Hot on the heels of Entertainment Weekly’s assertion in 100 pt. type that the lyrical aspect of songwriting is without merit (“DUMBER! Must make the public DUMBER!”), I’ve become obsessed with a specific lyrical technique: pop songs that artfully employ counting as a device within the framwork of some sort of narrative. Ideally this will involve dopey exploitation of the homonyms of ‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘four,’ and ‘eight’ – not just counting for the sake of counting.

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     A good example of what I’m talking about is a ridiculously rare Harry Nilsson song called “Countin’.” As far as I can tell, the only extant recording is from a session in which he demoed a handful of songs for the the members of the Monkees. The verses of the song cover the numbers one through ten in ascending order, a different way each time.

Harry Nilsson – ‘Countin’

From: Monkees Session (196?)

One coke, two straws

Three O’clock I’m gonna walk You home

For you I’ll carry books

Five blocks isn’t very long

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late

Two honks three miles to a movie show

Four hours once a week

Five bucks isn’t much you know but

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late



Countin’

Countin’

Countin’ the hours that we’re apart

Countin’

Countin’

With every beat of my heart

One kiss too much

Three times we’ve said goodnight

I’d do anything for

Just to spend five minutes more, cause

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late”

     Upon completing the song, Nillson can be heard explaining: “Y’know, Cute.” He later described the session from which this song was taken as follows:

     “So I sang seven, eight or nine songs, and Michael Nesmith said, ‘Man, where the fuck did you come from? You just sat down there and blew our minds like that. We’ve been looking for songs, and you just sat down and played an album for us. Shit! Goddammit!’ He threw something on the floor. And he went and got Micky Dolenz and he said to him, ‘Would you listen to this man? Listen to that!’ Micky gave a surprised laugh, and Davy Jones started laughing over one song, and it was like the three of them were just out of their tree. Only Peter Tork couldn’t give a shit.”

     Another good example of what I’m talking about is the song ‘3 Small Words,’ recorded for 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats movie (The vocalist is Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo). I don’t own the CD so I’m not sure who the songwriting credit goes to, but it could be any combination of Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Jason Falkner (Jellyfish), Jane Wiedlen (Go Go’s), Anna Waronker (That Dog), and Babyface, as they were all involved with the soundtrack work in some capacity. The chorus descends from six to one as follows:

It took six whole hours

And five long days

For all your lies to come undone

And those three small words

Were way too late

‘Cause you can’t see that I’m the one

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     A slightly less clever subset of this sort of trickery can be seen in songs like Elvis Costello’s ‘Every Day I Write the Book.’

“Chapter One we didn’t really get along

Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you

You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three

But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six”

     …or in Goldfinger’s cringe-worthy wholesale co-opting of ‘Every Day I Write the Book,’ “Counting the Days” (Which borders on counting for the sake of counting):

Still counting the days I’ve been without you 1, 2, 3, 4…

Still counting the days that you’ve been gone.

Day one, was no fun.

Day two, i hated you.

By day three I wish you’d come right back to me.

Day four, five and six, well I guess you just don’t give a shit.

Day seven, this is hell. this is hell.

I gotta get away, and find something to do.

But everything I hear, everything I see, reminds me of you.

So: any other examples?