So you're listening to a new song, and really like it! Not only is the melody awesome, but the lyrics seem really deep and poignant. But is he talking about shoes there? You're not sure, so you go to the Internet, pull up a lyrics site, and look up to the words to the song.
And they end up looking something like this:
While song lyrics are a form of poetry, there's one simple fact about songs that sets them apart from poems: They're meant to be sung. So lines that make no sense on paper—such as run-on or fragmented sentences, strange contrivances of grammar, and outright nonsense—are not only accepted in songs, but they can actually make them better, since it flows better with the music. Whether the words are written to fit the music, or the music written after the words are down, a song and its lyrics have to fit together—and if the words have to be "squeezed" a little to make them fit, well, that might just happen.
See also Word Salad Lyrics, when the words don't even attempt to make sense (or occasionally, even be grammatical), and Singing Simlish, for songs that are just gibberish. Lyrical Tic is for particular shoehorns that become a certain artist's Catch Phrase.
See also Scatting.
Pick any Brian Eno song. He does this intentionally because he doesn't like writing lyrics and doesn't think that lyrics should be read as poetry.
Or much of Talking Heads' output during his time as their producer. As a matter of fact, "I Zimbra" is based on an actual sound-poem, specifically one by Dadaist Hugo Ball.
Those Fabulous Sixties!:
Brenton Wood's "Oogum Boogum Song": "Oogum, boogum, boogum, boogum now baby, now cast your spell on me."
Manfred Mann's "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy": "There she was, just a-walkin' down the street, singin' 'doo wah diddy, diddy dum, diddy do'".
Bo Diddley by way of the Remains, "Diddy Wah Diddy": "She don't come from no town, she don't come from no city, she lives way down in Diddy Wah Diddy".
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has wacky phrasing and rhyme scheme to fit the tempo of the song. Witness "Slipping", where the verse ends in the middle of a sentence and the continuing sentence starts the next verse.
Now that your savior
Is still as the grave, you're
Beginning to fear me
Like cavemen fear thunder
I still have to wonder
Can you really hear me?
Same is true for Captain Hammer's intro, "A Man's Gotta Do":
Stand back everyone, nothing here to see.
Just imminent danger; in the middle of it, me!
Yes, Captain Hammer's here, hair blowing in the breeze,
The day needs my saving expertise!
Most songs written by Benjamin Gibbard subvert this trope. He writes long, grammatically correct(Or sometimes run-on) sentences that have to squeeze themselves awkwardly into the rhythms and often don't even rhyme.
The lines in "Such Great Heights" are so long they overlap at the ends and it's difficult to mark breaks in the phrases:
I am thinking it's a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they're perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate that God himself did make us into corresponding shapes like puzzle pieces from the clay
"They want what they're not/and I wish they would stop/ saying: "Debbity dog dog a ding dang doobie doobie debbity dog dog a ding dang doobie doobie" D: World Destruction/ O-ver an overture/N: do I need/Apostrophe T: need this torture?
Linnell has stated that the music for Don't Let's Start was written before the lyrics, and the lyrics were mostly chosen because they fit the number of syllables for the melody. When asked about the song's meaning, Linnell simply answered that it was about "not let's starting."
Timbaland's "The Way I Are":
I ain't got no money. I ain't got no car to take you on a date.
Frequently averted by the Minutemen: Since the words often came first and sometimes were scraps of poetry that weren't even originally intended to be sung, there would frequently be an excess of syllables. For example, "My Heart And The Real World" finds D Boone having to rapidly sing lines like "And if I was a word, could my letters number a hundred? More likely coarse and guttural one syllable Anglo-Saxon" in order to stay on beat.
Vagiant's FTK, a Bowdlerization of one of their songs for Guitar Hero 2, has to fall into this at one point to match a rhyming scheme and meter that was originally intended for more... colorful lyrics, inserting the bizarre nonsequitur "Take this car and fill it up with tons of gas".
Harry Chapin's hit "Cat's in the Cradle": "It's been sure nice talking to you."
From the same song: "What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys/ see you later, can I have them please?"
Carl Newman of The New Pornographers takes this trope and just runs with it. He's admitted that a lot of his lyrics don't really mean anything, that he just uses whatever sounds best in the song, or will use certain words because their vowels and consonants go well with a melody.
Don't listen too closely to "World Without Logos" (the opening theme of Hellsing TV). The lyrics are so full of this and Gratuitous English that it's practically scat-singing.
Peter Schickele's annotations to the lyrics of P.D.Q Bach's madrigal "My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth" insist that the second line in this couplet is absolutely meaningless:
My bonnie lass liketh to dance a lot; —>She's Guinevere and I'm Sir Lancelot.
Of course, given the parodic nature of the Anti-Love Song as a whole, and given the illicit nature of Lancelot and Guinevere's affair...
In the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, the main character is demoing one of his songs to a producer, and expresses his dissatisfaction with the line, "They're always popping their cork."
"Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music has the irritatingly shoehorned line, "La: a note to follow so." It's probably because there just isn't a good pun on "la."
The line is the subject of a Douglas Adams essay, as he uses it as an example of "Unfinished Business of the 20th Century", things that really should be sorted out before the digits change. He even tries to repair it himself before conceding that perhaps it's not as easy a problem as it first appears.
Cracker's "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)" plays with this trope:
'Cause what the world needs now
Is some true words of wisdom
Like la la la la, la la, la la la
The Gorillaz song Rock It consists mostly of the word "blah." People have variously interpreted this as incredibly deep or incredibly lazy. Word of God is that it's about rock stars who pump out a few good albums and then start cranking out lazy shit (hence: "I'm walking to the something, blah blah blah blah blah", among other lines).
Nine Inch Nails is usually better about this, but the beginning of "Terrible Lie" is somewhat cringe-worthy.
Why are you doing this to me
Am I not living up to what I'm supposed to be
Why am I seething with this animosity
I think you owe me a great big apology
"Only" has the rather awkward "Yes I'm alone, but then again I always was", where "I've always been" would have sounded much better. But it needed to rhyme with "because", so...
Nickelback songs should only be listened to and never analyzed on paper for this very reason. The lyrics come off as a bit sing-songy and childish when they're just read through.
Kim's the first girl I kissed
I was so nervous that I nearly missed
She's had a couple of kids since then
I haven't seen her since God knows when
Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants". Grammatically, it should be "If She Knew What She Wanted", but that would really mess up the meter.
An infamous example is Paul McCartney's "My Love," whose lyrics are copiously padded with the syllable "wo."
Almost anything written by John Rich. One particularly painful example is "New York City town" from "Shuttin' Detroit Down". Not to mention that he uses the town/down rhyme ''twice'' in the chorus.
The Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" somehow manages to use "mad as hell" twice in the chorus just because they couldn't think of another line.
"8.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu" from Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying".
Endemic in Starflyer 59's music. Jason Martin always writes the music first and the lyrics last, and he admits to padding songs with lyrics that sound good and mean nothing—and for the fans, it's usually impossible to tell the difference.
From James Blunt's "You're Beautiful": "There must be an angel with a smile on her face/When she thought up that I should be with you."
"In The Garage" by Weezer has "garage" repeatedly pronounced as "grodge" to better fit the meter of the chorusnote Though it's doubtful that this is what they were actually going for, "garage" is pronounced "grodge" in the Yooper dialect. It works in a Narm Charm sort of way though.
Bruce Springsteen has a bad habit of adding "mister" to lines when he needs a couple of extra syllables to fill out the meter.
"Hungry Heart": "Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack" so he can rhyme it with "back".
The Killers' "Human": In order to rhyme with "answer," the grammatically incorrect "Are we human or are we dancer?" was made the focal point of the chorus.
There are times when such nouns are treated as adjectives (if you were asking about a group's nationality, both "Are they German?" and "Are they Germans?" would be accepted), so the lyrics are only asking us to start considering 'dancer' to be a biological classification mutually exclusive with 'human'.
Then again, they credit the line-as-written to Hunter S. Thompson, so make of that what you will.
Interpol's "Obstacle 1":
"Her stories are boring and stuff,
She's always calling my bluff"
From the same band, "PDA":
Sleep tight, grim rite
We have two hundred couches where you can
Sleep tight, grim rite...
Collin Raye's "On the Verge" uses the phrase "slow down me" to rhyme with "around me."
The Chemical Brothers song "Let Forever Be" starts 85% of the lines by asking the listener the question "How does it feel like?" Fits the meter, but is a grammatical train wreck that just keeps going.
A lot of The Protomen's lyrics look quite strange on paper, and it doesn't help that their lyric sheets are interspersed with things happening during the song that are not actually sung, resulting in instrumental songs with three paragraphs of "lyrics".
"Send your armies. There's no man or machine who can stop me, and you'll soon see.
I come for vengeance for the first Son of Light. I'm ready, I'm willing, I'm prepared to—"
It should be noted that that particular part is interrupted, and the closing word is 'fight'.
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" with its mentions of "marshmallows for toasting" and "scary ghost stories," which are about as far from Christmas imagery as you can get (you could count A Christmas Carol but that's a stretch).
Possibly an example of something becoming this over time. There are traditions of telling ghost stories at Christmas, as seen here for example.
The chorus of Everclear's "I Will Buy You A New Life" includes the line "I will buy you a new car, perfect shiny and new". The second "new" does need to be there to slant rhyme with "bloom", but plenty of other one syllable adjectives could have come before "car" while still fitting the meter.
"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of" in Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State Of Mind", though "Concrete jungle that dreams are made of" would have made more sense and still fit in.
The Residents album "Duck Stab" was built entirely around this concept often with unusual results...
A red, red rose saw a big pig pose
On the edge of a silver dollar
The end of his tail was a long-necked nail
And in place of his face was the scholar
King Crimson's song "Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With" is an intentional stab at this trope, with such lyrics as:
And when I have some words
This is the way I'll sing
Through a distortion box
To make them menacing.
Yeah, then I'm gonna have to write a chorus
We're gonna need to have a chorus
And this seems to be as good as any other place
To sing until I'm blue in the face.
Akon's "Dangerous" has the first line "I can't notice but to notice you, noticing me."
In the chorus of "Disturbia," Rihanna informs us that the titular state of mind "ain't used to what you like." That should probably be the other way around, in order to make any sense at all.
Probably intentional, considering what the song is about.
Frou Frou has a song, Flicks, which is basically this trope.
The Cranberries do this sometimes, for instance:
People are strangers
People in danger
People are strangers
People deranged are
Loud And Clear
Carrie Underwood's "Undo It" has a couple, most notably "you stole my happy" (which one reviewer said made the song sound like she was singing in LOLcat speak) and "uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-undo it."
"Mack the Knife," as it appears in the Marc Blitzstein translation of The Threepenny Opera, has about every other line ending with a gratuitous "dear". It should be observed that some of the most famous covers of the song use Blitzstein's English version of the lyrics but with that word changed.
Canadian band Big Wreck may have the worst example of all with "That Song"- they changed the pronounciation of a word to make it fit better into the song! "Dumb" becomes "doom", simply so that it will rhyme with "room". Seriously, could no other word have been used there?:
and it might sound doom,
so just leave the room
On the plus side, though, it does sound very "doom," so it works in that regard.
Ooh, I love the way you, love the way you love me…
"Twenty years have came and went" from "Angry All the Time" by Tim McGraw. "Have come and gone" would have scanned, you know.
From another one of Tim's songs, "My Old Friend": "They laugh and they cry me / And somehow sanctify me".
Andy Partridge admitted he was forced to butcher the line "Please don't pull me out/I'm relax in the undertow" in XTC's "Summer's Cauldron" simply because that extra syllable from the correct grammar would screw up the meter.
Bob Dylan does this a lot, most famously adding the word "babe" at the end of lines. Other examples from his early work: "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (rhyming "knowed" with "road"); "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" ("there's beauty in the sunrise in the sky"—where else would the sunrise be?)
"If it works, why not?" is perhaps the closest Bob has to a philosophy. Consider—in these stanzas from "Motorpsycho Nitemare"—the elegant division of lines:
Dylan also loves squeezing way too many syllables into a line. "Summer Days", for instance, has a standard AAB blues pattern, where he somehow manages to sing
She looks into my eyes, she's a-holdin' my hand
She looks into my eyes, she's a-holdin' my hand
She says "You can't repeat the past." I say "You can't? What do you mean you can't? Of course you can!"
The third verse of Alan Jackson's "Where I Come From". Besides having Painful Rhymes out the wazoo, it tries to pass off "use my finger" as a synonym for hitchhiking, and… well, it's anyone guess what the second half of this verse is trying to even say:
I was chasin' sun on 101
Somewhere around Ventura
I lost a universal joint
And I had to use my finger
This tall lady stopped and asked
If I had plans for dinner
Said, "No thanks, ma'am, back home
We like the girls that sing soprano"
John Conlee's "Old School" has a rather shoehorned word: "We both made it to our graduation / You chose a college, I chose a vocation / Driving 18 wheels."
"That's Enough of That" by country singer Mila Mason: "That's enough of this crying, enough of this whining, enough of this over-react".
The large majority of the lyrics of Yes are picked for sound over anything else. "Love Will Find A Way", though, has their most blatant and famous one:
Steely Dan's "Soul Ram", where every line seems to have been written purely to give the song lyrics, making no sense at all. In particular, the line "Just pretends knows the score" which omits "she" twice in order to fit with the meter of the song.
Example of the former, Bauhaus' "In The Flat Field"
Yin and yang lumber punch Go taste a tart, then eat my lunch And force my slender thin and lean In this solemn place of fill wetting dreams Of black matted lace of pregnant cows As life maps out onto my brow The card is lowered in index turn Into my filing cabinet hemispheres spurn.
Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" has "I'll be your crying shoulder". It's not grammatically incorrect or anything, but it sounds a little odd because no one really phrases "a shoulder to cry on" that way.
Diamond Rio's "How Your Love Makes Me Feel":
It's like just before dark, jump in the car Buy an ice cream and see how far We can drive before it melts Kind of easy (That's how your love makes me feel) Then there's a cow in the road and you swerve to the left Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death And you laugh until you cry That's how your love makes me feel inside.
Steam's "Nah Nah, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye", ends in an extended chorus of the refrain, "Na-na-na-nah, Na-na-na-nah, Hey-hey-hey, goodbye", because the band realized that the track was a bit short without it.
Dave Barnes' "God Gave Me You" (Covered Up by Blake Shelton) has "That you, an angel lovely, could somehow fall for me." This is particularly baffling, as the particular line could've been the much better-sounding "a lovely angel" since it's mid-line and doesn't have to rhyme with anything.
The Beatles' "In My Life": "But of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares with you". It should probably be "...there is no one who compares with you", but that would throw off the meter a bit.
The chorus of R.E.M.'s "Leaving New York" has the grammatically odd line "leaving was never my proud" (probably meaning "pride", but that wouldn't slant-rhyme with "around" and "down"). Like the Carrie Underwood example, it can be read as being in LOLCat speak.
Reba McEntire's "You're Gonna Be" contains a particularly Yoda-esque lyric:
Life has no guarantees
But always loved by me
You're gonna be
Jessi Colter's "I'm Not Lisa" gets a mention for having "I'm not Lisa, my name is Julie." First of all, "Jessi" would've fit, and second of all, there isn't a single rhyme in the whole chorus, so there was really no reason to use "Julie" instead. (And even if there were a rhyme scheme in the chorus, nearly anything that rhymed with "Julie" could at least passably rhyme with the long E sound of "Jessi".)
Krispy Kreme's "The Baddest" has "I have four hundred houses / I have four hundred mouses and four hundred houses". It's not just the improper plural of "mouse", but also the fact that mice themselves are an unlikely thing to brag about having in a Boastful Rap unless you just really need something that rhymes with "house". Though it's possible he means computer mouses - "mouses" is considered an acceptable plural in that context, and it'd be a slightly more logical thing to brag about than having a rodent problem.
Taylor Swift's "Fearless": "And I don't know why, but with you I'd dance / In a storm in my best dress, fearless". Also, about half the song has very odd line breaks and a bad case of Accent On The Wrong Syllable.
The first verse of "Dear Mr. Governor" by Da Yoopers starts off fine, but totally derails on the last line:
"What's this on my mitten?" said the troll from down belownote "Troll" in this case meaning a resident of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, as they are "under" the Mackinac Bridge which connects the two halves of the state
"Is it just a picker, or a piece of dirty snow?
I think I'll just brush it off and kick it in the lake
And stay down below the bridge and eat my birthday cake"
The song "We're Knights of the Round Table" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is composed entirely of this trope, to the point that it includes the Lampshade:
"Moody River". When the song's original artist Chase Webster wrote it (credited under his real name, Gary D. Bruce), the first line of the chorus was "Moody River, more deadly than the sharpest knife", but when he recorded the song he kept popping the P on "sharpest", so the producer asked him to change the word. He sang the first thing that came to mind, "vainest", even though "vainest knife" makes absolutely no sense. When Pat Boone Covered Up the song a little while later, his producer actually checked with Webster to make sure that was the correct lyric.
Maroon5's "Payphone" has the line "Even the sun sets in paradise" - in context, this is clearly supposed to mean "Even in paradise, the sun sets", but that wouldn't fit into the meter or rhyme with "paralyzed".
In the Eegah! song "Valerie", Arch Hall Jr. very clumsily tosses in the words "gallery", "calorie" and "salary" just so they can rhyme with the title.
The theme song for Murder Most Horrid has a line at the end which goes "and you wake in the night, wipe the sweat from your forehead (pronounced as forrid)/ Murder Most Horrid", and each episode has a different word substituted that rhymes with "horrid", such as torrid and borrowed (pronounced "borrid"). They seem to run out of words at one point, and the line becomes "and you wake in the night... la la la la la lorid".
In The Black Eyed Peas' song "Imma Be", in between repeating its title over and over again, had Will.i.am deliver the immortal line: "Imma be a brother, but my name ain't Lehmann; Imma be a bank, I be loaning out semen." No-one is quite sure why.