Same Old Song and Dance

Learned Vol. 2, Issue 34

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Break out the hairspray, this week we're talking about an idiom featured in not one, but two hair metal anthems: same old song and dance.

Occasionally, I get to have really fun lessons. Last week, a student brought in a question. They had been listening to Voice of America's Words and Their Stories Podcast, which had just done a feature on "same old song and dance." In it, the podcast authors made the point that although singing and dancing are fun, the expression means just the opposite. They traced it back to vaudeville and how performers grew tired of doing the same thing day in and day out.

While my student understood the history, they had more trouble figuring out how to use it. Enter Aerosmith and Motley Crue.

Aerosmith's song, first released in 1974 on the Get Your Wings record, details the kinds of trouble you might find yourself in if you were really into the 70s: murder, cocaine, prostitution, you know, the same old song and dance.

Not to be outdone by the trials and tribulations of the 70s, Motley Crue released the song Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.) as the fifth single off 1989's Dr. Feelgood, which coincidentally is the last metal album I bought before discovering punk and the nascent grunge scenes and forever altering my musical tastes. But I digress.

I played both these songs for my student, not just because it was a fun way to break up the same old song lesson routine, but because both these songs pair the idiom /same old song and dance/ with a second idiom that emphasizes the routine shown by the first. In Aerosmith's song, the line reads:

It's the same old story, the same old song and dance, my friend.

And in Motley Crue's:

It's the same ol', same ol' situation

It's the same ol', same ol' ball and chain

Now, as I said, in both songs, the secondary idioms are there to support the monotony and boredom suggested by the first, but, taken out of song context, they are not exactly the same as /song and dance/. /Same old story/ still suggests a lack of change, but it's more about the ills of society than one's own personal routine. And /ball and chain/ is an old, old idiomatic expression for one's spouse and the routine that can come from a long-term partnership. So, similar, yes, but not exactly the same.

Still, it was a fun way to look at a couple of idioms and, ironically, to change up the same old routine in a fun way.

As a postscript, while finding the videos for the songs I talked about here, I came across lots of other songs with similar titles. Some of which I knew (Against Me!) and others I had never heard before (The Weeknd), but all of which were interesting:

As if we needed any more proof of the relevance of this idiom, rock on!

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Definition:

Cambridge Dictionary Online:

same old same old: used to say that a situation or someone's behavior remains the same, especially when it is boring or annoying

Origin:

The Grammarist:

There are several theories as to the origin of the phrase same old, same old. One theory is that it comes from pidgin English spoken in either post-World War II Japan or Korea during the Korean War. The phrase is alleged to have been same-o, same-o, indicating that something should remain unchanged.

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Notable Events of 1974:

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Recent Media Diet:

One of my favorite late-period additions to kottke.org has been the occasional “recent media diet” posts where Jason briefly runs down a shortlist of what he’s been watching and reading and gives them each a school-like letter grade. Let’s give that a try.

Blade Runner 2049. Look, I know I’m late to the dance on this one, but I just didn’t want to be disappointed. I love the original, in all its many incarnations, and have read Philip K. Dick’s source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep more than once. So, to have someone move beyond that…well, I was apprehensive. Fortunately, this is a beautifully made movie by someone who really gets the original. (A+)

The Good Place. We’re getting close to the end, now, but this show just exemplifies how much can be done when the writers are willing to throw out all the cliches and subvert all the tropes. (A+)

Summer Girl. Honestly, I missed the boat on Haim. I had no idea who they were until someone sent me a link to this song. Thought it was pretty good, still didn’t know who the band was, but I made the parenting mistake of playing this where my kid could hear it, which sent us down a two-hour-long rabbit hole of Haim’s music. Which is pretty good. (B)

The Toys that Made Us. Probably the geekiest thing on this list, TTtMU is a deep dive into the history of the 80s most iconic toys. Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, LEGO, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the list goes on. Each episode is fun, light, and, honestly, a little too enthusiastic for its own good, but that’s just part of its geeky bonafides. (B+)

Next time: Keep on keepin’ on. That's it. Stay strong, stay curious. Learn something.

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