If I asked you to name a bunch of classic angry songs, I'm sure you'd have no problem. You'd let loose a stream of melodic vitriol, thinking back to those songs that really get your hate motor running.
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... and the lamest of you would start your list with Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know."
But there are songs out there that are just as venomous as anything that Elvis Costello or Motorhead has sung about, without being as explicit. Songs that seem happy on the surface, but actually hold a deceptive amount of anger. But before we embark on this list, can I just explain the premise again? I'm not talking about songs that sound happy musically but have angry lyrics, like The Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks." And I'm not talking about songs that are secretly dark and creepy, like The Police's "Every Breathe You Take" or Sarah McLachlan's "Possession."
I'm talking about cheery-sounding songs, with lyrics you never noticed were actually very angry.
5"Common People" by Pulp
Cracked's own Robert Brockway already wrote all about this song in his part wonderful / part horrible article about remakes that were better than the original (This song was the wonderful part. The section where he said Nirvana improved Bowie's "Man Who Sold The World" was the bad part). And because of this article, I really can't thank Robert enough (or tell him to fuck off sufficiently).
But take a listen to Pulp's "Common People":
What It's About
"Common People" tells the story of a rich, pampered girl who wants to go slumming. She likes the poor in the way you like a mutt you play with for a while in a public park, before going home to your nice estate. The singer, one such common person, takes her up on her offer of free booze while showing her the world of the poor, telling her to basically fuck off. You cannot know what it is to be poor unless you are poor, and attempts to claim otherwise are merely insulting.
I must confess, however, that I remember when this song came out, and to my discredit, I never listened to the lyrics. All I noticed was Jarvis Cocker's uber-stylish, fey, mystic, and slick spoke/sung vocal. All I heard was the deliberately synthetic and soulless keyboard arrangement. And though the lyrics are clearly acidic to anyone taking the time to listen, it seemed the whole arrangement only served to hide that vitriol. Yes, of course one could argue the merits of a technique that accentuates darkness by juxtaposing it with a happier delivery (as we'll see in the Lily Allen entry below), but it just didn't have that effect on me here. It didn't make sense until the remake featuring Ben Folds, William Shatner, and Joe Jackson.
Angriest LyricsYou'll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do.
Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you thru'
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.
4"Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge
Do you know this song? I think you might. Not because you're a bunch of twisted 50-year-old El Debarge freaks, but because odds are pretty good that Short Circuit was played on your shitty commercial television on a loop for years and years, and this was the movie's theme song.
What It's About
Well, even though you wouldn't know it from the upbeat tempo, and you sure as hell wouldn't know it from the video, which makes less than absolutely no sense, this is a song about someone who is heartbroken and devastated that the woman he loves is fucking some dude named Johnny and lying about it. Yes, you can see that if you read the lyrics closely, but "Johnny 5" was the name of the robot in the movie, and in the video, some weird female district attorney is asking El Debarge that question. In the song, the cheating girlfriend is asking the singer "who's Johnny?" as a way of lying. She's pretending to have never heard of the man she's having an affair with, and it's killing him.
Who's Johnny Who's Johnny
Who's Johnny Who's Johnny
"Who's Johnny? " she said
And tried to look the other way
Her eyes gave her away
Girls like her are very special
Girls like her don't rest
'Till you too are a believer
'Till you too have caught their fever
There she goes and knows I'm dying
When she says "Who is Johnny?"