Music is the sister of poetry, and poetry has always been a love of mine. But when a song has exceptional lyrical value, that song always wins me over. Here are some of my favourite tracks, all that have managed to impress me lyrically. It was a difficult list to compile, because some artists like Radiohead, Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens are so impressive in all their tracks that it is difficult to pick one. Yet I have, and I hope it is worthy enough to make it into someone’s music. Forgive me for the length of the list.
How to disappear completely (Radiohead)
I cannot praise Radiohead enough. If someone has not explored their music yet, Kid A is the album to start at. I am afraid of listening to this song too many times, lest I lose what I feel while it plays in silence. How to disappear completely is filled with so much pain and desperation, just like so many of songs, and is by far the best song I have ever heard, no competition. For someone who likes this, Morning bell (also from Kid A), is also lyrically horrifying and will send chills up your spine with the words, “Cut the kids in half, cut the kids in half.” I cannot put enough Radiohead suggestions here. From their rock sound in Creep and Anyone can play guitar, to their more electronic rock sound in the recent Lotus Flower, they have been creating exceptional music ever since they started. With every song they just prove that they are, in fact, one of the best bands of their time.
I can feel a hot one (Manchester Orchestra)
Manchester Orchestra is predominantly an indie rock band, but this song has much different sound when compared to alternative. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant, and so gently and heartbreaking at the same time. This song is one of my favourites simply because of the lyrics and how masterfully they have been written. Listen to this song only if you want your mind to be touched and toyed with.
Daughter is probably the most underrated artist I have listened to. Her music is simple, as is quite evident from this song. The song can be interpreted as Wendy singing to Peter, long after they have quite finished their adventure accusing him of still being a child. It is a beautiful and sad attempt by Wendy to break free from the chains that childhood fit on her. Or so I thought. Until I checked the song out on YouTube and the top comment was one by JackRosiesMusic, and he had written a song just as Peter would have replied. I thought it couldn’t get any better, but it just had.
Easy/Lucky/Free & Poison Oak (Bright Eyes)
“Another century of pointing guns
At anything that moves.
Sometimes I worry that I’ve lost the plot
My twitching muscles tease my flippant thoughts
I never dreamed of heaven much,
Until we put him in the ground.”
The lead of Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, is an extremely talented songwriter and writes particularly intimate songs. He has been criticized at not being a good singer (his voice and singing are very crude and untrained) but he has always claimed he was into music because of the poetry, and he has proved himself right. Easy/Lucky/Free was misinterpreted by me as a positive song, but later I realized how horribly cynical it really was, which made me love it even more. Poison Oak is about a person who has lost a dear friend to suicide. Neither of the songs should be taken lightly, and should not just be songs one listens to once and hides beneath layers of other music. Either it should be listened to with dignity for the artist, or not at all.
Lover, you should have come over (Jeff Buckley)
“Looking out the door, I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
Parading in a wake of sad relations as their shoes fill up with water
And maybe I’m too young to keep good love from going wrong
But tonight you’re on my mind so you never know.”
Jeff Buckley made me fall in love with his music the day I listened to his cover of Hallelujah. I had been skeptical, Hallelujah has been brilliantly performed by both Leonard Cohen and John Cale, but Jeff Buckley’s version was so private and beautiful, that I almost forgot it wasn’t the original. And then the title of the song drew me to it, and I discovered a song lyrically as perfect as its music. Jeff Buckley will not let you down, least of all with this song.
Casimir Pulaski Day (Sufjan Stevens)
“On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom
In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window
In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing…”
I had the hardest time trying to pick a Sufjan Stevens song for the list; I knew I could pick only one. All his songs just tell you how exquisite of a songwriter Stevens is. He wrote a song about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy which was new and very well composed as well. My favourite song of Stevens is Chicago though; it is very catchy and sweet. Casimir Pulaski Day is the work of a lyrical genius, though. The whole album Illinoise is beautiful and perfect for a listen on a warm October night.
Passing afternoon (Iron & Wine)
I cannot quote the lyrics of this song as the song is one long poem. Iron & Wine is a gentle artist, he tugs slowly and simply. There is much pain hidden in this song, and the more you think about the reason why he must’ve written the song, the worse it gets.
Seventy times Seven (Brand New)
“So is that what you call a getaway?
Tell me what you got away with
Cause I’ve seen more spine on jellyfish
I’ve seen more guts on eleven-year-old kids
Have another drink and drive yourself home
I hope there’s ice on all the roads
And you can think of me when you forget your seat belt
And again when your head goes through the windshield!”
I love this song simply because it is so angry and frightening. The writer wishes nothing but the worst for a friend who just broke his heart. Calling them cowardly is just not enough, he wants them to suffer and he puts it into words which are as acidic as it gets. Brand New is, after all, an alternative rock band and their sound has always been true to that. Limousine is about a a little girl who died in a drunk-driving accident, and is so full of angst and painful elaboration that the six odd minutes of the song will fly by in your mind.
Not a pretty girl (Ani DeFranco)
“What if there are no damsels in distress?
What if I knew that and called your bluff?
Don’t you think every kitten,
Figures out how to get down,
Whether or not you ever show up?”
I have had an overdose of feminist ideologies, and I am not complaining, but this song was the start of it all. Ani Defranco is clear and solemn, and is the poor person’s feminist. The lyric of this song (all acoustic) makes it nothing less than an anthem.
Mykonos (Fleet Foxes)
“The door slammed loud and rose up a cloud of dust on us
Footsteps follow, down through the hollow sound, torn up.
And you will go to Mykonos
With a vision of a gentle coast
And a sun to maybe dissipate
Shadows of the mess you made.”
Fleet foxes have impressed me time and again with every song they have made. This song is such a refreshing and surprising listen, it blows me away every time I listen to it. The sound and tune change in the middle of the song, catching me off guard (pleasantly, of course) every single time. The lyrics of song make me want to take a vacation at a beach like nothing else does. The songs they write are no different than poetry. The song Lorelai is also the work of a very talented group of artists.
Wake up (Arcade Fire)
“If the children don’t grow up,
Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up,
We’re just a million little gods causing rain storms,
Turning every good thing to rust.
I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”
I had been suggested Arcade Fire numerous times before I came across it on one of my main music related threads on a community. Listening to Wake up was insightful and hit me hard, the chorus will move you. Arcade Fire is heavily underrated; they make rock sound like folk and folk like rock. Very few artists have the ability to transit between sounds so effortlessly. Granted, the lyrics of the music they make are quite dark, but you will find that most artists on this list have darker lyrics. The album Funeral is a great listen, all the songs.
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes)
Every time I listen to this song, I am torn by the realization that this amazing band no longer makes music. It is a shame because I have been enjoying their music since years. The three albums that won the Grammy for Best Alternative album, deserved it, and deserved it well. I am approaching a cliché in this list as I say that each song on each of these albums was a great, great success. Elephant is my favourite album of The White Stripes and Ball and Biscuit is also very fun to listen to. Jack White has been pursuing music still, and I have followed every band he has formed.