Take My Advice

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

—   Oscar Wilde


I’m not a big fan of advice, particularly the unsolicited variety. So it stands to reason that I’m not overly fond of advice songs, a sub- genre of music that’s usually presumptuous and annoying.

And yet, there are exceptions that prove the rule. The other morning on my way to work, I happened to catch a new tune by singer/songwriter Jesse Ruben entitled “We Can.” In less than four minutes, Ruben takes us from a personal triumph to a motivational plan and ends with a universal call to action. I found it heartfelt and moving (and I’m a tough crowd). Let me know what you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI1eDTK-_Vk

No doubt advice songs have been around since the dawn of music. Maybe the earliest versions had something to do with not getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.

The first advice song I can remember is “Enjoy Yourself, it’s Later than You Think,” a serious message couched in a peppy tune with ironically humorous lyrics:

You work and work for years and years, You’re always on the go.

You never take a minute off, Too busy makin’ dough.

Someday you say, you’ll have your fun, when you’re a millionaire Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink. The years go by, as quickly as a wink.

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

Although the song was made popular by old-timers Guy Lombardo and Louis Prima, I’m partial to this cover by country/blues singer Todd Snider: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKthSbpnjYU

Just like in real life, most advice-givers have no business passing along their hard-won “wisdom.” Imagine getting relationship guidance from Billy Joel, not exactly a poster child for successful marriage. For a while, he was dishing with impunity in songs like “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” and “Tell Her About It.”

Tell her about it

Tell her everything you feel. Give her every reason to accept That you’re for real.

Tell her about it

Tell her all your crazy dreams. Let her know you need her

Let her know how much she means.

From my perspective, this is really bad advice. Especially on a first date.

Today’s equivalent to Billy Joel is John Mayer, if anything even less adept in the love department. But that hasn’t stopped him from sharing his deep thoughts on the subject.

In “Daughters,” he writes: Fathers, be good to your daughters

Daughters will love like you do.

Girls become lovers who turn into mothers So mothers, be good to your daughters too.

Mayer, who can’t seem to stay with a young woman for more than six months (and who can’t stay out of the tabloids), appears to be blaming the poor girl’s parents for his shortcomings.

The worst advice is generic, such as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” (I know, the song is performed with a wink and a nod.) But I can just hear someone saying, “So that’s the secret! I’m going to stop worrying right now.”

The best advice is highly specific. That’s why “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers (of all people) takes top honors. Here’s a quick refresher:

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

You could do a lot worse.