Extend That Metaphor

 Posted by
Jul 152020

I’ve been listening to a lot of old soul music lately (not an unusual occurrence) and happened to have a sequence of three metaphor songs in a short spell. All three are great greats songs from the ‘60s, and it’s easier to just put up the YouTube videos than to try and explain in words what I mean by this type of song.

First up is Mel & Tim’s classic “Backfield In Motion.” Sports infractions are the metaphor for cheating in love. The metaphor covers football (“offside & holdin’”), baseball (“balkin’”), boxing (“you hit me below the belt”), and basketball (“double dribble”). This video has all the lyrics.

Then there’s 100 Proof Aged In Soul’s sole hit “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.” This was one of the early hits on the Hot Wax label, formed by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, after they left Motown in 1968. Here the metaphor is the Goldilocks & The Three Bears fable. And it’s an interesting metaphor in that it is both metaphor and not metaphor. Somebody has been sleeping in his bed! Here’s the lyrics video for this one.

By the way, this is the album version, which I didn’t hear until many years after this was a hit in 1970. When I first heard this version I definitely preferred the single edit; now I love the album version and don’t want to hear the song without the instrumental break that comes 2 minutes in – a minute and a half of pure funky soul horns.

The third is “Agent Double-O-Soul”, Edwin Starr’s first hit from 1965. This was on the Ric-Tic label, which was bought by Berry Gordy a few years later. Bond, James Bond is the metaphor here. Here’s a great (albeit lip-synced) performance video from a 1960s teen dance program; sorry, I couldn’t find one with lyrics.


  16 Responses to “Extend That Metaphor”

  1. H. Munster

    Do you draw the line between blues and soul? I’m thinking of “Little Red Rooster”.

  2. I like “Little Red Rooster”! I’m not drawing any lines really. I’m just checking with the collective mind of RTh because I was drawing blank on any rock & roll songs that fit it.

  3. You had mentioned this topic a while back and recently when I heard this song, I thought about how it qualified and how it didn’t.

    It actually uses two extended metaphors, which sort of mucks up the game, but the relevance of the first, and the delightfully lewd specificity of the second make it worth a mention.

    Hearing this song is perfect illustration how much of Dylan’s early sensibility came right from Woody Guthrie.


  4. Of course there are a number of songs that metaphorically address masturbation, usually as some vague dance move. I’m thinking here of Beefheart’s “Low Yo-Yo Stuff,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake,” and “She-Bop” by Cindy Lauper, although the first two are close to being metaphorical only in the sense that they don’t mention the specific word.

  5. By the way, remember I don’t think “New Pony” by Bob Dylan is really about a horse.

  6. Geo, I have heard people say that.

  7. H. Munster

    While we’re on the topic of Dylan, “Neighborhood Bully”.

  8. H. Munster

    And then there’s “Blackbird.” Any other Beatles examples?

  9. What about The Kinks’ “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains”?

  10. My instinct when I read your suggestion Mr Mod was immediately: no!

    Then I read the lyrics and thought, yeah, that fits.

    Then I thought some more and thought, well, it’s not that extended in the sense that I meant it. It’s extended through the whole song but it’s really just that one thought – I’m outdated, my time has come and gone.

    On balance, I like it though, it fits.

  11. BigSteve

    My favorite Lightnin’ Hopkins song, Let Me Play With Your Poodle, may not be about a dog:


  12. Whew, I knew I was cutting it close, Al! Thanks for the passing grade. I’ll keep thinking about this. If I knew anything about country music, I’d expect country artists to do this more than rockers.

  13. BigSteve

    Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin by The Magnetic Fields


  14. ladymisskirroyale

    BigSteve: good one. “Love is like a bottle of gin. And a bottle of gin is a lot like love.”

    A couple of songs come to mind:
    1. Ministry’s cheesy but catchy “Work For Love.” Back when Al was sporting a faux English accents
    2. The more profound Go-Betweens number, “Dive For Your Memory.”
    Both are analogies are pretty self-explanatory.

  15. H. Munster

    Another soul example from the period Al is talking about — “I’m Your Puppet” by James and Bobby Purifoy.

  16. Just heard a rock song that fits my theme here – Paul Westerberg’s Dyslexic Heart

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