In a lot of way puns and wordplay are kind of like poetry. The artistic placement of a certain word in place of another to bring attention to that particular sentence has a very creative and aesthetic appeal to it. Music and song lyrics — in my humble oPUNion — can fulfill a similar purpose.
I decided this week to do something a little different with this blog and get a little more creative, since we are talking about the creativity that goes into puns when placed in song lyrics. I made my own pun playlist featuring songs, artists, and album titles that have some sort of pun cleverly crafted inside them. Feel free to check out my pun playlist here. I also annotated/explained the selection of each song on the playlist here.
I’d now like to talk about my overall process when selecting songs for the pun playlist and some themes and commonalities I noticed when it comes to puns and music.
The easiest place to start when looking for puns in music was hip-hop and rap music. Rappers are constantly dropping puns in their music — sometimes to make a comedic insults or sexual references, but more often then not — to make a strong societal critique.
A common pun I kept noticing as I scrolled though my archives of hip hop music was puns on the word “chains.” The double meaning usually comes from rappers trying to make a parallel between black men as slaves being chained and sold as property to the modern day mass incarceration of black men in prisons, often for nonviolent drug crimes or due to under addressed socioeconomic inequalities in our society. Often in these lyrics rather than saying the protagonist of the song is in handcuffs the word “chains” is deliberately used instead to draw this parallel. The best example I have to this in my pun playlist is “Chaining Day” by JCole. This was a powerful pun not meant to be taken in jest at all but rather to think about how racism has persisted today and how we have a long and hard push for equality left before the systemic mistreatment of black people as well as other racial minorities ends.
Another commonality I noticed while studying hard rock, classic rock, and alternative rock genres of music was the usage of puns about, dare I say it, sex. While some are not so subtle double meanings referring to male and female genitals, often employed by our friends Led Zeppelin, other times they are used as a way to draw attention to corruption or misplaced values in society. The best example of the latter, a track I also feature on my pun playlist, is called Californication meant to bring forth the often hidden side of Hollywood where sex appeal is sold and capitalized on as well as young people exploited to sell their sex appeal and good looks or sex itself.
Overall, what I have seen transcend through all musical genres is the usage of puns to highlight a love for something or someone, an imperfection or flaw within a person — usually the singer/narrator — or as a humorous appeal.
Puns and music are like peanut butter and jelly, Oreos and milk, pickles and the trash can — they just go together.
I would encourage all of you today to go back and listen to your favorite bops because more than likely some of them have puns you’ve never overtly noticed but probably implicitly have loved for a long time.