For years I have been entertaining my eye doctor with a bit about how once I got my bifocals, I suddenly became aware of all these important bits of information on the backs and insides of my CDs: musician's names, song titles, and lyrics. The words to those songs are actually on the wrappings. And my eye doctor chuckles. It could be that he is being polite, since I keep coming back and paying my bill. Or maybe it's a little bit funny.
It also depends on an awareness of the way we used to pore over the insides of our vinyl records. Back in the day, I had a ritual for each new record I brought home. First, I would take the shrink wrap off, since everyone knows that if you leave the shrink wrap on your albums, over time that wrap will follow its intended function and shrink, causing the record inside to warp. While I listened to each side of the record free from the worry of shrink wrap, I set the album cover aside. It could be that the song titles have already been known to me, or I might have had a glance at the track listing, but mostly I wanted to let the music to wash over me without any preconceptions. If the words become clear without any initial study, then there must be something significant about them. Or maybe it's all just too busy and loud, but there's that moment when I think, "did he just say...?"
That's when the lyric sheet, if it were included, came out. The second listen would be in direct conjunction with the words. Following the proverbial bouncing ball, as it were, and then I would wander around for a week or two, sharing my intimate knowledge of the genius found on side two. With anyone who cared to listen.
These days, if the words matter or not, someone has already taken the time to transcribe them to Al Gore's Internet. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they don't. The Kingsmen did not include a lyrics sheet. These days, most of the music I buy doesn't come with a lyrics sheet. Or a cover. It occurred to me the other day that there is an entire generation that has never sat on the edge of their bed, contemplating the meaning of the artwork that comes wrapped around our favorite tunes. Maybe it's a good thing: no distractions from the music. Then again, I never would have bought Sweet's "Level Headed" if it hadn't been for that awesome cover art. Then I never would have known that love is like oxygen. You get too much, you get too high. Not enough and you're gonna die. Words to live by.