Songs with arguments?
July 6, 2011 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Songs with arguments?

I would really appreciate some examples of songs where they give an argument. By "argument", I mean a conclusion backed by reasons.

I'm teaching a symbolic logic class, looking for some fun examples. They don't have to be good songs, or good arguments, but it does have to be clear what the conclusion is and what the reasons to believe it are supposed to be.
posted by Eiwalker to Grab Bag (54 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.
posted by Melismata at 8:22 PM on July 6, 2011

Lehrer's New Math?
posted by trip and a half at 8:24 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is Why I'm Hot.
posted by Xalf at 8:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

First thing to come to my mind is "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" as well, though the argument is kind of trite.

Perennially useful resource TVTropes has lots of good candidates in the Counterpoint Duet article, and more broadly in the list of Call and Response Songs.

There was also an interesting video I saw awhile back of a sort of wordless musical argument, a black and white film of a couple arguing with their words replaced by suitable instrumentation. But I can't seem to find it for the life of me right now.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:27 PM on July 6, 2011

Short People?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:28 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Xalf: Damn, I just hit preview and you beat me to it.

I'll just add this: the Village Voice did an awesome breakdown of the song's circular reasoning.
posted by abcde at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Carly Simon's "You're So Vain?"
posted by mauvest at 8:32 PM on July 6, 2011

Oh dammit. I fail hard at reading descriptions. Sorry.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:39 PM on July 6, 2011

Paradise by the Dashboard Light - Meatloaf
posted by askmehow at 8:39 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Baby it's Cold Outside as another example of that same "why you should sleep with me" theme
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is The Devil Went Down to Georgia too obvious?
posted by tamitang at 8:45 PM on July 6, 2011

Ludacris - You's A Ho
posted by Su at 8:49 PM on July 6, 2011

Another "why you should sleep with me", although I'm afraid it suffers from the argumentum ad populum fallacy, Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love) by Cole Porter.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps Love & Marriage? They got together because you can't separate them. Which is either tautological or begging the question, I suppose. But it's at least an attempt at an argument.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:56 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I really like the idea of saying the name of the song, followed by what the conclusion of the argument is supposed to be -- thanks!
posted by Eiwalker at 9:10 PM on July 6, 2011

"I Will Possess Your Heart" by Death Cab For Cutie
posted by caliban at 9:13 PM on July 6, 2011

Tramp By Otis Redding and Carla Thomas
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:32 PM on July 6, 2011

Elvis: "Big Hunk O' Love"
Don't be a stingy little mama
You're 'bout to starve me half to death
Now you could spare a kiss or two and still have plenty left!

I ain't greedy baby, all I want is all you got.

That sort of thing. Very cute.
posted by effluvia at 9:35 PM on July 6, 2011

These are more assertions than arguments, but how about:

Don't You Want Me - Human League
Two opposing arguments for who gets credit for a cocktail waitress's career advancement.

It's in His Kiss - Betty Everett
Counterarguments to whether "it" is in his eyes, sighs, face, or embrace.

Various hip hop songs about why the singer is the best rapper ever...?

(I am so disappointed that Sir Mix-A-Lot's songs don't qualify)
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:38 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul
posted by Tsuga at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2011

When I'm watchin' my T.V.
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can't get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that's what I say
posted by Tsuga at 9:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Postal Service's "Nothing Better" (Though the argument is somewhat indirect, it has the bonus feature of two arguments in one - "stop, you're breaking my heart, leaving this wonderful relationship"/"stop, you're totally misrepresenting the aforementioned wonderfulness")
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:32 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eminem and Rhianna, Love the way you lie.
posted by Jubey at 11:40 PM on July 6, 2011

From Her Lips To Gods Ears by Against Me! is a serious of arguments against Condoleezza Rice. eg: "Regime change under a Bush doctrine. Democratic installations. Constant war for constant soldiers. What are we gonna do now?
De-escalation through military force. Increase the pressure.Oh Condoleezza what should we do about the situation in Iran and North Korea? Condoleezza?"

I'm not sure what the actual conclusion is though. Do protest songs where "This is who sucks, and here is why they suck" count?

Bob Dylan: Hurricane Argument: Hurricane Carter is innocent. Evidence: One of the witnesses against him was a thief. Another was half-blind. Cops are racist.

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll Argument: William Zanzinger should have got a harsher sentence for killing Hattie Carroll. Evidence: He killed her in cold blood and correctly thought his wealth, power, and race should let him get away with it.

A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash
Argument: I named you Sue for a good reason. Evidence: "Son, this world is rough
And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's the name that helped to make you strong."
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:20 AM on July 7, 2011

I think this works for a lot of songs - a couple random ones

Wouldn't It Be Nice - The Beach Boys: 'It would be nice if we were older, see list of reasons'
Irreplaceable - Beyonce: 'You are not irreplaceable (because I can replace you...)' bit tautological, that one
Bitches ain't Shit - Dr. Dre or Ben Folds: 'Bitches ain't shit (because they're just hoes, see examples)'
We Didn't Start The Fire - Billy Joel: 'It's not our fault, the world's always been fucked up'
What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong: 'It's a wonderful world, see reasons'
posted by hot soup at 12:26 AM on July 7, 2011

Nightswimming can be read as an argument as to why nightswimming deserves quiet night

Glory Hallelujah - Frank Turner You know all the arguments against God that show up in atheist threads? here they are in folk-punk form!

Sons of Liberty- Frank Turner Because of a bunch of historical English things, you should tell census takers to fuck off? I think?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:47 AM on July 7, 2011

Sometimes Always by The Jesus and Mary Chain
posted by vincele at 2:24 AM on July 7, 2011

"There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza". But I'm not sure if that's the sort of argument you mean.
posted by lollusc at 3:11 AM on July 7, 2011

Jonathan Richman's Couples Must Fight
posted by backwards guitar at 3:22 AM on July 7, 2011

Hit the Road, Jack - in which ray Charles argues unsuccessfully that he shouldn't have to

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover - where that action is said to be simpler than believed
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:54 AM on July 7, 2011

Rhaomi - this is the video you were thinking of. Nannette Fabray and Sid Caesar. Terrible quality but very clever concept!
posted by bijou243 at 5:48 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

TC and Anslem Douglas
posted by adamvasco at 5:52 AM on July 7, 2011

Positive K's I Got a Man.

Well look I'll treat you good
My man treats me better
I talk sweet on the phone
My man writes love letters
I'll tell you that I want you, and tell you that I care
My man says the same except he's sincere
Well I'm clean cut and dapper, that's what I'm about
My man buys me things and he takes me out
posted by Pax at 7:14 AM on July 7, 2011

(I think they agree that she's unavailable)
posted by Pax at 7:16 AM on July 7, 2011

NY3 by Robert Fripp features an actual argument, which he recorded on the street.
posted by Grangousier at 7:57 AM on July 7, 2011

(You see that's what I get for not reading the more inside...)
posted by Grangousier at 7:58 AM on July 7, 2011

While a little off the mark, the first "argument" song that came to mind was Dialogue, by Chicago. Two guys, different viewpoints, end up agreeing "We can make it happen."

Part I

Are you optimistic
'bout the way things are going?

No, I never ever think of it at all

Don't you ever worry
When you see what's going down?

No, I try to mind my business,
that is, no business at all

When it's time to function
as a feeling human being, will your
Bachelor of Arts help you get by?

I hope to study further,
a few more years or so. I also hope
to keep a steady high

Will you try to change
things, use the power that you have,
the power of a million new ideas?

What is this power you
speak of and this need for things to
change? I always thought
that everything was fine

Don't you feel repression just
closing in around?

No, the campus here is very, very free

Does it make you angry
the way war is dragging on?

Well, I hope the President
knows what he's into, I don't know

Don't you ever see the starvation
in the city where you live, all the
needless hunger all the
needless pain?

I haven't been there lately,
the country is so fine, but my
neighbors don't seem hungry 'cause
they haven't got the time

Thank you for the talk,
you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes
of things to come.

Well, if you had my
outlook your feelings would be
numb, you'd always think
that everything was fine

Part II

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen
posted by timsteil at 8:12 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
argument: no one will be watching us.
posted by mrmarley at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am my own grandpa.
posted by RobotHero at 8:32 AM on July 7, 2011

Another one for the "you should sleep with me" category:

Billy Joel - Only the Good Die Young - argument: I might as well be the one

And on a different topic:

The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want - argument: You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need
posted by amyms at 9:26 AM on July 7, 2011

Songs containing an argument. . . conclusion backed by reasons. . . symbolic logic

Unfortunately for your project, most pop songs just aren't that formal. They either simply state their proposition, offer two opposing viewpoints, or offer a list of examples.

The problem, I think, is that you're looking for deductive reasoning and nearly all arguments in song lyrics are inductive.

"Short People" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" (cited above) are probably as close as you're gonna get, but again, inductive.

There are some fun "unreliable narrator" songs that build an argument out of things the singer isn't seeing. 10cc "Im Not In Love" and Albert Collins "Too Many Dirty Dishes" spring to mind.

There certainly are a lot of "here are all the reasons I'm bad / I love you" songs. Here are my lame contributions.

Good luck.

Grits Ain't Groceries -- Little Milton

I love you

All around the world, Id rather be a fly
Light on my baby's head, stay with that Woman til I die
With a toothpick in my hand I'll dig a 10-foot ditch
Ride through the jungle fightin lions with a switch

Because you know I love you baby, well, you know I love you baby
And if I dont love you baby
Grits aint groceries
Eggs ain't poultries
And mona lisa was a man

Tuff Enough -- Fabuous Thunderbirds

I am tuff enuff

I would walk ten miles on my hands and knees
I'd wrestle with a lion and a grizzly bear
For you baby I would swim the sea
I'd put out a burning building with a shovel and dirt
I'd work twenty four hours, seven days a week
I'd lay in a pile of burning money that I've earned
I'd climb the Empire State Building, fight Muhammad Ali

Ain't that tuff enuff?


Ironic -- Alanis Morrisette

I know what ironic means

A list of coincidences indicating that she does not
posted by Herodios at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2011

"The Boy is Mine" by Brandy and Monica - Who has more right to the boy
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2011

In the more recent yet still class appropriate "Pretty Girl Rock," Keri Hilson suggests that you're
Mad 'cause I'm cuter than the girl that's with you
I don't gotta talk about it baby you can see it
But if you want I'll be happy to repeat it

She goes on to list the reasons that she is cuter than said girl
All eyes on me when I walk in,
No question that this girl's a 10
Don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful

Girls think I'm conceited 'cause I know I'm attractive
Don't worry about what I think, why don't you ask him?

I can talk about it 'cause I know that I'm pretty
And if you know it too then ladies sing it with me
posted by jander03 at 11:43 AM on July 7, 2011

Also the very old, but still fun 16 Tons with the chorus:

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
posted by jander03 at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2011

Easy as Life from Elton John's Aida (lyrics) makes some attempts at well-reasoned arguments and arrives at a reasoned conclusion that acknowledges the existence of passion in the last verse.
posted by thatdawnperson at 3:09 PM on July 7, 2011

Try a little Tenderness..... and you'll have a better relationship and get more sex.
posted by kjs4 at 7:25 PM on July 7, 2011

I just realized that most Frank Turner songs are like this. Journey of the Magi - you should travel because Moses, Odysseus, and Balthazar did and enjoyed it.
Reasons Not to Be an Idiot "You're not as messed up as you think you are
Your self-absorption makes you messier
Just settle down and you will feel a whole lot better
Deep down you're just like everybody else " it goes on like this for every verse, with a different person being helped
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:32 PM on July 7, 2011

"Reasons To Be Cheerful**" -- Ian Drury and the Blockheads

Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful 1 2 3

Summer, Buddy Holly,
The working folly,
Good golly Miss Molly, and boats

Hammersmith Palais,
Bolshoi Ballet,
Jump back in the alley, nanny goats

18-wheeler Scammels,
Domenecker camels,
All other mammals, plus equal votes

Seeing Piccadilly,
Fanny Smith and Willy,
Being rather silly, and porridge oats

A bit of grin and bear it,
A bit of come and share it,
You're welcome, we can spare it, yellow socks

Too short to be haughty,
Too nutty to be naughty
Going on forty, no electric shocks

The juice of the carrot,
The smile of the parrot,
A little drop of claret, anything that rocks

Elvis and Scotty,
Days when I ain't spotty,
Sitting on the potty, curing smallpox

Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful 1 2 3

Health service glasses
Gigolos and brasses
round or skinny bottoms

Take your mum to Paris
lighting up the chalice
Wee Willy Harris

Bantu Stephen Biko,
Listening to Rico
Harpo, Groucho, Chico

Cheddar cheese and pickle,
The Vincent motorsickle
Slap and tickle

Woody Allen, Dali,
Dimitri and Pasquale
Balabalabala and Volare

Something nice to study,
Phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy

Saying hokey-dokey,
Sing Along With Smokey,
Coming out of chokey

John Coltrane's soprano,
Adi Celentano
Bonar Colleano

Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful 1 2 3

** Important: These are reasons to be cheerful, not reasons to be happy.
posted by Herodios at 6:04 AM on July 8, 2011

Not at all what you're asking, but I wanted to share this old recording from Jazz at the Philharmonic. To me, it sounds like argument without words (Nat King Cole is giving Les Paul a really hard time). Start listening for about 6:30.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:25 AM on July 10, 2011

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