From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

List #5: Favorite and least favorite Christmas songs — December 23, 2017

List #5: Favorite and least favorite Christmas songs

As Christmas draws near, I spend this week with a combination of excitement and anxiety, my family does our yearly Christmas caroling, we all try to get in our Christmas shopping while we can (and 2 days before the holiday doesn’t even qualify as last-minute by our standards), and the outdoors continually increases its resemblance to the second half of Snow Barrel Blast from Donkey Kong Country (but with fewer bottomless pits), one question among many must be asked: What about the music? Christmas is unique among holidays in having a lot of music written for it (one could argue that Valentine’s Day beats it by virtue of the sheer number of songs written about love, but I don’t think that counts), and with such a quantity, one should expect a lot of variety. Indeed, there is quite a spectrum when it comes to Christmas music in terms of style, subject matter, and quality, and not everyone has quite the same opinion about it. Some people love all Christmas music, one of my roommates hates all of it, and anyone working retail during the winter holiday season may eventually be implicated in a plot to brainwash the collective minds of humanity into forgetting that it ever existed. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer my opinion on what the best and worst Christmas songs are. I know, that will make two list articles in a row…sorry. And this one is a special “double feature” list, where it’s actually two lists in one. I should also mention that there is not much modern stuff on here; while people like Bianca Ryan might do a decent job, I’m definitely a lot more familiar with the “classic” Christmas songs. And, of course, it goes without saying that anything I’m not familiar with can’t be placed on either list.

Without further ado, I present to you my 10 least favorite Christmas songs, ranging from the “eh” to the truly awful or outright insulting.

10) Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Why I don’t like it: Okay, I was conflicted on this one. For a while, I seriously considered putting it on both lists, sense be darned. The thing about this song is that it’s not really the kind of thing you can sing together or play in the background, it’s not particularly noteworthy from a musical standpoint, and while the black comedy can be funny at first, the novelty wears off quickly. Besides, there are funnier “anti-Christmas songs” out there anyway.

Though it might be good for… Putting over a dramatic scene (original or otherwise) for bathos, or possibly as one song amidst a larger selection of comedic Christmas songs.

9) Jingle Bells

Why I don’t like it: This song isn’t terrible on its own, but it tends to have a habit of wearing out its welcome and being one of the most common examples of an overused Christmas song. It doesn’t help that it seems to give off more of a feeling of juvenileness than many Christmas songs, particularly if you leave out one or more verses.

Though it might be good for… Spicing up a bit. I don’t recall ever hearing any arrangements of this song, so perhaps the time is ripe for one. Or I guess you could always go the childish parody route, as with the old “Batman smells” version.

8) We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Why I don’t like it: It’s too repetitive and repetitive, and it’s also repetitive. This song could be improved substantially, I’d think, if most of the verses didn’t have the same line reiterated three times. Also, what’s the deal with verses 3 and 4 basically being “GIVE US FUD NAO”? That seems…not very much in the Christmas spirit. (And to quote Daffy Duck in the Looney Tunes Christmas album: “Just what the heck is a figgy pudding anyway?”)

Though it might be good for… I feel like this song works best either on Christmas or within a day or two of it, possibly even afterward since it does mention New Year’s Day as well. It isn’t great for playing on December 1. And as with Jingle Bells, I wouldn’t say no to some interesting new arrangements of it.

7) Silver and Gold

Why I don’t like it: This song is musically just fine, but the lyrics are frankly dumb. People like silver and gold? Well, no duh, Sherlock; where have you been for literally the entirety of human history since we started mining metals? Demanding the figgy pudding was bad enough, but this song just skips right past “it’s all about sweets” and “it’s all about toys” and goes right to “it’s all about freakin’ precious metals“. It didn’t make a good state motto, and it doesn’t make a good Christmas song.

Though it might be good for… I don’t know…some sort of Christmas-y alchemy lab? I could picture some mad scientist wizard type singing this as they’re trying to brew up some valuable concoction for their loved ones over the holidays.

6) The Sleigh

Why I don’t like it: Let’s get one thing out of the way: This is not the song that says it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together. That song (called “Sleigh Ride”) is decent enough. I’m talking about the much lesser-known one that goes “Lightly flying over the snow with a hey ha ha ha…”. This one…well, I’ll give it points for doing something different, at least, but it is heavily biased toward the melody. Singing “Zm…zm…zm…zm…” or “…ha…ha…ha…ha” over and over, punctuated with the occasional “Hey hey hey hey, ah ha ha” really isn’t that fun. I’d rather sing actual words, thank you. If you want a song with a similar feel that’s much more interesting, try Carol of the Bells.

Though it might be good for… Choir members with more patience than me, or ones who prefer simple parts. At least my sister likes it, though.

5) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Why I don’t like it: This is one of those songs that I’ve been fortunate enough not to hear all that frequently, but the arrangements of it almost always seem to be sung by someone with an annoying voice, and even when it’s someone with a good voice, that’s not enough to save it because the lyrics are kind of annoying as well.

Though it might be good for… Maybe as a brief snippet in a show sung by an annoying kid who is acknowledged by the other characters in the show as being annoying (hopefully one who undergoes character development and matures). That seems fitting.

4) The Twelve Days of Christmas

Why I don’t like it: Hoo boy. If this song only made it to #4, you know we’ll be in for some real stinkers afterward. The lyrics are dumb and repetitive, and the music doesn’t lend it much aid. Who exactly was this alleged song even written for? Some bratty noble child from the 1500s? The repetitious format is akin to a lot of early children’s songs, yet the lyrics clearly aren’t intended to be interesting to children…and aside from the gold rings, what the heck kind of Christmas presents are these anyway? (“Mommy, can I have ten lords a-leaping for Christmas?” “No, we got you that last year, and they ran away because you forgot to feed them.”) Perhaps this was written during a simpler time, when all songs used such repetition in order to facilitate memorization through oral tradition?

Though it might be good for… About the only thing this song is any good for is parodies, and even those can become stale after a while, particularly if they follow the same format as the original song. In addition to varying up the music, perhaps the next aspiring parodist could shorten the song by combing multiple items into a single verse or something, a la the Sharon, Lois, and Bram version of “Ten in a Bed”. On an unrelated note, I should mention that the eponymous 12 days of Christmas are not the 12 days before or leading up to Christmas, as many may assume, but rather the 12 days beginning on Christmas and going through January 5. Hopefully, you’ve had an epiphany after this.

3) All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

Why I don’t like it: Basically, take the childishness annoyance of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and make it even more childish and annoying, throw in the repetitiousness of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for good measure, and you get this aberration. Need I say more?

Though it might be good for… I’m not sure on this one. Use it for comedy by having a big tough guy sing it after mentioning getting his teeth knocked out in a bar fight or something, maybe. I don’t know.

2) Santa Baby

Why I don’t like it: This may be the most anti-Christmas song ever, and presumably unintentionally so. Following on from earlier entries that demonstrate how songs about telling people to give you stuff are not good, this song takes the concept to its logical conclusion by having the entire bleeping thing be about all the expensive gifts the singer thinks she deserves. (If Santa Claus really existed and read this person’s Christmas list, he’d go “Oh ho ho ho ho…NO” and have all eight reindeer crap on her carpet in lieu of any presents.) Of course, this song adds insult to injury for anyone who happens to be working during the Christmas season (at a job that is most likely not making them rich); if they’re already not feeling particularly jolly, hearing somebody sing about how they really need a platinum mine won’t help in the slightest. If there’s a holiday song out there that is a more pure, unmitigated antithesis of everything that Christmas should be about, I’d like to see it!

Though it might be good for… Either using ironically as an anti-consumerist message, or representing a character who is wealthy enough to have anything they want, but no matter how many luxuries they buy, they can never fill the emptiness they feel inside by not having any friends or companions.

1) Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Why I don’t like it: Ah, yes, Baby, It’s Cold Outside…also known as the date rape song. I never liked this song even back when all my innocence was still intact; something about it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I mean, smooth jazz already tends to set off my “uncomfortably awkward moment” sensors, but then you listen to the lyrics and realize that they are actually pretty darn creepy. Funny enough, when this song was written in the 1930s or so, it was apparently supposed to be the opposite of that, where women couldn’t decide to stay at such an event and have fun without a man’s permission (because people of the past are still misogynistic turdnuggets, in case you had any doubt), so the singer makes it seem like the guy is making her stay when it was her idea all along. Naturally, that’s definitely not the message we get from it in the 2010s, and lines like “Say, what’s in this drink” only add to the creepiness. I’m not a fan of this style of music in the first place, but the lyrics make it cringey enough for it to be my least favorite Christmas song.

Though it might be good for… Again, about the only good way to use this song is ironically. It could potentially be used as a sort of leitmotif for a villainous character in a romantic drama if you wanted to invoke the creepiness factor.

Now that we’ve covered the songs that might be likely to make you lose your Christmas spirit, if temporarily, let’s talk about some that might help you regain it.

10) Do You Hear What I Hear?

Why I like it: One thing about this list is that it’s significantly more weighted toward the religious Christmas songs than the secular ones. In general, while my family plays a variety of both, we definitely tend to sing more about Jesus and angels than Santa Claus and elves. They do tend to sound prettier and be better suited for multiple singers, and this one is no exception.

Though the problem is… I never get to sing it! I don’t think anyone in my family has ever actually sung this one, only listened to it. I’m not even sure if we have the music.

9) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

Why I like it: On the secular side of things, I’d always thought this song was pretty decent. It’s reasonably catchy, and the lyrics don’t get old too fast.

Though the problem is… There’s no 4-part harmony for it, so it’s not great for singing a capella; it’s better with a guitar or something.

8) It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Why I like it: Among the Christmas songs of the “cheery little ditty” type, this one is probably one of the better ones. The lyrics aren’t repetitive, nor too focused on a particular topic, and the tune isn’t bad.

Though the problem is… This song always makes me think of the Brawl in the Family parody “It’s Beginning to Look Just Like an Ice World”. Every. Stinking. Time. And it doesn’t help that I know all the lyrics to that but hardly any of the real version.

7) Winter Wonderland

Why I like it: This might be my favorite non-comedic secular Christmas song. It’s upbeat, innocent, relatively timeless, and just…fun, I guess.

Though the problem is… In addition to being a bit on the short side, it’s not actually all that Christmas-y. Nothing in the song makes any specific references to Christmas, or any other winter holiday for that matter. For that reason, since there are plenty of actual Christmas songs, this one might be best to save for later in the winter when it’s still cold and miserable, Christmas is long past, and you have nothing to sing. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, sing it 6 months or so away from Christmas.

6) Silent Night

Why I like it: It has a nice air of solemnity to it while not being too boring. And if you get sick of the English lyrics, you can always sing it in German instead.

Though the problem is… This is probably the most overdone song on this list; for me, at least, I’ve sung it while caroling, as part of the high school choir, and even at church, and every year to boot. There are songs designed to be sung simultaneously with it (“Peace, Peace” and “Night of Silence”), which is one way to vary things up a bit.

5) The Night Santa Went Crazy

Why I like it: This is, so far, my favorite black comedy Christmas song. The lyrics are well-written by the standards of the genre, and the backing music is actually good.

Though the problem is… I’m not sure if this actually counts as a Christmas song beyond technicality. Also, it has the same issues that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” does.

4) What Child Is This?

Why I like it: I suppose for the same reasons I like Silent Night, and there’s more musical variety to be had here.

Though the problem is… Hm. I guess I’m not sure on this one. It is pretty formulaic, but that’s true of quite a few of these.

3) We Three Kings

Why I like it: Perhaps it’s fitting that the song with “three” in the name would be at #3. In any case, here is another dramatic religious song that seems to slip under the radar enough to retain a bit of novelty, and the bass part isn’t too simple but also isn’t too weird, which is a plus.

Though the problem is… What’s up with that fourth verse? Why are we singing about gloom, bleeding, and dying in a Christmas song? (Well, okay, I guess What Child Is This did mention getting pierced with nails and a spear…) The other two kings were fine with giving praise…was Balthasar going through his emo phase or something?

2) The Coventry Carol

Why I like it: This song has some very nice harmonies and parts, as well as a pattern of switching between major and minor chords that lends interesting contrast to it while still flowing well and maintaining the feel of the song.

Though the problem is… It seems to be rather obscure as Christmas songs go. Most people outside my family to whom I’ve mentioned it have never even heard of it, and I don’t recall ever hearing it on the radio or anything either.

1) O Holy Night

Why I like it: Ah, this song…what can I say? It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that work together to tell a story, with the feelings varying as the song progresses from lighter to darker and back again. As a result, it also does a very good job of not being repetitious.

Though the problem is… It’s not in the books we use for caroling, so every year, while I enjoy the experience, I must resign myself to my favorite song remaining absent from our repertoire.

With that, these are my top 10 favorite and least favorite Christmas songs, or at least close enough to them. My favorites and least favorites vary a bit depending on the phases of the moon, the position of Saturn, and whether the number of times I’ve gotten up for a drink of water today is a prime number or not. Are there any songs that you think should have been on one of these lists that weren’t, or ones that you don’t think deserved their position? In any case, a Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, a Happy Holidays to anyone who doesn’t, and may this holiday season be delightfully musical.

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List #4: 10 favorite video game music tracks with unusual time signatures — November 3, 2017

List #4: 10 favorite video game music tracks with unusual time signatures

Video game music is an interesting thing, mainly because of its diversity. In fact, there is so much diversity in it that just describing something as “video game music” says essentially nothing about what it actually sounds like. There is certainly plenty of chiptune-ish music that clearly sounds like it came from a game (such as the soundtracks of Shovel Knight and Undertale), but games also cover pretty much every other genre as well; in all my time playing video games, I’ve heard everything from techno to orchestral symphonies and everything from tracks that could double as lullabies to ones that rock hard enough to be a Dragonforce song. In fact, I’m sure I’ve spent significantly more time listening to music from video games than I have actually playing them. With all that variety, it stands to reason that there would be some variety in the time signatures as well. If you have more than a passing knowledge of music theory, you’re probably familiar with at least the most common time signatures: 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, maybe 2/4, 2/2, 12/8, and so on. You might even have noticed patterns to their use, especially where games are concerned; for instance, most tracks are in 4/4, underwater themes tend to be in 3/4 (and that isn’t always true; Super Mario Bros. 3’s underwater music is in 4/4, for instance), militaristic and dramatic tracks as well as ethnic-sounding ones can be in 6/8 or 12/8 (and those that bring to mind sailing or the sea, such as Jib Jig from Donkey Kong Country 2, which is in 12/8), and whatnot. But there are also those with time signatures or patterns of time signatures that are noticeably out of the ordinary (unless you’re a Rush fan), and that is exactly what I’m here to discuss right now. These are ranked roughly by both how much I like them and how “weird” their meter is.

Honorable mentions:

These are tracks that I felt were at least worth mentioning but not really putting on the list for various reasons.

Touhou 6 – U. N. Owen was her? – This is a good song, but most of it is in 4/4 time; only the intro is in 5/4.
Klonoa – The Windmill Song – This one is similar, where there are parts of it in 5/8, but most of it is in 6/8.
Touhou 11 – Hellfire Mantle – And again. This song is partly in 5/4 and partly in 3/4, but it’s mostly the latter.
Final Fantasy 8 – Don’t be Afraid – Okay, this one is in 5/4 all the way through, or at least mostly. Beyond its time signature, though, it’s not particularly remarkable, just another JRPG battle theme.
Tales of Symphonia – Keep Your Guard Up! – Another 5/4 track, and I’m leaving this one off merely due to lack of familiarity. I haven’t even played enough Tales of Symphonia to know where this plays.
Yoshi’s Island DS – Castle Boss – This is admittedly one of the better tracks in Yoshi’s Island DS, and in 6/4 all the way to boot, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as the ones on the list.
Mega Man X7 – Burning Water – Yet another one in 5/4 and yet another one that is decent but not as good as what I have.

Now, on to the real list.

10) Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Coral Canyon

Time signature(s): 5/4
Link: Here.

I’ve always thought Crash Bandicoot 4’s soundtrack was rather underrated, and I also think more underwater themes should be in 5/4 time. This is the only one I can think of, and it’s pretty decent, though it seems a bit too subdued in parts. It also overuses those background synth noises, but that’s true of a lot of tracks from Crash 4 anyway.

9) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Golden Road, Silver Road

Time signature(s): 5/4 (mostly)
Link: Here.

This is the third dungeon theme from the third Trails in the Sky game, and it’s also pretty decent. The unusual time signature is still the most memorable thing about it, but it’s a pretty okay theme in its own right, fitting for such a bright, shiny dungeon as this one.

8) Final Fantasy 6 – Dancing Mad, part 5

Time signature(s): 15/8, 4/4, possibly others
Link: Here.

This one might be higher on the list if I were more familiar with it, but I lost patience with Final Fantasy 6’s random encounters and battle system long before making it anywhere near the final boss, so I’ve never heard it in the actual game. In its own right, though, this is a delightfully chaotic boss theme (aside from that organ section in the middle, which also probably drops its ranking a bit), fitting for a maniac bent on destroying everything. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure what time signatures it has in all because it’s so syncopated.

7) Mickey’s Magical Quest – Pete’s Peak

Time signature(s): 6/4, 4/4, 3/4
Link: Here.

This track, which plays in stage 4 of the first The Magical Quest game, is in fairly syncopated 6/4 for most of it (not the last section or the intro). Uncommon time signatures are something of a rarity in the series (the first final boss theme from the second game is in 7/4, and it’s the only other one I can think of), but this one does a pretty good job with it while also being quite fitting for this airy mountain level. (It’s a shame the stage had to be so short…)

6) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – Tetracyclic Towers

Time signature(s): 6/4
Link: Here.

This plays in the gem-themed colored towers of the first (and second) Trails in the Sky games, as well as a few cutscenes. It’s another nice dungeon track, fitting for a feeling of exploring a colorful tower one floor at a time.

5) Touhou 12 – Provincial Makai City Esoteria

Time signature(s): 11/4
Link: Here.

I’m sure this isn’t the only Touhou theme that’s entirely in a time signature like this, but it’s certainly the first one I’d think of. Not that I’ve ever heard it play in the game; this is the theme for stage 5 of Touhou 12: Unidentified Fantastic Object, and I don’t get that far in most Touhou games (for good reason).

4) Donkey Kong Country – Bad Boss Boogie

Time signature(s): 29/8
Link: Here.

Donkey Kong Country games don’t do a whole lot of unusual time signatures, but then you have this. It’s rather different, but it’s a good boss theme. (Not that you’ll probably get to hear the whole thing given how easy most of this game’s bosses are…) I can practically picture getting attacked by a giant hopping beaver right now.

3) Mega Man X2 – Sinister Gleam

Time signature(s): 13/8, 6/4, 4/4
Link: Here.

Found in Crystal Snail’s stage in Mega Man X2, this track spends a good amount of time in 13/8, switches time signatures a few times, and sounds very unlike anything else in the game, or the rest of the series for that matter. Mega Man games, especially the older ones, tend to stick pretty closely to 4/4 time. Still, though, this sounds pretty cool, and despite its unusual rhythm, suitable for the stage it’s in. I especially like the vibraphone (as if there would be a crystal-themed piece of music without mallet percussion in it somewhere).

2) Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – Bowser’s Castle

Time signature(s): 7/8
Link: Here. (Also here for the remixed version from the 3DS remake.)

This is from the final dungeon of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and I’d say it’s suitably epic and dangerous-sounding for a final dungeon. The remix from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is even better, not being held back by the GBA’s audio quality. The irregular meter combined with the instrument choices make it sound frantic yet climactic, like you know that this is where you’ll finally face off with the major villain, but you still have a lot of deadly traps to get through first that should not be underestimated. I think the intro might be in a different time signature, but I can’t place it.

1) Super Mario RPG – Weapons Factory

Time signature(s): 13/8
Link: Here.

This is it: the best video game track with an unusual time signature ever, or at least the best out of the ones I’ve heard. And surprisingly enough, it’s another final dungeon theme from a Mario RPG, found in Smithy’s factory in Super Mario RPG (or at least the outside area of the factory). This chaotic yet ominous theme has it all…a haunting string melody and harmony, heavy synth backing, echoey mechanical clanks in the background, and a syncopated drum beat. As is appropriate for mechanical monsters invading from another world, this track sounds relentless, menacing, and otherworldly, which the unusual time signature also helps to convey.

Huh, I just noticed that both of my video game music-related lists were published in November. Anyway, what are some of your favorite music tracks from video games (or otherwise) with unusual time signatures? Feel free to mention them in the comments.

List #3: 10 grammar mistakes that may not actually be mistakes — February 27, 2017

List #3: 10 grammar mistakes that may not actually be mistakes

English grammar can be a point of contention for many people, incorrect grammar even more so. There are enough rules that it can sometimes be difficult to remember what is valid and what isn’t in some cases, but using something in the wrong way can potentially end up making a person come off as ignorant, stupid, or even apathetic. At the same time, the majority of people can probably come up with at least a few rules and instructions for how not to use the language: don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t put this word here or that punctuation mark there, and so on. However, there are some cases where a rule that we’ve been taught (or just kind of know based on hearsay) might not quite hold up, and a particular construction perceived as incorrect might not be as wrong as we think. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen plenty of cases where people have used blatantly malformed grammar, and it can range from maddening to unintentionally humorous…but we can talk about those another time. Here are some examples of supposedly incorrect grammar that might actually be perfectly fine, at least in certain contexts.

10) Apostrophes in plurals (occasionally)

Hey, don’t close out that tab yet! It should be pretty common knowledge that one does not form plurals in English with an apostrophe before the S, so indeed, if your local grocery store advertises “apple’s” and “tomato’s”, it is still an abomination and should be treated accordingly. (Upon encountering such detestable constructions, you may wish to writhe on the floor screaming “Ooohh, it burns! The apostrophes…they pierce my soul!“. Provided, that is, that the staff have a sense of humor or you’re not particularly attached to the offending place.) There is, however, one edge case where an apostrophe can be used in a plural form: when pluralizing symbols. In particular, it is usually used with lowercase letters to resolve any potential ambiguity, especially if italics are not available, as in “mind your p’s and q’s”. Whether the apostrophe should be used with uppercase letters (as in “those L’s look like I’s”), numbers (as in “I rolled two 3s and three 5s on the dice”), symbols (as in “fill in this math problem with +’s and -‘s”), or words used as units in themselves (as in “we will learn the do’s and don’ts of this new job”) seems to be a matter of whom you talk to as well as personal preference. I tend to find them easier to read with the apostrophes most of the time, but different style guides suggest otherwise. Of course, apostrophes still aren’t supposed to be used when referring to years, so something like “I’m a ’90s kid, but I prefer the newer technology of the 2010s and am really interested in history from the 1800s” would be considered correct, though I wouldn’t chew you out if you did put apostrophes there in that case (just make sure not to double up on them for “’90s”). This is kind of a weird edge case, though, which is why it is only at #10.

9) “It is I” vs. “It is me”

Now here is one that’s pretty disputed. You may have heard that “It is I” is the correct form and “It is me”/”It’s me” is not. Well…it really depends on where you’re using it. The “It is I” construction is something called a predicate nominative, where the fact that the verb in the sentence is “to be” (or another linking verb, which is a category that also includes verbs such as “become” and “feel”) causes what looks like the object of the verb to be treated as a sort of second subject, though it’s not always easy to tell in English because we don’t have separate forms for subjects and objects (unlike Latin, for instance); pronouns are the only case (unintentional pun…) where it even matters. Because of that, however, the predicate nominative doesn’t really do much in English. Getting back to the presented dilemma, “It is I” is technically considered correct, but it is rarely used in speech; if you’re used to saying “It’s me” and find “It is I” to sound excessively formal (and nobody ever uses the contraction for that either; “It’s I” sounds even worse), then you are definitely not alone. It basically comes down to two things: 1) formal vs. informal context, and 2) prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar. A quick and dirty explanation of the latter for any non-linguists is that, more or less, prescriptive grammar is “the way that is considered correct”, while descriptive grammar is “the way people actually use it”. And since human society, as a rule, is not driven by the best and brightest, the descriptive side tends to end up winning out, and the language changes as a result. (Your first thought may be something like “Oh, lordy, what if it eventually becomes correct to say ‘I seen’ or use ‘less’ instead of ‘fewer’, too?” Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t, but it’s already happened many times in ways that we don’t think about (to name just one, the word “edit” was accepted as a word only after “editor” was). Basically, the fact that hardly anyone ever says “It is I” already puts one of its feet in the grave. If you’re not using it in a formal setting, “It is me” is probably just fine.

8) Flat adverbs

You’ve probably used these, you’ve probably seen them, but you may not even know what they are or that there was a term for them. Well, if not, I am here to enlighten you, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. Most people presumably know that you can (usually) change an adjective into an adverb by adding -ly to it. Some could point out that there are some adverbs that don’t end in -ly, as well as some that don’t even have a corresponding adjective, such as very and soon. Now, is it correct to say “drive fast”? Should that be “drive quickly”? Or how about “work hard”? Or perhaps “go far”, or “shoot straight”? Despite looking like adjectives, these are, in fact, adverbs of a type known as “flat adverbs” because they are the same as their corresponding adjectives. Most of these, you’ll notice, don’t even work with an -ly on the end; “hardly” does, but it means something completely different (and probably not something you want to tell your boss), while things like “fastly” and “straightly” aren’t even words. (It doesn’t help either that a few words end in -ly that aren’t adverbs, such as “lonely” and “family”.) So you can say “walk slow” without it being incorrect, though I’ll admit “slowly” sounds better there.

7) “I am good”

Some people will argue that one should not say “I am good” (in response to a question such as “How are you?”, for instance) but rather “I am well”, possibly because “good” is an adjective and “well” is usually an adverb. This seems to be some sort of hypercorrection: notice that the “well” in “I am well” is still an adjective, and an adverb wouldn’t even fit in the sentence there. This becomes obvious if we try substituting words that are more evidently one or the other. “I am happy”, “I am tired”, and “I am anxious” are all fine, while “I am happily” clearly isn’t. These are examples of predicate adjectives, and they are related to the type of verb I mentioned back in #9: linking verbs, which contrast with action verbs. (Perhaps you thought that all verbs described an action…even the Schoolhouse Rock song about them did nothing to contradict this assumption. But no, linking verbs describe an association between the subject and predicate, or a state. They are also known as copulas, though “copula” usually refers specifically to the verb “to be”.) Another criticism of “I am good” is that it really means that you’re a good person, which is equally nonsensical. Words have multiple meanings, and claiming that “I am good” really must mean “I am morally upstanding” has no more basis in reason than claiming that “I am cold” really means that I’m a blunt and unfeeling person, or that “I am depressed” means that I’ve been squished down by something. It is true that if someone asks “How are you doing?” and you respond likewise, “I am doing [something]”, then “well” would be correct, since “doing” is an action verb and therefore requires an adverb (so “I am doing well”), unless you mean “I am doing good” in the sense of good deeds. For simply “How are you?”, though, you may say “I am well” if you’re referring to your health (for instance, “I finally got over my sore throat, so I am well”), but for a general state of being, “I am good” is just fine.

6) Latin- and Greek-derived plurals

Well, some of them, anyway. There are certain nouns we have that clearly appear to be derived from Latin, usually by virtue of ending with -us, and some of these pluralize according to expected Latin rules; “alumnus”, for instance, becomes alumni. There are at least a few cases, however, where either the Latin-derived plural—with the -us becoming -i—or the regular English one is acceptable, as with “radius” (“radii”/”radiuses”) and “cactus” (“cacti”/”cactuses”). More importantly, there are some words that actually aren’t intended to form plurals that way at all. A readily accessible example is “octopus”, which looks Latin but is actually derived from Greek (were it Latin, it would be “octoped”), and as a result, rather than “octopi”, the plural technically should be “octopodes”. (Even classical Latin did actually borrow words from Greek on occasion, though it’s anyone’s guess how people back then felt about such a thing, or about confusing Greek with Latin. I can only assume that mistaking a Greek speaker for a Latin one would be sort of a first- or second-millennium B.C. equivalent of showing up to a St. Patrick’s Day party with a kilt and bagpipes.) The regular plural “octopuses” is also accepted. (If you care to know, there are three possible Latin noun declensions that can end in -us, and only one of them, the second declension, actually forms plurals with -i. “Octopus”, or octōpūs, is actually a viable word in Latin, albeit a modern one, but it is a third-declension noun, and indeed, the plural is octōpodēs.) The word “platypus” follows the same pattern, though it is less well known. The word “virus” is pluralized perfectly regularly as “viruses”, and it is kind of a weird case. In Latin, it’s a mass noun that can mean “poison” or “venom”, and it actually didn’t even have a plural form, for the same reason we wouldn’t usually pluralize a word like “wheat” or “milk” in English. (Word nerds might care to know that it is also a neuter second-declension noun, which so rarely end in -us that rules for such a case are difficult to define.) In summary…there are indeed some English words that are derived from Latin, end in -us, and can or do form plural forms ending in -i, but if somebody tries to call you out on “octopuses”, “platypuses”, or “viruses” and claim that the correct form is “octopi” or the like, they’re talking out of their butt.

5) Singular “they”

Here is another controversial one. Some people will say that “they” cannot be used as a singular pronoun (for instance, “Any person interested in the school play should decide ahead of time if they would like to audition in the morning or the afternoon”) and that “he or she” should be used instead, or sometimes just “he”. Despite the singular “they” often being considered ungrammatical, however, you might be surprised to learn that such usage is not as recent of a development as might be assumed; “they” has been used as a singular pronoun as far back as the 1300s. In fact, the word “you” wasn’t always considered singular either; back in the old days of knights, castles, and tuberculosis, rather than “you” being used for both singular and plural as it is now, “you” was exclusively the plural form, and the singular was “thou” or “thee”. I suppose second-person plural pronouns—always a mess—are a topic for another day, but if “you” can change that way and become accepted, why not “they” as well? At this point, though, it is still considered somewhat informal, and in a more formal context, it would probably be better to use “he or she” or reword the sentence to use a plural noun instead. (I actually used just such a sentence at the end of the previous entry, and I could have changed it, but I thought it would make a nice lead-in.) Another case where “they” can be used as a singular pronoun is if a person doesn’t identify as male or female. (That may seem unlikely or strange, but I have encountered, at the least, two such people in real life, two online, and one in fiction/popular media.) “They” seems to be a common preferred pronoun for nonbinary people, and I would consider it a valid justification even in formal writing if you absolutely must refer to a singular pronoun. (If someone complains, try using the wrong pronouns for them for a bit and see how they like it. See, I just did it again.) And this usage, again, may be older than we think; one source dates it back to at least 1950. Singular “they” may sound ungrammatical, but it’s likely not going away any time soon, nor becoming less accepted.

4) Ending sentences with prepositions

If there’s one thing prepositions are known for, it may well be that ending sentences with them is ungrammatical…supposedly. There are even jokes told about the subject. This, however, is one of those rules that was kind of just made up. In this case, it’s because people thought that since Latin was the prestigious language, the language that smart people knew, and something of a role model, English grammar should follow it more closely rather than the Germanic grammar of its ancestry. Now, if you’ve studied any amount of Latin at all, you can probably guess that this is not the case. In Latin, prepositions aren’t supposed to go at the ends of sentences, but it is, for the most part, just fine to do in English because English isn’t Latin or even based on it (as the Romance languages—such as Spanish and Italian—are). It would be as silly as trying to fit German or Dutch into a Latin paradigm. There is a quote supposedly from Winston Churchill that goes “This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”, referring to a hypercorrection that someone else had suggested for a sentence in order to avoid the preposition being at the end. While almost certainly misattributed (and occasionally phrased differently, such as with “tedious nonsense” or “the sort of English”), it’s still a valid bit of linguistic humor, though interestingly, the “with” here isn’t actually being used in “that way”; it doesn’t “count” as the same kind of “with” used in a sentence such as “Whom are you going with?”. “Put up with” is a construction called a phrasal verb, where what looks like a preposition is actually tied to the verb phrase as part of an idiom. Similar phrasal verbs include “stand for”, “throw up”, “carry on”, and “look forward to”. Of course, it would still probably be best in formal contexts to reword such a sentence so that the preposition does not need to be at the end. Ending sentences with unnecessary prepositions is also a bad idea; in something like “Where are you at?”, the “at” can be left out entirely and the sentence still means the same thing, and in fact, the preposition here is redundant because “where” already indicates a place, so I would consider that construction ungrammatical. Otherwise, you can rest assured that prepositions are just fine to end sentences with.

3) Split infinitives

An infinitive is a type of verb form, usually considered the “base” one, and in English, an infinitive is the one that starts with “to”: “to write”, “to do”, “to eat”, “to honk”, “to explode”, etc. And since English infinitives are two words, putting one or more words in between—thereby “splitting” the infinitive—has been frowned upon. The tagline from Star Trek, where the narrator says “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, is a commonly cited example. Once again, however, there is no real basis for this in English grammar, and once again, it is a rule basically made up by people who wanted English to be more like Latin. See, the split infinitive rule is easy in Latin, because Latin infinitives are a single word. Where we would say “to write” or “to love”, Latin would say scrībere or amāre, which you might notice can’t exactly be split. It quite simply isn’t possible to say “to boldly go” in Latin, no more than it would be possible to say “I am fart loudly ing” in English. And as I said in the last entry, English grammar is English, not Latin (insert your own “Longcat” reference here). There are also at least a few cases where the sentence can’t easily be reworded to remove a split infinitive while still maintaining the intended meaning (for instance, “I want to actually watch Avatar: The Last Airbender rather than just hearing about it all the time”). It’s another made-up rule that doesn’t really reflect actual usage, so as long as you’re not trying to be formal (that formal writing just ruins everything, doesn’t it?) or doing it just for kicks and giggles, by all means, split infinitives if you deem it necessary.

2) Starting sentences with conjunctions

Just to round things out, here is yet another oft-cited grammar rule that has its roots in Latin despite not really being necessary in English. Sheesh, I like Latin and all, and frankly, I’d kind of rather be speaking it than English (we get a proper future tense, among other concise word forms that English doesn’t have? sign me up), but its adherents back in the days of yore might have been a bit pretentious. Even back in the 17th or 18th century, people brought their fandoms into everything. It would be an interesting thought experiment, though, seeing how Latin would handle modern vernacular. (I think “ragequit” would be something like furordēsinere, while “git gud, noob”—with deliberate misspellings corrected—could be translated as “perītēsce, novīcie“, but don’t quote me on that.) Anyway…this one, honestly, is fairly easy to overlook, and in fact, I’ve done it several times in this article already. You may have heard that one should not begin a sentence with a conjunction such as “and”, “but”, or “so”. In reality, doing so is considered perfectly reasonable by most style guides, though, of course, it can be overdone like anything else. Often, as with the split infinitives, there isn’t a good way to reword a sentence to avoid the leading conjunction, and sometimes it just flows better, especially when there would otherwise be an excessively long and complicated sentence that could simply be broken up at one of the conjunctions.

1) Sentence adverbs

Finally, we arrive at this. What would you say to a sentence such as “Hopefully, we are done for now”? A lot of people seem to think that the “hopefully” there is being misused and that it should only be used to mean “in a hopeful manner”, as in “She asked her grandmother hopefully if they could make cookies”. Nope. If it were incorrect, it wouldn’t be on this list, let alone at #1. The “hopefully” in the first sentence is called a sentence adverb, which, as you might guess, modifies the entire sentence rather than just a certain adjective or verb. Sentence adverbs are used as a comment about the speaker or writer’s feelings toward the rest of the sentence; “hopefully, we are done for now” basically means “I hope that we are done for now”. The thing I find weird about the whole situation is that “hopefully” seems to be the only adverb that gets called out for this, even though there are others that function the same way: “mercifully”, “luckily”, “sadly”, “unfortunately”, and the like. (Try out some example sentences: the “unfortunately” in “Unfortunately, the cat ran off with my pants” can be stated as “It is unfortunate that…”, for instance.) Yet none of those seem to get the negative press that “hopefully” does. That as much as anything else might clue you in that the whole thing is a load of baloney. Sentence adverbs might not look or act the way we might be used to adverbs acting, but there is nothing wrong with them. (Outside of formal writing, that is, and since I’ve given that as a qualifier for several of these, I will say right now that even in that case, it’s still more misguided pedantry than any meaningful linguistic paradigm.)

With that, I’ve said my piece. What’s your opinion on the things that I have enumerated here? Can you think of any other cases of a supposed rule of language that, upon closer inspection, are merely a myth? Feel free to reply in the comments.

List #2: 10 video game music tracks that sound like other music — November 23, 2016

List #2: 10 video game music tracks that sound like other music

You know, we really need a better way to describe music written as a standalone piece rather than being written for a video game, movie, etc. “Real-life music” doesn’t cut it, nor does “band music”. It certainly would have helped with the title of this article. The point is, have you ever noticed that sometimes certain pieces of music sound like others, even if the similarity was unintentional, and in some cases, even if the music in question comes from completely different genres and contexts? I have. And since I’ve played a fair number of video games and listened to even more video game music, I’ve noticed a number of music tracks from video games that sound like a song composed for a live band or performer intended to be played for an audience (see what I mean about how to describe that kind of music?). This isn’t even remotely an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the most familiar and striking ones I’ve noticed. (That is, not counting ones that are clearly a direct rip; for instance, Earthworm Jim 2 uses at least two movements of the Moonlight Sonata for level music.) These are ranked roughly on how much of each song sounds similar to the other and how great the level of similarity is (though I want to emphasize “roughly”; these kinds of things are tough to rank accurately).

10) Donkey Kong Country 3 (Game Boy Advance version) – Rockface Rumble/Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Here is the Donkey Kong Country track, and here is the Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

They admittedly don’t sound that much like each other (which is why this is only #10), but they have a similar cadence and feel, and they use the same chord progressions in parts.

9) Paper Mario – Huffin’ and Puffin’/Taylor Swift – State of Grace

Here is Huffin’ and Puffin’, and here is State of Grace.

I have two sisters who are huge Taylor Swift fans (though less so now than they used to be), and I remember hearing State of Grace and thinking of it as “the Taylor Swift song that sounds like Huff N. Puff’s theme”. Most of the songs aren’t that much alike, but the similarity of the percussion is very noticeable, especially at the beginning before the melody of each song comes in.

8) Yoshi’s Island grassland theme/The Four Tops – Loco in Acapulco

The Yoshi’s Island theme is here, and the Four Tops song is here.

Okay, so I kind of cheated on this one. I actually didn’t know about the latter song until it was specifically brought up, but listening to it, I can definitely hear the similarity. It’s hard to say whether this one should be higher or lower than the Taylor Swift one, because while the similar section in this one extends to more than just one line of instrumentation, it also is mainly just at the beginning rather than throughout the entire song.

7) Mega Man Zero 2 – Gravity/Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

The music from the Power Room, Phoenix Magnion’s stage, in Mega Man Zero 2 is here, while the song that is pretty much always the first song I think of when I think of Led Zeppelin is here.

Once again, the similarity is pretty much confined to a certain part of the song (at least, for the former track), but the chords are nigh-identical in that section, to the point where Kashmir was pretty much the first thing I thought of upon hearing the Mega Man Zero 2 track.

6) Mega Man X6 – Weapon Center (Infinity Mijinion stage)/Europe – The Final Countdown

Here is one of my favorite Mega Man tracks of all time, and here is a song from the late ’80s that, honestly, I know from my brother playing Just Dance more than anything.

Interestingly, I think this is the only pair of songs that are on here for their instrumentation and structure more than the sequences of individual notes. The synth brass in the two tracks sounds uncannily similar, though the percussion isn’t that far off, and they both have fast electric guitar solos.

5) Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Atmospheric Pressure/Edvard Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King

The fourth boss theme of the fourth Crash Bandicoot game can be found here, and In the Hall of the Mountain King is here.

Now here’s one with a classical piece rather than pop or rock. The rhythms in these two tracks progress similarly for much of the time, though it would admittedly be more obvious if they were at the same tempo. I vaguely remember hearing that the track from Crash Bandicoot 4 was actually inspired by the Grieg piece, but since I’m not sure if that’s actually true, I will leave it at this.

4) Super Mario Land – Muda Kingdom/The Beatles – Penny Lane

You can find the Super Mario Land music here and the Beatles music here.

Again, the main riff of the SML theme really reminds me of Penny Lane, though is it a bit faster. Of course, the track is so short that it doesn’t really even have time to mimic more than the refrain of the other one.

3) Mega Man X3 – Neon Tiger/Guns ‘n’ Roses – My Michelle

Neon Tiger stage theme here; Guns ‘n’ Roses song here.

That’s the third Mega Man example on here…what is it with that series? The problem with this one is that it’s on here for the same reason as #8 was; I’d never even heard “My Michelle” before it came up in the topic of video game tracks that sound like something else. Beyond that, though, the main riff of both pieces is quite similar indeed, not to mention both of them are played with an electric guitar. Funny enough, I remember playing this game in the living room years ago, and my dad thought this stage theme sounded more like Genesis than Guns ‘n’ Roses (the band Genesis, not the console).

2) Yoshi’s Island world map theme/Enya – Anywhere Is

Here is the Yoshi’s Island track (a version of it that includes all 7 variations of the theme), and here is the Enya song.

This upbeat, nostalgic Nintendo overworld track and this pretty, atmospheric Enya song might have a very different feel to them on the whole, but the melodies are remarkably reminiscent of each other, to the point where, as with the Led Zeppelin and Taylor Swift examples, I tend to think of the Yoshi’s Island music every time (read: on the rare occasions that) I hear “Anywhere Is”.

1) Super Mario 3D Land World 4 map theme/Deep Purple – My Woman from Tokyo

The two variants of the Super Mario 3D Land overworld music are here and here, while My Woman from Tokyo is here.

As with #4, the video game representation here is too short to sound like more than a small part of the other music, but boy, that map theme really sounds like the refrain of “My Woman from Tokyo”, with pretty much the same melody line (and this time, the “this reminds me of that” feeling is the other way around compared to most of the others since I heard the Deep Purple song first). The version from the regular World 4 is similar enough, but the Special World 4 version sounds even more like it.

…and that’s about all I have to say about that. I hope this was interesting and entertaining.

List #1: Top 10 favorite Weird Al parodies — April 4, 2016

List #1: Top 10 favorite Weird Al parodies

Now it’s time for something a bit different. (Insert your own Monty Python joke.) This time, rather than a straight article, we’re doing a list, which is exactly what it sounds like: I write a list of things (favorites, least favorites, noteworthy examples, etc.), and you read them…or ignore them, or whatever. In this case, in honor of me finally finishing my Weird Al binge and listening to all 14 of his albums for the first time, I have decided to make my first list on here about my favorite Weird Al songs. Well…close to that, anyway; specifically, this list is about my favorite parodies of his. In case you were not aware, he actually has quite a number of songs that do not parody any specific song, some of which are completely original and many of which are pastiches based on the music style of a particular other artist. Those we will save for another day, but for now, may I present to you…my top 10 favorite Weird Al song parodies.

10) “Fat”

Listen to the song here.

It’s catchy enough, and the lyrics are a lot more memorable than the original, though that might just be because I’m more familiar with the parody version (even after having siblings in dance performances that included one to this song). It’s also funny without being overly dark, creepy, or awkward.

9) “I Lost on Jeopardy”

Listen to the song here.

I think I actually did hear the original version of this song first, even if again, I don’t remember it as well. This song tells more of a story than the last one, and it’s just as catchy, with a nice beat and whatnot.

8) “White and Nerdy”

Listen to the song here.

Okay, so the music for this one isn’t nearly as good as the last two. One thing I’ve noticed about Weird Al (even if it doesn’t hold true all the time) is that he can make crappy songs a lot more tolerable, and since I don’t like rap, I doubt I’d like the original version of this. The lyrics are good, though; the song could be used an an anthem of sorts for celebrating nerdiness in its entirety, given how many different facets of it he covers in the song (computer programming, math, theater, tabletop gaming, general awkwardness…no doubt I’ve missed some).

7) “Amish Paradise”

Listen to the song here.

This is basically the same situation as the previous song. Listening to any song with “gangsta” in the title is roughly at the same tier in my scale of enjoyment as drinking my own urine, but the “Amish version” is decent enough. Between this and White and Nerdy, I’m not entirely sure which I like better, but I might give a slight edge to this for having better music.

6) “Inactive”

Listen to the song here.

Now here’s a song that was actually good in its original form turned into something that’s kind of disgusting and kind of hilarious at the same time. Okay, so he rhymes “show” with “control” and considers “inertia” to be a 4-syllable word, but come on, “This couch is part of me; I’m growing cobwebs on my knee”? Seriously now. It’s not as upbeat as some of the others on here, but it can get stuck in your head nevertheless (which I actually mentioned in one of my earliest blog posts on here).

5) “eBay”

Listen to the song here.

Here’s a song consisting of essentially little but a list, as a number of Al’s songs are. But it’s well-done, and it makes an interesting combo with the music. The thing about this one is that I actually know some of the original lyrics, having heard and liked the original song quite a bit before the parody because I got a Backstreet Boys cassette tape for Christmas once. (What? What?! I was 11 at the time, okay? And then they came up again when we were going through our old tapes and my sister, who likes One Direction, found this, upon which I had to explain to her about the Backstreet Boys being more or less a ’90s version of One Direction…but I digress.)

4) “Tacky”

Listen to the song here.

Here’s a song that is catchy and funny, with a lot of good lines (I especially liked the Comic Sans one), and the original song wasn’t half bad either. I could have done without the boob-shaking and awkward dancing for sure, but still, this is a good parody with a good (and apparently tricky to film) music video to boot.

3) “The Saga Begins”

Listen to the song here.

Okay, I’m not even much of a Star Wars fan, but I’ve at least seen enough of the movies to know some of the major plot points, and this song was really pretty clever. And it’s a parody of a song that was already pretty good, not to mention a bit nostalgic for me because it’s one of those that my dad used to play on the guitar. Another well-done music video, too.

2) “Ode to a Superhero”

Listen to the song here.

Remember what I said in my description of “White and Nerdy”? Well, this song’s relationship to the previous one on the list is much like that one, and not only can he make bad songs okay with copious application of whimsical lyrics, he can take songs that are already good and make them somehow even better. “Piano Man” was already not too shabby of a song on its own (another one I kind of grew up listening to, and I even considered learning the piano part to it at one time), but who else could turn it into a song about Spider-Man?

1) “Word Crimes”

Listen to the song here.

Well, the original version of this song was apparently pretty bad (never heard it myself, but I guess it was pretty misogynistic), but the parody is pretty great. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool word nerd, so it has that appeal from the getgo, and beyond that, it strikes just about all the right chords. Catchy music? Oh yes; that rhythm will stick with you for while. Nice lyrics? Yeah, instead of being absurd and crazy like some of Weird Al’s other songs, it is instead very grounded in reality (and describes a pretty relevant phenomenon in this day and age) while also being both smart-alecky and amusing. Good music video? Well, I’ve always liked kinetic typography, and this one, at least, uses that splendidly, so I’d say it’s definitely worth listening to the song in video form at least once. And that is why “Word Crimes” is my favorite Weird Al parody.

With that, that’s the end of the first list on this site. Expect more such lists about a variety of topics to come in the future.