Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meaningless Words: What Do They Mean?

The main offices of Bowling in the Dark are generally so busy that it’s difficult to keep up with our backbreaking schedule of hardly writing anything, and nearly impossible to find the time to review or respond to the fan mail that pours in from of our adoring legion of three to four semi-regular readers. However, every once in a while a letter demands to be read and shared. This is one of those:

Dear Mr. Bandit and Mr. Guy,
      I’d like to start of [sic] by saying that I owe you everything. You two—specifically, what you wrote right here—saved my marriage, and that’s no joke. And better than that, the prestigious medical journal I read just published an article that says that regular exposure to Bowling in the Dark is a proven cure for cancer! And when my cokehead grandson started reading your website, he turned his life arou—
[Editor’s note: Here she blathers on for a little while about a Harvard scholarship or something. We’ll just skip ahead a bit to the interesting part]
So that’s why I’m hoping you could tell me what the best song in the world is, and why.
Sincerely, A. Fugazi

As a matter of fact, it just so happens that our Research Department recently completed an exhaustive study of two entire songs in order to determine the best song in the known universe, and they’re very excited to be able to share the results.

It came as quite a surprise to learn through their research that what makes a great song is not instrumental virtuosity, uplifting vocal harmonies, a good backbeat, a creative rhyme scheme, or anything else that a merely rational music fan might be willing to consider. Rather, the only important ingredient needed to make a great song is the use of the meaningless nonsense word “na.”

The first song analyzed, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” comes from Journey’s 1979 album Creation.1 If you’re not familiar with the song, the only lyrics that actually make any sense at all go just like this:
Na na nana na na
Na na na na na
Na na nana na nana nana nanaaaa
(repeat x 6)
In that song, Steve Perry and company repeat the word “na” 132 times in three minutes and fifty-one seconds, for a respectable NPS (na per second)2 rate of .5714. By any way you care to measure, this is a lot of nonsense.

However, The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” off their landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Revolving Rubber Submarine, repeats “na” an astonishing 268 times in 7:03 of running time, for an NPS rate of .6337.3
na na
Hey, Jude.
(repeat x 6.02 x 1023)
Put another way, The Beatles use “na” 136 times more than Journey does. Not coincidentally, our exhaustive calculations have shown conclusively that The Beatles are precisely 136 times better than Journey. Don’t take our word for it, though. All the evidence is right here, in video form.

Please ignore Ringo’s jacket.

You may have noticed that, despite discussing “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ ” above, we’ve in fact shown you the video for 1983’s “Separate Ways.” We did this deliberately, because this particular video is awesomely, hilariously shitty in a way that only a true ’80s video can be,4 and that helps us prove our point.5

Our only regret is that current budget limitations prevent us from conducting further research into other worthy nonsense songs such as “Centerfold” (J. Geils Band, 1981) or “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (Steam, 1969). Your generous donation could help advance the study of musical nonsensicology by months if not years, provided we don’t spend it all on alcohol or cheap floozies.6 Please call now, operators are standing by. But please, stop asking us to look into Beck’s “E-Pro.” That’s just not going to happen.7

1. As it’s known in certain parts of the American midwest.
2. It’s an industry term.
3. The number 268 is, rather than an exact count, merely the most accurate measurement that can be made with existing technology. In addition to filling the recognizable and easily measured choruses with “nas,” Paul McCartney also throws them into the occasional verse and also behind the chorus, where they’re much harder to count with any degree of certainty. Some words counted as “na” could well have been “ma,” “ba,” “da,” or even “hamanahamana,” so a more precise count cannot be made at this time. However, the future for more accurate na-enumeration seems bright, because science is always progressing . . . at least outside of Kansas.
23. This isn’t a footnote, you twit. It’s part of a number.
4. Especially the keyboard player at 0:53. Just look at that poor fuckin’ guy.
5. We do regret missing out on being able to sing along to the other song, though, especially because we like to replace the line “lovin,’ touchin’, squeezin’ another” with “lovin,’ touchin’, squeezin’ your mother,” which has been awesomely funny ever since I was in seventh or eighth grade. But that’s the sacrifice we’re willing to make in the name of science.
6. Or, for that matter, expensive floozies.
7. Beck is disqualified from this study despite his occasional use of "na" because for the most part he uses perfectly meaningful words, he simply can’t be bothered to arrange them in any meaningful way. If you’re inclined to debate this point, you are required to submit, in writing, a thorough explanation of what precisely it means to have a devil’s haircut in your mind.


  1. Is "na" the most meaningless word in rock? I think "na" is so overused at this point that its meaninglessness has become nearly meaningless.

    My vote goes to "oy," as used in AC/DC's ode to nailing tons of women, "T.N.T." (To tell the truth, pretty much all of AC/DC's songs are about nailing tons of women, but none of the rest use "oy" in such a joyously meaningless fashion.)

    There's probably fewer than 50 "oys" in the entire song, so it doesn't compare to the Journey/Beatles examples as far as nonsense-per-minute counts go. However, I would assert that it's the contrast with the rest of the song that makes it so meaninglessly great. The fact that Bon Scott used a stick of dynamite as a metaphor for his, er... well, it's AC/DC, so I shouldn't really need to spell it out for you... and then follows that with a trio of "oys," easily puts this song in a different category altogether.

  2. According to my copy of Oxford's Australian-to-English Dictionary, "oy" is a very old Australian word that translates into English as "na."

    Listening to "T.N.T." on my drive in to work this morning, it occurred to me that I may have missed one of its many innuendoes for all these long years of listening: "lock up your daughter/lock up your wife/lock up your back door/ and run for your life."

    The song takes on a slightly different tone depending on whether he's talking about a literal or a metaphorical backdoor. But I'm not sure I want to delve too deeply, so to speak, into the question.