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Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

Category: Music

A Grammatical Analysis of “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys are a British pop-duo best known for their 80’s monster hit song “West End Girls.” The band is apparently the most successful duo in UK music history and one of their best songs is a catchy tune called “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” This article will briefly examine the grammatical structure of a famous line in the song.

“What Have I Done To Deserve This?” has two sentences (and as we will see, three sentences) that make the song memorable and are repeated multiple times. They are:

“What have I done to deserve this?” (the song’s title)
and
“How am I going to get through?”

Here is where things get interesting (and a bit tricky, so stay with me). A casual hearing of the song will cause the listener to assume that the question “How am I going to get through?” remains grammatically consistent throughout the duration of the tune. But this is not the case. The Pet Shop Boys deliver a brilliant syntaxical construction during the portion of the song where a female vocalist – performed beautifully by pop legend Dusty Springfield – seems to sing the line exactly as it is sung in the first verse. Allow me to demonstrate below:

Verse 1 (sung by Neil Tennant)
You always wanted a lover
I only wanted a job
I’ve always worked for my living
How am I going to get through?
How am I going to get through?

Bridge (sung by Dusty Springfield)
Since you went away I’ve been hanging around
I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
You went away, it should make me feel better
But I don’t know, oh
How I’m going to get through.
How I’m going to get through.

Hopefully, after looking at the two lines written in black and white, the differences between them are obvious. In verse 1 (and every time Neil sings the line in the song), the sentence is phrased in the form of a question and the blending of the word “how” and the word “am” seems to form a kind of contraction – almost like they are saying, “How’m I going to get through?” But when Dusty sings the line in the bridge, it is actually a bit different. This time there is a legitimate contraction – “I’m” – and she is not asking a question so much as she is making a statement. In fact, the line “how I’m going to get through” during Dusty’s part is not the entire sentence, but rather it is the final phrasing of a sentence – the full sentence is “I don’t know how I’m going to get through.”

This distinction is rarely noticed by the listener, as we assume Dusty is simply repeating the question asked by Neil earlier and throughout the song. And, of course, the name of the song is in the form of a question! An additional reason for the confusion is the presence of a brief delay in between the time when Dusty says “I don’t know” and when she says, “how I’m going to get through.” The delay is long enough to make the listener assume that since the phrase begins with the word “how” then it is in the form of a question. It isn’t until one recognizes that the word “how” comes in the middle of the sentence and not the beginning that the statement begins to be understood as it was intended. A final reason for the confusion stems from the strange contraction-like blending of the words “how” and “am” during Neil’s singing. The words “how’m” (from Neil’s part) and “I’m” (from Dusty’s part) sound so similar that it creates an assumption of their identical nature.

This is simply brilliant. Neil and Chris wrote the song and could have easily kept the phrase in the form of a question and thus uniform. But instead, they decided to change the emphasis ever so slightly during the Dusty Springfield portion.

And that, my dear friends, are the kinds of things that give life an extra little spark of enjoyment from time to time.

Why Kenny Rogers Is The Greatest Voice In The History Of Music

The singing voice of Kenny Rogers is the greatest of all time. This article will attempt to explain why.

I’m not a music theorist and I, like most people, enjoy music simply based on what “sounds good” to me. I don’t base my appreciation of a person’s voice or a band’s music on a “J. Evans Pritchard” scale of virtuosity and technical ability. It is completely a “feel” thing and, ergo, the title of my article is completely useless and flat out wrong since it is impossible to determine the “greatest” voice in music history (I thought that article title would get you to click the link and read the article, looks like I was right).

Having said that, no one is better at eliciting a varying degree of emotion in his music than Kenny Rogers. Below are a few reasons why this is true, followed by an audio sample of some of my points in action. If you make it through the article, be certain to listen to the audio. It is the convincing proof necessary to back me up.

He’s Brutal
I’ve been ridiculed before because of my insistence on this point, but Kenny Rogers has a voice that is absolutely brutal, not simply because of the content of the lyrics, but because of the nature of his delivery. Perhaps you might have an image of Kenny Rogers where he is decked out in fluffy sweaters singing a sweet little Christmas song. Not me. The first image I had of Kenny as a child is still the one that resonates with me. It is the image of him on the cover of his incredible “The Gambler” album. I mean, look at this album cover. Kenny has a look about him that says, “I know something you don’t, and if you mess with me, I’ll seal your fate.” The ladies are all mesmerized by him, the dude in the background is concerned about what Kenny might do next and perhaps jealous of his mysterious ways, and the dealer is perplexed at Kenny’s ability to dominate at the gambling table. And yet, all of this imagery is presented with a feeling of class and substance.

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And if that image isn’t enough to convince you of his manliness, then this epic fight scene from “The Gambler” where Brady takes down Rufe will certainly be all you need to agree that Kenny is a beast. But we are talking about his voice, not his appearance. The thing that makes Kenny so brutal is not the presence of yelling or screaming or getting angry while he sings. Of course not, Kenny isn’t a death metal vocalist. But rather it is the way his voice will break and crack just at the right moment. I refer to this method of Kenny’s singing as the “Brutal Break.” An amateur might hear this rough-edged breaking of his voice as an example of poor singing, but just the opposite is true. I have tried for 30 plus years to make my voice do the “Brutal Break” on cue in the shower so I can be more of a man like Kenny. I still can’t do it. And neither can you. Only Kenny can make us shiver because of this gift.

Then, when you take this slight break in his voice combined with what he is saying, it is almost unbearable. Sometimes when I listen to Kenny I have to pause the music and take a few deep breaths. I mean, when you take the “Brutal Break” in his voice while he is singing the lyrics, “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground,” nothing else anyone has ever sung can really come close.

The Spoken Word
So many artists have attempted to talk in the middle of their songs and so many artists have failed. Johnny Cash is the only one who can even come close to Kenny at this point, and even the man in black can’t quite pull off what Kenny is able to do. Some of my favorite spoken words from Kenny are:
“…but you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.”
“…for God’s sake, turn around.” (the all-time best spoken word performance ever.)
“…God our love is true.” (the second best spoken word performance ever)
“Son, I sentence you to life with Marianne” (Kenny speaks the “Son, I sentence you to life” part but then sings the last two lines “with Marianne.” But guess what? When he sings “Marianne,” he incorporates the “Brutal Break” described above. An absolutely unbelievable combination of Kenny talking and Kenny using the Brutal Break in one line. Whoa.)

Making Men Better Men
Kenny Rogers can sing a single line in a single song and make me want to be a better man, a better husband, and better father. For example, the first line of “Lady” typically makes me cry:  “Lady, I’m your knight in shining armor and I love you.” I mean, let’s just cut to the chase. First line and boom, he declares who he is and expresses his love for his lady. And then there is “She Believes In Me” and for any guy who has had a dream, especially us musicians, and was blessed enough to find a woman who supported us, this song is the ultimate tear jerker. These lines are breathtaking:  “While she lays dreaming, I try to get undressed without the light And quietly she says ‘how was your night?’ And I come to her and say, ‘it was all right,’ and I hold her tight.” It really defies any kind of explanation. Kenny Rogers makes me want to be a better husband and father, it’s that simple.

You’ve Got It, Mister
Perhaps the most important reason for my declaration of Kenny’s premiere voice is the “x” factor – that thing which just can’t be explained. As I was contemplating this point, I thought of this line from Young Frankenstein:

Yes, Kenny, you’ve got it mister. That’s the only way to explain the surpassing greatness of Kenny’s voice. After all, the greatest and the best and the elite cannot ultimately be explained, they just have to be experienced. That’s why when you listen to “Love Will Turn You Around,” you will immediately stop what you are doing and look for someone to hug. We don’t know why, it’s just Kenny’s greatness. That’s why when you listen to “Coward of the County” you will immediately look for a bully to kick the daylights out of.

So, if you have time, listen to the audio track below to hear examples of Kenny singing in the ways I mention above. I think you will agree that he is tough to beat!

Aaron Hagy & Company

One of my very best friends Aaron Hagy has written and recorded a new worship album that will be available for purchase in just a couple of weeks. Some of you may remember the name Aaron Hagy – he was the lead vocalist for the Christian rock group Judah First. His voice remains one of my very favorite and I am excited to hear him recording new music.

With his permission I have included a small clip from one of their songs called “Forever Changed.” Take a listen and I think you will see why you should spend the money to purchase the album when it becomes available.

Theologically speaking, the lyrics initially seem to be contradictory. Consider the ending to the catchy chorus:

Paid the debt that I owe
Freedom I now know
I give you all control
Forever changed in my soul

Lines 2 and 3 are the problem. Freedom can be expressed in many ways, but surely giving away “all control” is not one of them. So, how can someone claim to know freedom while simultaneously giving away all control? Either these phrases were placed together simply because they rhyme or there is more here than meets the eye. Let’s take a look.

“Paid the debt that I owe.” This is a reference to penal substitutionary atonement. Galatians 3:13 is a relevant text for this phrase of the song – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” The wrath of God has been satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ in our place.

“Freedom I now know.” John 8:36 says, “If the son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Since our debt has been paid and the wrath of God has been satisfied, we are free from the burden of guilt. Paul reminds the Galatians that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are…..

…slaves to Christ. One of the most profound truths of Christianity is how our freedom enables us to become slaves. We break the yoke of sin and become slaves to Christ, who is our freedom. That is why Paul says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22). Therefore…

“I give you all control.” There it is – not contradictory at all. True freedom in Christ is slavery to Christ. This is why Paul calls himself a “servant of Christ Jesus” and why we are all reminded to find our greatest freedom through our enslavement to God.

Anyway, buy the record! I will keep you posted on its release.