If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.
So, today’s question?
- What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
- And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
OK, this question had me at “Fountains of Wayne.” But it’s a tough one for a couple of reasons, mostly having to do with my difficulty in making choices when I’m on the spot about things like this – and picking specific songs is just too hard, unless I use them as examples.
I love to sing along with my favorite songs, so I do pay attention to lyrics, and I tend to favor singers and groups who write their own material (although some of their material certainly sounds better sung by someone else – hello, Bob Dylan! Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a fantastic song, but I’d much rather hear Jeff Buckley sing it). I am fond of the art of songcraft – a tuneful melody with clever lyrics will catch my ear every time, and I’ve talked about my love of power pop here before.
Sincerity and the ability to tell a good story also go far with me, and it’s a bonus when the music rocks – Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” has stayed in my personal Top 10 for thirty years for those very reasons. If that “personal Top 10” is expanded to my Top 40 or Top 100, Mr. Springsteen’s work is very well-represented.
Getting back to Deb’s suggestions in the original question, The Beatles are still, after more than thirty years, my all-time favorite band, although I’d be lying if I said I love everything they ever did. For my money, their best work is on the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, but it’s hard to pick just a few favorites, and it’s all part of our cultural wallpaper anyway. Still, the whole package is there, and much of the music I’ve loved clearly bears their influence.
Smart (and sometimes smart-ass) lyrics are a weakness of mine, which is at the root of my long-term affection for the late, great Warren Zevon and the very-much-alive Elvis Costello. If you only know Mr. Zevon for “Werewolves of London,” I suggest you expand your horizons, and I’ll offer a couple of samples:
How was I to know she was with the Russians, too?
I was gambling in Havana – I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this
An innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place
And I’m down on my luck…
Snatched the glasses right off my face
Took the keys to my BMW
Left me here to take his place
I wish the ape a lot of success
I’m sorry my apartment’s a mess
Most of all I’m sorry if I made you blue
I’m betting the gorilla will, too
They say Jesus will find you wherever you go
But when He’ll come looking for you, they don’t know
In the meantime, keep your profile low
Gorilla, you’re a desperado…
I should note that my favorite Elvis Costello song was not written by him – thank you, Nick Lowe, for “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” There are plenty of winners among the songs Mr. has written, though, and this one seems just perfect for BTT:
When you’re old enough to know better
When you find strange hands in your sweater
When your dreamboat turns out to be a footnote
I’m a man with a mission in two or three editions
And I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book
Chapter One we didn’t really get along
Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six
The way you walk
The way you talk, and try to kiss me, and laugh
In four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks
Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference
Between a lover and a fighter
With my pen and my electric typewriter
Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel
He should have quit before he had written the address
They made love on the mezzanine – her husband was his friend
Vienna in a fugue-state working on a thing
That when he finished it took almost seven hours to sing
He still found time to write to her – his heart-exploding words
Our love surpassed our love so fast
Our love’s all wrong our love goes on and on
Our love became our love by name when I wrote it to you in a song
Our love goes on and on…
Coming in on the second verse of this song, which kind of sounds like Coney Island:
A mermaid and a heart that says mother
But I don’t know from maritime
And I never did hard time
I brought a .38 Special CD collection
Some Bactine to prevent infection
And in case I get queasy
A photo of Easy Rider
Red dragon tattoo
Is just about on me
I got it for you
So now do you want me?
With nothing to prove
Will you be my honey?
In you I confide
Red dragon tattoo
I’m fit to be dyed
Am I fit to have you?
On their most recent album, Traffic and Weather, they shifted into a storytelling vein:
Both of them look quite a bit like Carl Reiner
One of them is smoking even though the sign says not to
The waitress says to stop, he says sorry but I’ve got to
They tell each other jokes that they both know that they both know
They talk about real estate, prostates, Costco
And when they finish up they leave a twenty on the table
The waitress picks it up with their half-eaten bagels
And when her shift is over she goes back to Mineola
Sits on the couch, opens up a diet cola and says
I’m so, I’m so sick of this place – I’m so ready for a change of pace
I’m just looking for a new routine
So she spins her globe and the next thing you know
She’s living in Liechtenstein…
Sorry for not embedding music and video, but this post is supposed to be about the words, right? And once it’s done, and I make the rounds reading other posts, I’m sure I’ll think of at least half a dozen others I should have included.
What about you – care to share some of your favorite song lyrics and who’s written them?