Scrabble is where board game nerds and word nerds meet, a place where Dungeons and Dragons strategy combines with spelling bee prowess. And it’s not just for people who aced their vocabulary quizzes or spent all night playing Risk — Scrabble, indeed, is a music nerd’s paradise. Why? Well, from Gwen Stefani (“That shit is Bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”) to the Kinks (“L-O-L-A, Lola”) some bands just love to spell it out. In the grand tradition of our mixes for English majors and science nerds, we present 15 songs that will help you out at your next Scrabble tournament.
Patti Smith — “Gloria” (Van Morrison)
Van Morrision may have penned this song — and his version with garage rock group Them is pretty great too — but Patti Smith positively owns it when she belts out the chorus: “G-L-O-R-I-A”
Word score (barring double/triple score spaces): 7
Smog — “Bloodflow”
It’s hard not to love a band that names their album Dongs of Sevotion. Smog’s Bill Callahan starts this song sleepily and ends with a rousing girl chorus shouting, “B-L-Double-O-D-F-L-O-W, bloodflow, bloodflow!”
Word score: 18, assuming you can trick your Scrabble-mates into thinking that “Bloodflow” is in the OED as a compound word.
Tammy Wynette — “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”
In this heartbreaking ditty, country’s queen of sad spells out the words she doesn’t want her little boy to hear: “T-O-Y,” “S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E,” “C-U-S-T-O-D-Y,” and, you guessed it, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”
Word score: 13
Carla Thomas — “B-A-B-Y”
Memphis Soul royalty Carla Thomas, daughter of Rufus Thomas, scored a hit for Stax records with this infectious tune, crooning “B-A-B-Y” with a dope organ melody following along.
Word score: 11
The Fall — “C.R.E.E.P.”
Far be it for us to explain anything Mark E. Smith does. What, for example, is a “scum-egg,” and where can we find a hip priest? What time is the Hex Enduction Hour, again? We’re not sure what, if anything, C.R.E.E.P. actually stands for. What we can tell you is that this song is crazy danceable, and, yes, they do spell out “creep.”
Word score: 9
Television — “Friction”
This song could just as easily have fit into our science nerds’ mix: It is, after all, an ode to friction. But Tom Verlaine clinches it after the last chorus when he admits, “I’m crazy about friction/F-R-I-C-T-I-O-N.” Physics has never been so catchy.
Word score: 13
Aretha Franklin — “Respect”
This song is actually the way we learned how to spell “respect,” and we suspect we’re not the only ones. Aretha Franklin: Soul Sultaness and Book to second-grade teachers everywhere.
Word score: 11
L’Homme Run — “Pizza Party”
Before there was Vampire Weekend, there was L’Homme Run, Ezra Koenig’s hilariously verbose white-boy rap crew (back then, he went by the moniker DJ Plastic Cutlery). Their (intentionally misspelled) hip-hop ballad to pepperoni slices has either one of the best or worst choruses of all time: “P-I-Z-Z-A P-R-T-Y/If you got a blunt, then we can get high/If you want to come, pick up the phone/Don’t get caught with the whack Calzone.” Wise words indeed.
Word score: 34, but probably actually zero, due to that whole double-word-and-misspelling thing
The Magnetic Fields — “Washington, D.C.”
The cheerleading chant of “W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N, baby, D.C.!” might just make you want to move to the nation’s capital. You will, at the very least, want to ride a railroad track to go see your sweetheart.
Word Score: 22 — and in the new version of Scrabble, proper names are allowed!
Elvis Presley — “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”
Elvis is a guy who knows trouble — or, at least, how to spell it. Not to be confused with his other, non-spelled-out song “Trouble.” In this one a later stage (read: bad jumpsuit stage), the King greets trouble with a smile: “Say, good L-double-O-K-I-N-G/I smell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.”
Word score: 9
Webbie (feat. Lil’ Boosie and Lil’ Phat) — “I.N.D.E.P.E.N.D.E.N.T.”
This song is not only a spelling lesson, but also a dictionary entry. In case you don’t know what independent means, Webbie helpfully provides a definition: “She got her own house/She got her own car/Two jobs, work hard/she a bad broad.” Beyonce would approve.
Word score: 15
Pixies — “Velouria”
Though it’s a little hard to make out, at the end of this song Frank Black sings “V-E-L-O-U-R-I-A.” Black is actually an acclaimed word nerd — their song “Ana” is an acrostic, and “Hangwire” was written in haiku.
Word score: 11
Bo Diddley — “I’m a Man”
A classic from a rock pioneer, “I’m a Man” asserts Bo Diddley’s masculinity in no uncertain terms. In between advising women to “stand in line” and talking about his cousin “Little John the conqueroo,” Didley demonstrates his dexterity with the alphabet: “I’m a man/ I spell M-A-N.”
Word score: 5
The Modern Lovers — “Girlfriend”
So Jonathan Richman — he of the David Byrne-ian dance moves and adorable striped shirts — misspells “girlfriends.” (He leaves out the second “i” and the “d”). It’s still a great song — dreamy and sweet, without being sappy.
Word score: 15 (if you run the chorus through spellcheck)
Hot Chip — “Over and Over”
Of course, spelling is a repetitive activity — if you stare at a word long enough, it just doesn’t make much sense. For instance, “penguin”? What were they thinking? It’s in that spirit that Hot Chip’s “Over and Over” mashes together a bunch of sort of words, like a seven-year-old mushing his vocabulary into one sentence.”K-I-S-S-I-N-G-S-E-X-I-N-G/C-A-S-I-O-P-O-K-E-Y-O-U-M-E!” ? Sure! Why not? That sounds pretty good.
Word score: 53, but really, if you manage to piece that together in an actual Scrabble game, you win no matter what.