Misfits

When the Misfits burst onto the punk scene in the late 1970s, one thing that set them apart was their lyrical obsession with the cheesy b-movies of a few decades past. With song titles like “Teenagers from Mars” and “Return of the Fly,” campiness was always an essential part of their identity – but their lyrics also veered towards real darkness, with frequent mentions of sexual violence, murder, and nihilism. (See the lyrics to “Last Caress” and “Hybrid Moments” for a glimpse into what I’m talking about.)

Recently, I decided to put together a corpus of classic-era Misfits lyrics, to see what sort of patterns arose. (After an acrimonious breakup and a decade of legal battles, the Misfits “reformed” – without their founding member and lead songwriter, Glenn Danzig – in 1995, as what was essentially a parody of their former selves.)

There were 54 songs written and recorded during Glenn Danzig’s tenure with the band. I downloaded and normalized these lyrics, which entailed turning all instances of “whoah” and “woah” into “whoa,” as well as removing excessive repetitions of a chorus or phrase in a given song (based on the methodology employed by Petrie, Pennebaker, & Silversten (2008) in their analysis of Beatles lyrics). Then, I removed a list of super-high-frequency ‘stop words,’ primarily pronouns and prepositions, from the corpus, leaving me with the meat of what makes the Misfits the Misfits.

The findings are pretty neat. The top ten words were:

  1. oh (110)
  2. go (80)
  3. hell (45)
  4. blood (38)
  5. yeah (38)
  6. gonna (37)
  7. whoa (37)
  8. come (36)
  9. death (33)
  10. face (28)

This is especially cool when compared with Katznelson et al.’s (2010) list of the top 10 rock lyrics:

  1. love
  2. time
  3. way
  4. pain
  5. world
  6. life
  7. baby
  8. eyes
  9. head
  10. heart

Of course, my corpus is much smaller than theirs is, but the difference is still striking: there is no correlation between the lists. Although the Misfits functioned within the general realm of rock music, their lyrics were totally different from those of mainstream rock.

Other striking features:

  • Oh appears at least once in 19 songs, or 35% of the corpus.

  • Whoa appears in 10 songs, or 18% of the corpus. In all but one of these songs, whoa is followed by oh.

Next, I’m going to build a corpus of punk lyrics contemporaneous with the Misfits lyrics I’ve already compiled. That way, I can tell whether punk lyrics generally showed a greater degree of convergence with the rock lyrics examined by Katznelson et al., and, more importantly (to me), I can tell whether the Misfits’ lyrics were unique among punk lyrics as well.

Who to populate this punk corpus with? Definitely Ramones, the Damned, the Sex Pistols, and Black Flag. I’ve got to be sure to get a good amount of lyrics from bands in the Misfits’ general milieu, in order to get the fairest apples-to-apples comparison, but the bands must also be representative enough of punk in general to be valuably compared with the rock lyrics. The Damned, for example, easily meet these requirements: they played several shows with the Misfits, and also released the first ever British punk single, New Rose (1976).

Joseph Pentangelo

About Joseph Pentangelo

I'm a fourth-year doctoral student in linguistics. Research interests include morphology, etymology, onomastics, historical linguistics, Germanic, early modern English and Anglo-American witchcraft, and folklore.
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