The best use of rhythmic alliteration in a pop song, ever

Usually, I would wait until I could come up with “Top Five Uses of Alliteration,” in keeping with the immemorial custom of the blog.

But that might take me a month, or at least an hour (if I wanted a lame list, just to have a list).

So I just thought I’d say it. This is the best use of alliteration to achieve a rhythmic effect in the history of popular music:

“Little old lady got mutilated late last night…”

Yeah, it’s gruesome, perhaps even off-putting. But wow, does it pop as a way to warn people to look out for the Werewolves of London.

Today, walking around the neighborhood and listening to Pandora on my new phone — I initially started to listen to headlines on NPR, but like most news these days, it was all stupid — and since it was a new phone and all, I listened to a station I hadn’t heard for awhile, probably years and years: My “Handbags & Gladrags Radio” station.

I didn’t know what to expect, beyond related Rod Stewart tunes. I think when I created it I had been watching “The Office” (the real one, not the American one), and I always loved that they made an instrumental rendition of the song their theme. I wasn’t trying to make a Rod Stewart station, it was the song itself. I wanted to see what Pandora would tell me was like it, because I expected it would be pretty good.

And it was. Yeah, it’s a little on the mellow ’70s side. You can smell the dope (in the air, and sense the use of ‘ludes in the vicinity. But it’s more of the smart, edgy side of the mellow ’70s. Not Bread or Seals and Crofts or something mind-numbing like that. Stuff you can really get into, mind and body.

That, of course, led to the late, lamented Mr. Zevon. Which I appreciated.

The line before that one has a nice rhythm to it, too — although it’s not as evocative or provocative, it does a nice job of setting up the great one: “You better not let him in.” It creates anticipation, even excitement, because you know: Here it comes!…

And there it is! And now you know that whether you “hear him howling around your kitchen door” or not, don’t go walking through Soho alone after dark.

So… if we were building a Top Five List, what else should be included? It’s got to use alliteration to achieve a really impressive rhythmic effect, the way Warren did, racing through “Little old lady got mutilated” so that the words tumble over each other, and slowing down on the last three as though Warren hesitated to say the last word, probably because it didn’t have an L in it: “late last… night.”

I don’t mean exactly like that. It should be as different and distinctive as this is. (At least, it was distinctive, until other songs ripped it off). It just needs to achieve as impressive an effect.

Anyway, now that I asked y’all to do the rest of the work, just to observe the forms, here’s a quick Top Five Best Songs I Heard Just Now on that Station:”

  1. Werewolves of London, of course. I’m not sure whether this is my favorite Zevon song or not, but it’s definitely in the Top Three. “Lawyers, Guns and Money” is probably first, with “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” offering it some stiff competition. All on that same amazing album.
  2. Maggie May. Have I ever told you how large this song looms in my legend? About hearing it that day when I came to interview for the job at The State in 1987? It’s a good one, one of the moments in my life when I felt I was in a well-directed movie, and the person in charge of the needle drops had a really nice touch? If not, remind me to tell you.
  3. Your Song, by Elton John. This puts me on the sand of Barber’s Point on Oahu in 1970-71, not so much sunbathing (although getting burned) as resting up, letting the cramps in my side go away before I paddled my board back out. You ever surf (or are you like Charlie)? If you haven’t, you can’t imagine the way it punishes your lats. Anyway, someone else sitting nearby had brought a radio, and this was playing.
  4. Mandolin Wind. Not sure whether this or “Handbags” is my favorite Rod Stewart song. As does the wonderful “Werewolves,” “Maggie May” is probably third.
  5. Can’t Find My Way Home. In which Blind Faith inspires a semi-religious experience. Which is what they did throughout their oh-so-brief time as a Supergroup.

Other songs I heard were good, too, but those are the top five. If you’re on Pandora, I highly recommend creating such a station. This is far, far from being the only kind of music I like, but it is A kind of music I like…

56 thoughts on “The best use of rhythmic alliteration in a pop song, ever

  1. Bill

    “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
    Beyond alliteration but not above it..

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, the BBC apparently ruled that “Werewolves” had the best opening line ever. I say apparently, because although Wikipedia pointed me to the link, it had to go through the Wayback machine. Don’t know why it wouldn’t just crop up on BBC the normal way.

    It is, of course, a great opening:

    I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
    Walking through the streets of SoHo in the rain
    He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s
    Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s another fun thing that’s related. The same song came up today, because Alexandra Petri did a column that ran today on “The 50 best Halloween songs of all time.”

    Yes, 50. You have to read it to understand.

    Anyway, she put “Werewolves” at No. 14 on the list. Of course, of COURSE it should have been near the top, perhaps right after “The Monster Mash,” which she correctly placed at No. 1. Also, as long as she was casting the net so wide, two other songs from that album should have made the list somewhere: “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Excitable Boy.” Both fit better than at least half the list.

    Anyway, I said this about the list on Twitter, and Alexandra liked my comment. I’m pleased that it pleased her, because I do enjoy her work:

    She SHOULD have made it a Top Five list, but then I nearly always say that, right?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and here’s what that Top Five would look like, were I doing it:

      1. The Monster Mash
      2. Werewolves of London
      3. Werewolf Bar Mitzvah
      4. The Addams Family theme
      5. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

      Yeah, I suppose I should have made Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor No. 5, but since there are no words, it technically isn’t a song. And I love Roland. Talkin’ about the man. And it seems to me he’s every bit as good for Halloween as the Headless Horseman

      1. Norm Ivey

        You’ve wandered onto my playground now. MY Halloween playlist goes to 62 songs (including Tocatta). I won’t list them all, but out of respect for Barry, here’s a few of the less obvious…

        Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked (Cage the Elephant)
        Witch Queen of New Orleans (RedBone)
        L’il Red Riding Hood (Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs)
        Heads Will Roll (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
        Strange Love (Karen O) (End credits them to Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which makes my top 5 Halloween movies list…)
        The Invisible Man (Queen) (which I could also nominate as best opening lyrics for a song)
        Haunted Heart (Christina Aguilera) (from the animated Addams Family movie a couple of years ago)
        Pet Sematary (The Ramones)

        And if I must choose a Top 5…
        1. Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)
        2. Science Fiction Double Feature (from Rocky Horror)
        3. Thriller (Michael Jackson)
        4. This is Halloween (from Nightmare Before Christmas)
        5. Welcome to My Nightmare (Alice Cooper)

  4. Barry

    TX Gov Abbott signs extreme gerrymandered House & state leg maps

    Whites 40% population but control 60% districts

    Hispanics 39% of population but control 20% districts

    Blacks 12% of population but control 2% districts

    Asians 5% of population but control 0% districts

      1. Barry

        I don’t know if any state is doing it to the extent of Texas.

        Any comment on what Texas is doing Bryan?

        1. Bryan Caskey

          There were 36 US house districts in Texas before the new map. Texas added two house seats, so the new map went to 38.

          Old Map: The Democrats had 8 safe seats, and Republicans had 22 safe seats. The remaining six seats were classified as “highly competitive” seats.

          New Map: The Democrats now have 13 safe seats, and Republicans have 24 safe seats. The remaining one seat is classified as “highly competitive”.

          Accordingly, the new map doesn’t tilt the state further to the Republican’s advantage as much as it really just protects all the incumbents. You could almost look at this new map and come to the conclusion that both the Democrats and the Republicans jointly decided to make the entire state entirely uncompetitive and protect all their seats (with the exception of one district).

          1. Barry

            All partisan controlled and directed redistribution efforts protect nearly all incumbents. That’s not news or even worth discussing. That’s expected.

            So no thoughts on the following Texas statistics?

            Whites 40% population but control 60% districts

            Hispanics 39% of population but control 20% districts

            Blacks 12% of population but control 2% districts

            Asians 5% of population but control 0% districts

                    1. Bryan Caskey

                      Yeah, but I’m always interested in your perspective. I mean, you’re not here to get persuaded, right? 🙂

                    2. Bryan Caskey

                      It’s okay. I’m not here to get persuaded, either. I’m here for my health. I came to this blog for the waters.

                    3. Barry

                      Why do you think I’d come here to be “persuaded.”

                      How odd.

                      I simply asked for your thoughts on the info I posted. As a result, we found an issue you didn’t have thoughts about.

                      If that’s your story, ok.

                    4. Bryan Caskey

                      Yeah, I gave you my thoughts. The state has been redistricted to make most all the seats safe. I don’t read much more into it than that, because that’s all there is to it.

                    5. Barry

                      Do you think any state legislature or any political party, in this particular case the Texas Republicans, have a responsibility to draw districts that resemble the actual population as much as possible?

                      Or do you prefer, as many Conservatives seem to if social media comments from regular Conservative voters and statements from Conservative political figures means anything, they try to maintain as many white majority districts as possible regardless of population changes?

                    6. Ken

                      Rhetorical games.

                      IF redistricting results in Blacks and Hispanic votes being diluted so that they lose majority status in several congressional districts despite growth in population being fueled overwhelmingly by an increase in the number of Hispanics, then “incumbent protection” equates to partisanship when most if not all of the resulting advantage accrues to demographics that favor incumbent members of a particular party – in this case, members of the RIP (Really Irresponsible Party, formerly known as the GOP).

                      From the Texas Tribune:
                      “The GOP is losing its hold on suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth as they grow more diverse. Two new districts show how far the party is reaching to entrench rural, white electoral power.”

                    7. Barry


                      I’ve notice a bit of a theme on this site and others.

                      When examining the statistics like the one posted below and posted above several times, some prefer to avoid discussing the realities. I guess that works. Just ignore it.

                      Whites: 40% population but control 60% districts

                      On a related issue, i see where a Conservative Texas House member is now asking for school libraries in Texas to supply him with a list of books.

                      “A Republican state lawmaker has launched an investigation into Texas school districts over the type of books they have, particularly if they pertain to race or sexuality or “make students feel discomfort.”

                      After all, it would be awful to make students feel discomfort in what they read about the world. How awful.

                  1. Bill

                    History repeats the old conceits
                    The glib replies the same defeats
                    Keep your finger on important issues
                    With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues
                    I’m just the oily slick
                    On the windup world of the nervous tick
                    In a very fashionable hovel
                    I hang around dying to be tortured
                    You’ll never be alone in the bone orchard
                    This battle with the bottle is nothing so novel
                    So in this almost empty gin palace
                    Through a two-way looking glass
                    You see your Alice
                    You know she has no sense
                    For all your jealousy
                    In a sense she still smiles very sweetly
                    Charged with insults and flattery
                    Her body moves with malice
                    Do you have to be so cruel to be callous…

    1. Ken

      From a recent NPR report on TX redistricting:

      “The new map ups the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020 from 22 to 25. Most of the state’s districts under the new maps, including two new seats the state added in Austin and Houston, are majority white. [Despite Latinos accounting for the vast majority of new population growth in Texas.] Lawmakers reduced the number of majority Hispanic districts from eight to seven, and the number of districts where Black residents make up the majority of voters dropped from one to zero.”

      But, no need for that bothersome ol’ Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. All’s well !

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Keep us updated on all redistricting. If other states are doing any redistricting, it would be great to hear about it.

      2. Barry

        “ But, no need for that bothersome ol’ Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. All’s well !”

        Well, there is no need for it if your goal is to create as many white Majority districts as is possible, which the current SCOTUS favors

      3. Barry

        Several Latino groups have sued in Texas to stop by new redistricting law.

        Maybe they’ll get lucky like they did in North Carolina where the Republican elections expert that Republicans relied on admitted the goal was to limit minority representation.

        Deceased GOP Strategist’s Daughter Makes Files Public That Republicans Wanted Sealed

        That’s “Conservatives” for you.

  5. Michael

    In an effort to reconcile this thread’s theme (alliteration) with the diversion to redistricting politics, how about “Biden’s Build Back Better Act”?

    And with respect to song-writing, how about consideration for … “night they drove old Dixie down”?

  6. Barry

    Good news tonight. My college junior informed me the decision is made: No interest in law school.

    Mom and I were a bit concerned that law school might be in the future. There has been a few fleeting mentions. But “no” was the word we received and we were proud.

    I realize others celebrate milestones like weddings, babies, etc. But this was a big one for us.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      That’s good to hear. Too often I hear of kids going to law school because they can’t decide on anything in particular so law school seems to somehow be the “fallback/default” thing they do.

      Law school is not always a great return on investment, especially with how high tuition is these days. What fields of work is your college junior gravitating to?

      1. Barry

        The original consideration was majoring in computer programming/science with a thought of law school to one day focus on the software tech copyright issues, or law in relation to privacy protection – not ambulance chasing which we discouraged the entire time as too – well – kind of crappy.

        Of course computer science is not required for such a career but that’s the interest and the background in actual programming would have been a real asset.

        The ultimate realization was that, as a lawyer, you wouldn’t actually get to work with computers that much.

        So now, it continues to be computer science with a special interest in programming and working with computers.

        1. Bobby Amundson

          Perhaps beginning the process of becoming a systems architect; I need skills more than degrees – HVAC, plumbing, equipment operation, etc.

          Modern Ruralism – Modern Urbanism is impossible without the resources of rural America. Modern farmers (skilled trades) are in high demand and are making great money.

          Social Entrepreneurship in the Modern Mobile Economy.

  7. Barry

    Conservative legal hero John Eastman keeps lying. Crazy stuff here.

    Coup Memo’ Attorney Now Blames Mike Pence For Not Tossing Out Election

    Pence was too much of an “establishment guy” to ignore the results of a legitimate presidential vote, John Eastman said on video.

    Controversial right-wing lawyer and Donald Trump ally John Eastman admitted to a progressive activist posing as a fan that he was counting on former Vice President Mike Pence to thwart American voters and toss out the results of the 2020 presidential election.

    But Pence turned out to be too much of an “establishment guy at the end of the day,” Eastman complained on video. 

    Eastman, who is expected to be called to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has recently scrambled to distance himself from his memos. He told The National Review in an interview earlier this month that having Pence reject electoral votes was not “viable” and such a strategy would have been “crazy” to pursue. 

    But in his talk with Windsor — a day after the National Review interview appeared — he boasted of his legal acumen and blamed Pence for not unilaterally wresting the power to select a president away from voters. He said there was “no question” his legal reasoning was “totally solid,” as Windsor characterized it.

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