at times brushes the edges of The Neverending Story's Rock-Biter, achieves a subdued melody, as Sarantos lets her portentous syllables slide into her granddaughter's Billie-Holiday-by-way-of-the-school-play croon. The whole song is such a hermetic construct it can do whatever the hell it wants with its title.
Weezer - Keep Fishin'
After a commercial failure interpretable only as an exhaustive document of his own half-relationships, and a commercial success interpretable only as a series of bland, universalized-to-death half-songs, Rivers Cuomo compensated with an album that was not interpretable as anything. The words on Maladroit, Weezer's last listenable record, defy coherency so completely they seem sewn together from the prepositional phrases of a hundred bad songs. And if the music in songs like "Keep Fishin'" strives for the kind of 70s fun Weezer used to effortlessly ooze, and if the Muppet-starring music video strives to be directed by Spike Jonze, the call-and-response chorus is catchy enough, and the absent G is just another bit of incongruous scrap hauled from one of the three hundred junkyards Rivers was mining at this point.
The Flaming Lips - Buggin'
The Soft Bulletin also contains the more revered "Waitin' for a Superman," but anyone can write that title; it takes a little more skill to simultaneously reference the blues and the Valley. Wayne Coyne's ludicrously sweet mosquitoes-as-love metaphor makes no apologies: there's nothing here but fluttering, soaring harmonies, and by the time Coyne wonders "Does love buzz because that's what it does?" you'll know where you stand. Which is to say you'll know if you have a single shred of human feeling.
Bright Eyes - Another Travelin' Song
Whatever you may think of Conor Oberst, the kid's got moxie. Here he not only appropriates music five times his age and acts as if he took a crucial hand in its development, he has the nerve to drop the G, strolling calmly into the folk canon confident he won't be carded. He will, but the last guy to tempt bouncers so blatantly (and obnoxiously) just became the oldest musician to go to #1.
Pavement - Stop Breathin'
Probably the least straightforward song on its album, the only thing here that's not obtuse musically, lyrically, or both is the chorus' titular command, whose very punctuation references the reassuring classic rock that makes Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain the initiate's favorite Pavement album. The rest, meanwhile: Malkmus says it's about tennis and the Civil War, and that covers the first verse, but after that it’s anyone’s guess, and God bless it.
The Magnetic Fields - Sweet Lovin' Man
A song so successful in its Brill Building mimicry Stephin Merritt can't help letting it run for five minutes, one of two tracks out of sixty-nine to break four. Dropped G permitted for the same reason the rest of this album is permitted.
Modest Mouse - Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'
The best for last: a triple-whammy, dropping three Gs from two gerunds and a noun, running for six and a half minutes and written mostly by David Lynch. The skewed anthem Isaac Brock chants in between repetitions of the Lady in the Radiator's "in Heaven..." chorus casts all of life as preparation for a funeral; but even as Brock's workin', etc., he's "loved it more than anything / Loved it more than everything / Loved everything more than anything." It's almost sentimental, and if you'll permit its extended, rattling fade into Lynch's endlessly repeated catchphrase, you shouldn't have a problem with the apostrophes. Actually, you should never have a problem with the apostrophes. I was only foolin'.