Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam backstage in 1986: Alex “Spanador” Moseley, Lisa Velez, and Mike Hughes.)

On the air, we marshal words for particular purposes: to entertain, to inform, to make people think or feel. Even when we’re ad-libbing, we are (one hopes) doing so with some goal in mind, some particular thing we want to accomplish.

Compared to ad-libbing, scripting our words in advance is a luxury. It gives us the chance to carefully choose the right words, and it helps ensure that we’ll deliver those words in the right way. It doesn’t guarantee that, however. Behold, a bit of the American Top 40 show dated August 31, 1985:

“Now we’re up to the current hit song that borrows some of its melody from a nursery rhyme. Listen. (Clip.) That’s a piece of the current hit song by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force, a song called ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home.’ And you heard Lisa Lisa singing the melody from a great old nursery rhyme. Nearly 50 years ago, that nursery rhyme became the first big hit for the woman who would become the most famous female jazz singer in history. Listen. (Clip.) From way back in 1938, that’s a jazzed-up version of ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’ by legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. For more than 50 years, Ella’s been a major jazz star, probably best known for her scat singing on records, in the movies, on television, and of course in concert. And she also got noticed for breaking crystal with her voice on the Memorex TV commercials. Today, at age 67, Ella Fitzgerald is still wowing audiences around the world, and the melody of a nursery rhyme she recorded to get her first big hit, ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket,’ now shows up again, at least the melody does. It’s the song at number 38 this week by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force, ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home.'”

Here’s how a former professional editor of your acquaintance might streamline that:

“Now we’re up to the current hit song that borrows some of its melody from a nursery rhyme. Listen. (Clip.) That’s a piece of the current hit song by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force, a song called ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home.’ And you heard Lisa Lisa singing the melody from a great old nursery rhyme. Nearly 50 years ago, that nursery rhyme became the first big hit for the woman who would become the most famous female jazz singer in history. Listen. (Clip.) From way back in 1938, that’s a jazzed-up version of ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’ by legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. For more than 50 years, Ella’s been a major jazz star, probably best known for her scat singing on records, in the movies, on television, and of course in concert. And she also got noticed for breaking crystal with her voice on the Memorex TV commercials. Today, at age 67, Ella Fitzgerald is still wowing audiences around the world, and the melody of a nursery rhyme she recorded to get her first big hit, ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket,’ now shows up again, at least the melody does. It’s [in] the song at number 38 this week by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force, ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home.'”

This is one of the most egregious instances of the repetition that plagues the four-hour AT40 shows. It’s just wretched writing. It’s almost as if Casey and company feared we couldn’t follow the bit unless they spoon-fed it to us. And did he really say that the melody of Ella’s song “now shows up again, at least the melody does”? If the last phrase is an ad-lib, it’s a brain fart. If it’s scripted, I can’t even.

The lengthier bit fills time, at least, which as we know was a major concern on the four-hour AT40s. But one song earlier, Casey says, “Here’s another debut. It’s the fourth Top 40 hit for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. It’s a song about living in the city, and they spell it out, “C-I-T-Y.” Debuting at number 39, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.” He does this over the introduction of the record, so it doesn’t fill time. This repetition treats the listeners as if they were completely lacking short-term memory.

So I’m three songs into the August 31, 1985, show and I’m already deeply annoyed by it. Will I listen to the rest of it and write about it here? Stay tuned.

8 thoughts on “Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa Lisa

  1. I have had dozens of editors since I first started working in a newsroom in 1981. Hell, I have nine now, between the newsroom and my freelance automotive writing.

    The good ones are really, really good, and right now I’m blessed in that regard.

    But most editors fall into one of two camps—those who trust the audience to follow cleanly written copy and those who think you have to spell out every little thing because they think the audience is stupid, inattentive or both.

    I vastly prefer working with the first group.

    I keep searching for the video online and have never found it, but NBC allowed David Brinkley to say goodbye before he crossed the street to ABC in 1981. He began his farewell with this:

    “The first piece of news copy I ever wrote was for my hometown paper. It was two sentences about the painting of a new center stripe down Main Street.

    Looking back on it, it should only have been one sentence.”

  2. When I wrote for Casey, it was very important to take the listener step by step, from one thought to another in each of the long intros, without skipping a step. You might call that spoon fed!

  3. Tim M

    One of my mentors preached “short communications are the most powerful.” City Hall is on fire. Mom is dead. You’re overdrawn. Your pet has cancer. We’re leaving in five minutes. I never could understand why so many “news” writers never got the memo that economy of words is a great concept and powerful tool.

  4. porky

    I remember reading a Country Guitar magazine during the mid 90s country boom, the editor sort of overdid it. “The song was originally recorded by Hank Williams (ed. country legend)…” That sort of thing.

  5. Pingback: Step by Step – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.