Stupid Tuesday questions, Del Monte edition

Hey, everyone!  Remember grunge?

[Editorial note: there are two acceptable answers to this question.  They are “yes” and “I stopped listening to popular music when 8-tracks went obsolete.”  If your answer is something along the lines of “I was too young to have any notion of grunge as a musical genre” then hie thee hence to nursery school and refrain from making me feel old.]

Anyhow… grunge.  Remember it?

The advent of grunge and the popularity of “alternative” rock music roughly overlapped with the period in my life when I was listening to music on the radio with the greatest regularity.  I was in college/medical school (a smooshed-together experience, in my case) and did a lot of driving from place to place.  And among the stations I listened to with greatest frequency were the college ones, which played the coolest music.

Part of why I listened to a lot of “alternative” rock [I have a hard time dropping the scare quotes, since once something goes totally mainstream it’s hard to take it seriously as an alternative to said mainstream any longer] was its tendency to be angsty and preoccupied with Feelings and Painful Life Experiences and such.  And I was going through that period of my life when I, too, had a tendency to be angsty and preoccupied with Who I Was and What Was My Life About and blah blah blah all that noise.  Thus a song about a mercurial heroin addict with a lousy boyfriend living in LA could somehow seem to speak to my own life.  (I know it is fashionable to hate that song.  I don’t care, I love it anyway.)

*takes a moment to be nostalgic for his salad days*

Alternative rock was supposed to be about something, ostensibly something more meaningful than the pop treacle to which it was an alternative in the first place.

Take Pearl Jam, for example.  Its songs were obviously about stuff, be it a deranged, violent kid or a loveless marriage or long-lost love.  (That last one still puts a lump in my throat when I hear it.)  One need not be the world’s greatest Eddie Vedder fan to concede that a listener at least knows what the hell he’s singing about.

There are even songs that try and fail to be about something.  Crash Test Dummies’ mega-hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” is a deeply stupid song.  I don’t know if it’s trying and failing to be about something, or merely pretending.  But at least it gestures in the direction of having some kind of meaning.

And then there is the song “Peaches” by Presidents of the United States of America.  Back in the day, it got a fair amount of airplay.  (Wikipedia tells me it was nominated for a Grammy Award, which goes a long way toward explaining why I don’t care about the Grammy Awards.)  Every single time it played (and every time it happens to come on the 90s-era stations on my satellite radio) I find myself confronting the baffling question of what on earth it means.  As God it my witness, I do not understand how it is a song.

Consider the lyrics “Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches.”  Those words are repeated several times.  Then there’s “Nature’s candy in my hand or can or a pie.”  Followed by “Millions of peaches, peaches for me.  Millions of peaches, peaches for free.”  Over and over.

What?  Why?  Why is someone singing about such things?  Who thought such an inane topic merited a musical treatment?  Why did it play on the radio?  I am very confused by this.

So this week’s Question is two-fold:

1) Is there some meaning to that song that I seem to have missed?  Or is it really a song about nothing but eating peaches?  If the latter, why on earth did people want to listen to it?  It got on my nerves every time it came on the radio, but perhaps there is some subtle meaning that makes its idiotic refrains and stultifying verses somehow worthwhile?  Please help me understand.

2) What is the single dumbest thing you can think of to write a song about?  Pitch the most idiotic song subject you can think of.  Frankly, I think it’s hard to top “singing about eating a bunch of peaches,” but do try to prove me wrong.

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87 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, Del Monte edition

  1. Uh…”peach” is sometimes used to refer in general to an attractive female, and sometimes specifically to her booty.

    I have no idea if this is the “hidden” meaning of the song, but I will quote at length from wikipedia:

    Content

    The lyrics of “Peaches” discuss a man moving to the country to eat vast quantities of canned peaches at no cost to him. Briefly mentioned is the hard-working American man who cans the peaches in a factory downtown. The narrator also speculates that a finger sized hole in a singular peach may hold an ideal hiding spot for an ant. He then warns the listener; “Look out!” he calls. There’s a finite number of free peaches for him. Luckily, that number is in the millions.

    Song meaning

    Lead singer Chris Ballew has stated that he wrote “Peaches” about a girl he once had a crush on. He allegedly wrote this song after sitting under a peach tree she had in her yard while waiting for her to arrive, to finally let her know that he liked her.[4]

    Music video

    The music video features the band performing the song in an orchard filled with trees growing peach cans. During the song’s instrumental break, the band is attacked by a group of ninjas attempting to capture them, whom they fight for the remainder of the video and eventually defeat.

    You know, I never really cared about this song…but that wikipedia description is making me kind of love it.

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  2. The Presidents Of The United States Of America excelled at nonsense songs that sound like they’ve got a naughty second interpretation.

    “Kitty”, for example, has this whole double entendre thing going on and you’re *SURE* that “kitty on my foot and I wanna touch it!” has this double meaning that would totally get you in trouble. *THUMP THUMP THUMP* “What are you listening to in there?” “Nothing mom! It’s just a song about a cat!”

    See? Nobody would believe that. But wouldn’t you know it, it’s a song about a cat. That’s it.

    “Lump” is my most hated song. From what I’ve heard, it was nothing more than the writer wanting to put all of his favorite words in a song. It *FEELS* naughty, though.

    So when we come to “Peaches” the immediate implication is T.S. Eliot and whether the mermaids will sing to him. Hell, there’s the part of the song that one would seriously think was building to something:
    Take a little nap where the roots all twist
    Squished a rotten peach in my fist
    And dreamed about you, woman,
    I poked my finger down inside
    Make a little room for an ant to hide

    See? Filthy! *THUMP THUMP THUMP* “WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO IN THERE???”

    But then they finish up:
    Nature’s candy in my hand or can or a pie

    “NOTHING MOM! IT’S A SONG ABOUT FRUIT!”

    To answer your question, I still think that Will Smith’s rap about the Men In Black that was looped over a Weird Al-esque reinterpretation of “Forget Me Nots”. That song is just mind-bogglingly dumb *AND* it uses a mind-bogglingly catchy disco hook.

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      • Yeah, I wanted to work “Squeezebox” and “Pictures of Lily” into the post but couldn’t do it elegantly.

        BUT SQUEEZEBOX IS OBVIOUSLY ABOUT HUMPING AND PICTURES OF LILY IS OBVIOUSLY ABOUT POUNDING ONE OUT.

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      • This is a longstanding blues tradition. It’s fairly amazing listening to blues songs from the 20s for this reason- you know he’s not really talking about driving her little car, having some of her pie, drilling for oil on her land, or her fondness for his 12 inch record of the band that plays the blues. Which brings us to surely one of the dumbest songs ever written, My Ding-a-ling by Dave Bartholomew. That song makes Peaches sound like the Leonard Cohen lyrically.

        (We shouldn’t discuss some of the songs my band has written!)

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      • I suppose one could draw distinctions between “pleasantly dumb” and “aggressively dumb” where “pleasantly dumb” invites you to be dumb with the song while “aggressively dumb” just goes straight to the making you dumber whether or not you’re inclined to play along or not.

        I had always put “Peaches” in the “pleasantly dumb” category (next to “Kitty”, for the record) while “Lump” was in the “aggressively dumb” one.

        I can totally see why someone would sort them differently, though. Dumb can reach critical mass pretty quickly.

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  3. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” was indeed very stupid but I submit that you must grant that it is a very pleasantly melodic song. I never understood what the fish they were singing about but I loved the song, the tune and the harmonic singing. Also see God Shuffled his Feet, easily my favorite Crash Test Dummies song.

    Since I adore peaches (literal peaches only you gross hetero pervs) I always sort of nodded along to the song. I also would enjoy eating millions of quality free peaches.

    I’m conflicted about Pearl Jam. The song Jeremy is kind of powerful and it is additionally just as salient today as it was when it’s written. Perhaps, in the era of Sandy Hook, it’s even more salient than ever. That said there was a fad when I was in school of singing this song’s title line whenever I answered a question in school; my given name is Jeremie. This couples with an earlier phenomenon of my sailing pals being fond of singing that wretched “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” song periodically when I was around led me to a strange impression that there was some cadre of singers in the US who had it in for me.

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  4. As Glyph kind of says above, when you here “peaches” in pop music, know that it generally is a euphemism about lady parts. (It is not coincidental that you almost always have a reference to “eating a…” in these songs.)

    My pitches for the dumbest song will always pale in comparison to this (or this).

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  5. 1. Perhaps it was very clever dada/performance art. Maybe the band asked themselves “What is the stupidest song we can write and turn into a mega-hit and laugh all the way to the bank?” Occam’s razor said it was a novelty song that will be inexplicable to future generations. I often feel the same way about much pop music in the era from after Buddy Holly died until the Beatles came around.

    2. Form 10-K filings for the SEC.

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  6. Aqua’s Barbie Girl – Ugh. Even more than just that song being stupidly disturbing, was watching a 7 to 9 year old girl performing to it in a skating competition.

    Russell is Peaches up there with Sex Dwarf?

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  7. Presidents of the United States of America were pretty up front about the fact that they were just goofing off and having fun. They were explicitly not trying to make serious music. Hell, their instruments didn’t have all of their strings. I think they saw themselves as the antidote to rock that was starting to take itself way too seriously and always being about something, and something serious.

    And “Peaches” is about a girl.

    I’m not sure what the dumbest song topic would be, but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is there are several songs about it from 1966 through 1972, written while the songwriter was unbelievably high.

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    • This.

      I rather enjoy the Presidents precisely because it’s basically all goofy nonsense. If you want depth, that’s what your Radiohead is for. If you’re going to be mainly drinking beer with your friends, the Presidents are kind of fun to have on.

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    • Listen to the whole album some time. They had nowhere near enough material for it. The songs repeat lyrics over and over; some of them repeat lyrics from the other songs. Lyrically, you’d have trouble singling out the worst song on the album, because they’re across-the-board gibberish.

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  8. This may shed some light on the question.

    Chris Ballew currently is part of a band called Casper Baby Pants, who write & perform kids songs and are quite popular out here in Seattle.

    Also, the name for Presidents of The United States was an onstage joke that stuck (the band was doing a gig one night & kept introducing themselves during the set with different goofy band names. PUSA got the best reaction from the audience).

    In short, they have always been quite silly.

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  9. “What is the single dumbest thing you can think of to write a song about?”

    Forest goats. But man did that song win awards!

    So maybe I’ll try again later.

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  10. OK, you guys are all wrong. Russell, you omit the key line in the song, which is that the peaches come from a can. They were put there by a man, in a factory downtown. This glaring discontinuity with the actual source of peaches (namely, a tree) invites the listener to contrast sterile and metallic civilization with the natural joy and pleasure of a peach. Only when peaches have been liberated from their commercialized and constrained containers can they truly be enjoyed. In expressing this sentiment, the Presidents of the United States of America are a worthy heir to Thoreau, Wendell Berry, and the Unabomber.

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  11. milkshake by kelis. it’s really dumb. but it’s also an awesome summer song (the base is amaaaaaazing in a loud environment), so i’m torn.

    i mean pretty much any black metal is pretty dumb (out of context), but it’s hard to find songs that, on their face, aren’t pretty stupid if you yank out the lyrics from their context.

    e.g.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es2Tz55VCnw

    the vocal delivery is dumb, the lyrics are probably dumb (something about the slumber of the end of the world i think) but the song completely rips.

    see also: lightning bolt, cannabis corpse (esp. “blunted at birth”), etc

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  12. I was surprised to learn that a lot of bands that I listened to in high school like the Dave Matthews Band are technically still around. They don’t get much play but they still tour.

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  13. I always liked the Presidents. “Lump” the best, but I did like “Peaches”.

    In answer to 2, even though I think it’s stupid, I do enjoy Liam Lynch’s “My United States”.

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  14. Rock Lobster – The B-52’s

    Not only are the lyrics ridiculous, but the lead singer’s delivery makes it sound like he thinks they’re really important, like they could save a secret agent’s life or something.

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      • I perhaps don’t need to tell you specifically, but the point was not to make a great song – it was to illustrate that explaining how to do something in song (protected by the first amendment) is fundamentally no different from explaining how to do something in a compilable programming language (an act of illicit explanation under the DMCA).

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  15. Ultimately, whatever the stupidest theme for a song we come up with here, Frank Zappa has recorded a song about something stupider.

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  16. And “I am the Walrus” is supposed to make sense? Or for that matter what about “Yellow Submarine”. There is a fine and well established tradition of having completely nonsensical or inane lyrics.

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