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Music / Nellie McKay

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Nell Marie McKaynote  (born April 13, 1982) is a British-born, American-raised singer-songwriter/keyboardist/ukuleleist.

Her music is an eclectic blend of classic pop, jazz and cabaret influences, not to mention occasional forays into rap, reggae and other stuff. She's also known for her witty, biting lyrics.

Her 2004 debut album Get Away From Me received heavy media attention and rave reviews. Attempted Executive Meddling with her second album Pretty Little Head delayed its release by almost a year, killing some of the buzz and momentum created by her debut album. She's remained a critical favorite and has managed to maintain a loyal fanbase.

No relation to Winsor McCay.


  • Get Away From Me (2004)
  • Pretty Little Head (2006)
  • Obligatory Villagers (2007)
  • Normal as Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day (2009)
  • Home Sweet Mobile Home (2010)
  • My Weekly Reader (2015)
  • Sister Orchid (2018)
  • Bagatelles (2019)—an eight-song EP
  • Hey Guys, Watch This (2023)—her first album of all-original material since Home Sweet Mobile Home

This singer provides examples of:

  • Album Title Drop: Home Sweet Mobile Home comes from a repeated line in "Coosada Blues".
  • Anti-Christmas Song: She released two via her website in 2007, "A Christmas Dirge" and "Take Me Away".
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: "Lali Est Paresseux" is basically a bunch of grammatically correct French non-sequitur sentences.
    Avez-vous de la glace ce soir? (Do you have ice cream tonight?)
    Il est temps de partir ce soir (It's time to leave tonight)
    Oui apportez une chaise ce soir (Yes, bring me a chair tonight)
    Je n'aime pas beaucoup cela ce soir (I don't like this much tonight)
  • Call-Back: "Lali" (Hey Guys, Watch This) seems like one to "Lali Est Peresseux" (Pretty Little Head).
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Home Sweet Mobile Home, while not exactly grim, is still noticeably less lighthearted than her earlier work, and Hey Guys, Watch This picks up where it left off.
  • Clone Angst: Averted in "Clonie", a happy tune about how cool it would be to have a clone to hang out with.
  • Concept Album: Not yet, except the Doris Day album. But her live shows I Want To Live (based on the 1958 film) and Silent Spring-It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature (about environmentalist Rachel Carson) amount to concept albums performed on stage, in the way they mix originals, covers and monologues.
  • Cover Album: Normal as Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day, My Weekly Reader (music from The '60s), Sister Orchid and Bagatelles (Great American Songbook).
  • Distinct Double Album: Get Away From Me and Pretty Little Head could both fit on a single CD but were released as doubles, so that changing CDs would act as the functional equivalent of turning a record over to the other side. McKay and Sony clashed over this for Pretty Little Head. She wanted a double album, they wanted a single disc. She ultimately left Sony and released it on her own label.
  • Epic Rocking: So far she's avoided this. Her longest song, "Zombie", is just under 6 minutes.
  • Genre Roulette: All of her albums, but especially the first two. The first four songs on Get Away From Me go from bouncy mid-tempo jazz with a dash of reggae ("David") to somber slow jazz ("Manhattan Avenue") to rap ("Sari") to a song that sounds like something out of a Julie Andrews movie ("Ding Dong").
  • Gratuitous Spanish: The refrain of "Suitcase Song" is "me falta una maleta" (roughly "I'm missing a suitcase").
  • I Approved This Message: She closes "Mother of Pearl" by saying "I'm Dennis Kucinich and I approve this message."
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Obligatory Villagers: "Zombie" (5:56)
    • Normal as Blueberry Pie: "I Remember You" (4:25)
    • Bagatelles: "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" (3:15)
    • Hey Guys, Watch This: "Make a Wish" (5:39)
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Oh, how she loves this: "Won't U Please B Nice" is a perky jazz tune where she repeatedly threatens to kill a guy if he doesn't return her affection. "Ding Dong" is a Broadway-style song about insanity and death, implicitly by suicide. "I Wanna Get Married" sounds like a sweet romantic ballad, but it's actually a satire on suburban soccer moms (though Word of God says it's not mean-spirited and meant to be partly affectionate). "Columbia is Bleeding" mixes uptempo music and catchy rapid-fire vocals in a song protesting animal testing at universities.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Livin' " (:24), "Pounce" (:56), and a handful of other songs under 2 minutes (mainly on Pretty Little Head).
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Toto Dies", "Cupcake", "Yodel", "The Big One", "G.E.S.", "Gladd", "Mother of Pearl", "Oversure", "Gin Rummy", "Galleon", "Unknown Reggae".
  • Obsession Song: "Baby Watch Your Back".
  • Older Than They Look: She looks much younger than her age, which led to some confusion around the time Get Away From Me was released, with some erroneous reports that she was still a teenager (though the references to drinking alcohol in a few of the songs seemed to suggest she was older).
  • Pluto Is Expendable: "Identity Theft": "as far as I'm concerned, Pluto's still a planet".
  • Quirky Ukulele: She started out mainly accompanying herself on piano, but gradually added more ukulele-based songs to her repertoire, and with her retro taste in fashion, roughly fits this trope. But she also subverts it, with a lot of the ukulele songs being downbeat musically and lyrically, like the solo uke piece "Adios":
    If time runs like a river
    I saw my people bathed in blood
  • Shout-Out: The lines about Maxine Schreck at the beginning of "Oversure" are presumably referencing the character from Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter.
  • Siamese Triplet Songs: "Oversure"/"Gin Rummy"/"Livin' "
  • Something Blues: "Coosada Blues", about the tiny town of Coosada, Alabama, except the town isn't mentioned in the lyrics.
  • The Something Song: "The Dog Song", "Suitcase Song", "Work Song" (Get Away From Me); "The Drinking Song". "The Party Song" (Hey Guys, Watch This).
  • Song Style Shift: "There You Are in Me" from Pretty Little Head is restrained and piano driven in the verses, sounding like a quiet number from a Stephen Sondheim musical. In the choruses it switches to Gothic Metal a la Evanescence.
  • Special Guest: Cyndi Lauper on "Beecharmer", k.d. lang on "We Had It Right".
  • Stalker with a Crush: A recurring theme on Get Away From Me. "Baby Watch Your Back" is explicitly sung from the POV of one, while "David" and "Won't U Please B Nice" could also be interpreted that way.
  • Straw Feminist: "Mother of Pearl" thoroughly mocks the attitude that leads to this trope.
  • Take That!: The title of her debut album Get Away From Me is a riff on two earlier albums by jazzy piano-playing female vocalists: Come Away With Me by Norah Jones and Come Dream With Me by Jane Monheit.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Sari" shifts keys mid-song.
  • Vulgar Humor: "Livin' "
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: "Gin Rummy" opens with the line "Wake up in a small cafe".
  • Yandere: The narrator of "Won't U Please B Nice".
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: "Won't U Please B Nice".