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Rock grammar, issue #1: Paul McCartney “Live And Let Die”

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Let’s look beyond the goofy flutes and/or whatnot and the oddly aggressive nature of the song (because it’s just so out of character for the nice man.) Paul McCartney screwed up “Live And Let Die” in a huge way in my book because of a horrible grammar mistake.

It’s no wonder the song’s so angry, he’s mad he wrote such a screwed up line. You know the line, I know you do – “But in this ever changing world in which we live in.” Come on, Macca, you’re better than this! That’s redundant – “world in which we live in.” It even works just fine, perfectly fine to just sing “And in this ever changing world which we live in.” I can hear it – just stretch the “world” out a little more. Okay, no, it’s not technically correct, but at least it doesn’t double up on the “in” – it’s gotta either be “in which we live” or “which we live in,” but it can’t be both.

And if he was insistent on covering the thing, Axl Rose should have at least taken a moment to correct the damned thing. Guns N’ Roses could have at least been the smart bad boys of rock and we all would have respected and looked up to them for it. But now? Without correcting that mistake? Just a footnote, surely no one’ll remember Guns N’ Roses in 20 years.

(Super self-serving link to my new site.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Well, Guns and Roses wrote:

    “reminds me of childhood memories.”

    It reminds him of memories! So does he remember the actual events of his childhood when he sees her smile, or does it just remind him of other times when he remembered his childhood?
    Reminds me of memories….

  • Eric Olsen

    I’d rather hear “in which we li-ive”

    good point CC, maybe he was referring to a reincarnation recession episode

  • JR

    “But in this ever changing world in which we live in.”

    Are you sure it’s not “…this ever changing world in which we’re livin'”? After all, an Englishman would know enough not to end a sentence with a preposition. (I know G’n’R got it wrong because they printed the lyrics in the Use Your Illiusion booklet; but I always assumed Axl just misinterpreted the lyric.)

  • Tom Johnson

    Hmm, that’s a good point, JR. All the lyrics I’ve seen have specifically said “in which we live in,” and it sounds like that, but I can’t actually profess to having seen the original lyrics that McCartney sang. All online sources show what I found, but even those can be incorrect at times.

    As for the “reminds me of childhood memories” line, I think it may be Axl indicating some sort of personality disorder, maybe a split personality or something. You know, like “reminds me of childhood memories (of my alter-ego Rex.)” That might explain the odd, creepy child-like “humor” Axl displays on a bootleg of a 2002 GnR show I recently got ahold of . . .

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I like your theory, but it would seem to indicate that Axl is stupid and McCartney smart, which just can’t be right.

    Seriously, this has always bugged me and I’ve never thought of your sensible solution.

  • Rodney Welch

    Sting pointed out in an interview once that certain lyrics make musical sense but not grammatical sense. He used his own line as an example: “If you love someone, set them free.” The correct way would have been “If you love someone, set him or her free,” which just doesn’t scan.

    My other favorite grammatical offender is Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run”:

    Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas
    You know he knows just exactly what the facts is

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Christopher Ricks makes great hay of Dylan’s grammatical “faults,” and how clever and meticulous and aware of the grammar and word choice Dylan was, in his amazing new doorstop.

    There’s a particularly illuminating section on “Hattie Carroll” and the peculiar grammar of:

    And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
    William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence

    I love this book, by the way. Anybody else read it or interested? It got quite a bit of pub a couple of months ago. Amazingly, he’s able to wring meaning out of stuff like “New Pony,” “All the Tired Horses” and “Handy Dandy” that almost had me believing that these throwaways (and a bunch of other overlooked or misunderstood Dylan songs) are actually pretty great. Not “Handy Dandy,” actually.

  • Rodney Welch

    Can’t wait to see what he does with “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.”

    Seriously, I have been reading all the articles and reviews of Ricks’ book, which certainly looks interesting.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    He doesn’t discuss that one, which is just a silly kids’ sin-along song after all. Do you find that one particularly stupid? There’s worse, but there is no point in dwelling on the small amount of subpar Dylan when there’s sooooooo much good stuff, the best of which is the among the very best of modern music, IMHO.

  • Dave

    “But in this ever changing world in which we live in.”

    FYI, It’s actually “IF this ever-changing…”

  • Eric Olsen

    ooh, there’s a wrinkle

  • Vern Halen

    It bugs me too, but I believe this is a case of McCartney indulging in artistic licence. It’s fine, just as loong as he doesn’t decide to pick up a second job in which to make a living in.

  • Rodney Welch

    Clubhouse — Actually my vote for dumbest Dylan song is “Lenny Bruce,” the famous comedian who “never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies’ heads.”

  • Clarke

    Starting the line with “in” would make no sense for McCartney to do, anyway – consider the following line! I believe the proper lyrics are:

    “If this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’
    Makes you give in and cry”

  • Sephiroth1wa

    It’s a song… do songs need to be grammatically correct? go through every song throughout history and correct them then you can say bad stuff about all of them ok? music is music it needs to go to a beat and if he says it who cares.

  • Mark the Sane and Sensible

    Really, what can you expect from a pothead and high school graduate like mccartney? There was one truly intelligent person that went into rock music, and that was Frank Zappa.

  • Storey

    It does not really matter if the lyrics reads “in which we’re livin'” or “in which we live in” beacause that is not the end of the sentence. The whole sentence reads “If this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’ makes you give in and cry.” Just something to think about.

  • Roy E

    There is NO issue here!

    Positively, the lyric is:

    “If this ever-changin’ world in which we’re livin’ makes you give in and cry…”

    I fussed over this for years and settled it awhile back by listening ultra-carefully to several live performances.

  • vern halen

    Make all the grammar teachers go home and read their Strunk & White, please. The rest of us will go with artistic licence.

  • DJRadiohead

    The number of grammatical gaffes in popular music puts George W Bush to shame. Too many to list.

    I love this post.

  • DJRadiohead

    Strunk & White… reminds me of all my journalism classes. Thanks, Vern!

  • vern halen

    ‘S OK….. Strunk & White…. I still have a copy buried away somewhere next to my Baltimore Catechism.

  • DJRadiohead

    Anyone who has read my posts probably wishes I had my copy more handy- although I think my typing is worse than my grammar.

  • Ale

    I can’t believe it, I JUST CANNOT!! I’m a mexican student of English. I’ve been studying this language for a year now; correct my grammar if you wish, tell me I’m wrong….BUT…. YOU NATIVE SPEAKERS GET YOURSELVES INFORMED FIRST!!! IT GOES “BUT IF THIS EVER…” IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF, NO IN…IN.


    you smarty pants

  • Tom

    Ale, first, I’m hoping your English classes included a section on “sarcasm.”

    Second, the issue is not with the phrase “but if this ever” or “but in this ever.” It is with the phrase “in which we live in.” It’s either “in which we live” or “which we live in” – there is no need for two instances of “in” there.

    But, most of all, people, get a grip! For those of you who got it and played along, thank you! The rest of you . . . yikes. This was just a fun piece, which is something that should be very obvious just in the way I composed it – it is obviously tongue-in-cheek. Oh well, I guess there’s no hope for humor in America.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Tom, trust me, I just got hit for using It’s instead of its, in a string I just had published an hour ago, so I know the feeling, but if I were you, I’d have done my homework on line. I also got the amount of money a guy lost in the stock market per share confused with the actual price he sold it for. It was easily fixed with a quick “I’m wrong” and a thanks to Dave Nalle, but this is beyond that.

    So as gently as I can…

    the word “If” blows this whole string sky high, and I’d delete it.

    I bought the vinal soundtrack album for the movie the day it came out waaaaaaaaaaaaay back when, and trust me Axl did not do it justice at all. But you know what I’ve learned over the years? You like the first version you hear, so if you heard Axl first, you’d think Paul’s version sucked.

    All things being equal, I’d delete the whole post before a bunch more give ya grief, my friend…

    …but that’s only my opinion.

  • Jet in Columbus

    Help me understand this, is everyone aware that this whole thing was written almost 2 YEARS ago????

  • Christopher Rose

    Time passes differently on the web, Jet.

    Tell me, are you named for the McCartney song?

  • Jet in Columbus

    My father was in the airforce and I grew up literally at the end of the runway pattern of Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.
    As a kid, I’d run around the yard as the jets flew over VERY LOW with their landing gears down, and make jet noises, and I acquired the nickname.

    I used to never refer to them as jets, they were L1011’s or 747s or C124s.

    One winter when it snowed, I shoveled out a giant HI DAD in our acre back hard, because my father flew right over our house to land.

    From then on I was known as Jet

  • Tom

    No, no changing of this piece, no deletion. I’m just stunned at the inability of people to comprehend what they’re reading. It’s always fun to get an alert of a comment on this because it’s always surprising to see the dunderheadedness of people on the internet. “Humor,” people, do you recognize that?

  • Vern Halen

    Sometimes it’s hard to find the humor on this blog on which we blog on sometimes.

  • Christopher Rose

    Bart: Well if your soul’s real, where is it?

    Milhouse: It’s kinda in here… and when you sneeze, that’s your soul trying to escape. Saying god bless you crams it back in. And when you die, it squirms out and flies away!

    Bart: What if you die in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean?

    Milhouse: Oh, it can swim, it’s even got wheels, in case you die in the desert and have to drive to the cemetery.

  • zingzing

    this world in which we’re living?

    is that possibly what he said?

  • Steve

    oh, man that line has bugged me for years. i’ve finally come to peace with it by intending myself to hear “…world in which we’re livin’…”

    seriously, i’ve found peace
    and no longer curse or change the station when this song comes on now.

    i feel this is important enough, obviously, to search out blogs like yours and share my discovery. : )

  • Mike

    McCartney himself has said it’s: “…in which we’re living”

    Hard to tell upon close listening, and he could have changed it retroactively when playing it live later on.

  • John W.

    I solved this one ages ago. “And if this ever-changing world in which we’re living…”

    Done and dusted.

  • Mike in NYC

    I’ve got a copy of the published sheet music from back in ’73 and the lyrics are printed “but if this ever changing world in which we’re living, make you give in and cry.” Also …. I saw Macca live at Yankee Stadium and that was the lyric that they printed on the “sing along” vid screen.

  • AdamLaceky

    Sorry to parade in your rain, but you’re wrong. Here’s the correct lyric, in context of the verse.

    When you were young and your heart was an open book
    You used to say live and let live.
    But if this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’
    Makes you give in and cry
    Say Live and let die.

    In other words, “if this world makes you cry, say live and let die.”

  • Jamie Smith

    I completely agree about the ruin of this song. However, I’ve always thought it would have been better as: “In this ever-changing world in which we’re living…” (scans perfectly). It was only a cup of coffee and a little thought away.

  • GrammarNazi

    Why couldn’t it have been “But in this ever-changing world in which [we’re living]…”?