Enya / Nicky Ryan / Roma Ryan
Warner Bros. 2001
Who can say where the road goes Where the day flows, only time And who can say if your love grows As your heart chose, only time
Everpresent Time sees all, knows all.
Music hath charms...
But the words have the power.
Don't you have a favorite line from some song? One that really hits home? Sends little shivers up your spine and raises the hairs on your arms? Vividly recalls a special moment, perhaps? Or, piques your envy by clever use of language? Perhaps it evokes an intense image or other reaction, like fingernails on a blackboard -- or it just tickles your fancy. This page presents some of the lyrics that affect me in those ways.
Enya / Nicky Ryan / Roma Ryan
Who can say where the road goes Where the day flows, only time And who can say if your love grows As your heart chose, only time
Everpresent Time sees all, knows all.
Un-cry these tears I cried so many nights Un-break my heart My heart
Writer Warren thought that the title
Un-Break My Heart was a winner. So do I! And so it was, for 11 weeks, on the Pop charts.
The use of the prefix
Un-, which normally implies a reversal of action, is ironic in this case because tears, once cried, cannot be undone.
Bose, Jeremy; Daly, Blair; Harding, J; Shafer, Matthew
Reminds me of the first time a girl really kissed me -- I mean really kissed me! I almost fainted!You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed Sing like a bird, dizzy in my head Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe Shine like gold, buzz like a bee Just the thought of you can drive me wild Oh, you make me smile
Ballard, Morissette Alanis Morissette Maverick/Reprise 1995
And isn't it ironic... don't you think It's like rain on your wedding day It's a free ride when you've already paid It's the good advice that you just didn't take Who would've thought... it figures
No, it isn't. It's just bad luck, or bad judgment.
The American Heritage Dictionary notes that
The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply "coincidental" or "improbable," in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly.
Better luck next time!
Ahlstrom, Carswell NewSong Reunion 2001
Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size Could you hurry Sir? Daddy says there's not much time You see, she's been sick for quite a while And I know these shoes will make her smile And I want her to look beautiful If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.Shamelessly mawkish -- but it works every time. I get choked up even thinking about it! I can't help it. I guess that I'm just a sentimental old fool.
w/m Don McLean Don McLean BGO 1971
Starry, starry night
Five notes: five syllables. Who cannot name this extraordinary song from these few clues. And so powerful is the association with the Van Gogh painting that the song is more often known by that pseudo title.
The song, of course, is about Vincent Van Gogh -- but "about" is too weak a word. The writer has come to understand Van Gogh, to grok his art and his life, and explains in the refrain:
And now I understand what you tried to say to me how you suffered for your sanity how you tried to set them free. They would not listen they did not know how perhaps they'll listen now.
He goes on:
For they could not love you but still your love was true and when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night. You took your life as lovers often do;
This is poetry: language distilled to its essence. Omit one word and there is diminishment.
Matkosky, Brown, Lacy Keith Urban Angel 2006
Take your records, take your freedom Take your memories I don't need 'em Take your space and take your reasons But you'll think of me And take your cat and leave my sweater 'Cause we have nothing left to weather In fact I'll feel a whole lot better But you'll think of me, you'll think of me
This song has gotten lots of air time recently, and I've grown to appreciate these lyrics of the refrain. I can almost picture those heated arguments -- after her infidelity! A most eloquent kicking to the curb.
I particularly like how he lists the things that she should take, things that she had said that she needs: her space, her freedom.
And don't forget your cat!
Barry Gibb The Bee Gees RSO 1978 (All royalties donated to UNICEF by the Bee Gees.)
Lay your troubles on my shoulder Put your worries in my pocket Rest your love on me awhile
I just find these words comforting.
James Blunt James Blunt Atlantic/Custard 2005
I saw an angel. Of that I'm sure. She smiled at me on the subway. She was with another man. * * * I saw your face in a crowded place, And I don't know what to do, 'Cause I'll never be with you. * * * But it's time to face the truth, I will never be with you.
Yes,as a DJ on a local station put it,
Give it up. It was probably just gas.
That image is stuck in my mind and pops up whenever this song comes on.
Train (Colin, Hotchkiss, Monahan, Stafford, Underwood) Train Sony 2001
Now that she's back in the atmosphere With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, heyHey, hey! That ain't Jupiter, Jack! (OK, I have a dirty mind. I admit it -- with pride!)
She acts like summer and walks like rain ... She listens like spring and she talks like June, hey, heyHey, hey! Meaningless similes masquerading as meaty substance, tedding their way, way. I'm sorry, but I don't hold this song in the high regard most do.
Brian May Queen (J. Deacon, B. May, F. Mercury, R. Taylor) It's a Kind Of Magic Capitol 1986
Who wants to live forever Who wants to live forever? Who dares to love forever? When love must dieThis song makes me very sad.
Although the official word is that Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with HIV early in 1987, I am convinced that he knew sometime before that, perhaps as long as a year before. Brian May composed this song for the soundtrack of the movie Highlander, but I can't help thinking that he, too, knew of or suspected Freddie's health problems. What makes this cut all the more poigniant is their performance at Wembley in July, shortly after the release of Magic.
At one point, Freddie teases the Wembley crowd of 75,000 that there was a rumour going around that Queen might be breaking up, but then reassures them that they would be together
until we fucking well die, I'm sure!. The next song was Who Wants To Live Forever.
Tell me that he did not know then his approaching doom!
Freddie Mercury died of AIDS 24 Nov 1991.
w/m John Lennon & Paul McCartney The Beatles Apple 1969
Her name was Magil and she called herself Lil But everyone knew her as Nancy.Anyone who has spent any time tracing their roots will recognize this. It's what makes some people, shall we say, difficult to find. I have adopted these lines as the motto for my genealogy site.
There is a cute phrase a few lines further on. After he is shot, Rocky says:
Doc, it's only a scratch And I'll be better -- I'll be better, Doc, as soon as I am able.A mere flesh wound. It calls to mind a line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). After having both arms hacked off, the Black Knight says to his attacker, who expects him to yield,
It's just a flesh wound.
Indeed, the impact Monty Python had on the state of comedy has been compared to that of The Beatles on music.
Flanders & Swann The Limeliters RCA 1961
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice She was fair, she was sweet seventeen. He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice He was base, he was bad, he was mean. He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat To view his collection of stamps, And he said as he hastened to put out the cat, The wine, his cigar and the lamps: Have some madeira, m'dearA cute little Edwardian ditty. And more word-play. First we see the scheme of anaphora twice repeated, first the six
she wasclauses, followed by the five
he wasclauses. Then there is the trope of syllepsis, which appears three times in the song: one verb or verb phrase (to put out, in this case) is here made to do quadruple duty, used in four different senses with four different objects: 1) the cat, 2) the wine, 3) his cigar, and 4) the lamps.
She lowered her standards by raising her glass, Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.Another syllepsis, combined this time with the contrast (antithesis) of the lowering her standards with the raising of the other things. The next example requires a little more of the lyric to make sense:
Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said With her antepenultimate breath, "Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red Be prepared for a fate worse than death!" She let go her glass with a shrill little cry, Crash! Tinkle! it fell to the floor; When he asked, "What in Heaven?" She made no reply, Up her mind, and a dash for the door.Never fear: He gets her in the end!
And how about that use of antepenultimate? Her penultimate breath would be her next to last, and her antepenultimate breath would be the one before that!
w/m John Farrar Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta MCA 1978
If you're filled with affection you're too shy to convey, meditate in my direction. Feel your way.Ooo, Sandy! Feel my way?
This lyric epitomizes the character change Sandy experienced, from a demure, proper girl to a passionate woman. Curiously, Ms Newton-John seems to have experienced a similar transformation in her personal life at that time! Just look at her recordings: before Grease they were typified by such tracks as I Honestly Love You (1974), or Please Mr. Please (1975). After the Grease experience she gives us tunes like Totally Hot (1978) and Physical (1981).
Things that make you go hmmm!
Jim Steinman Bonnie Tyler Columbia 1983
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparksWhat a powerful image of an explosive relationship on a short fuse. You can almost hear the crashing crockery! I am convinced that metaphor is a key player in most successful poetry -- and there's plenty of metaphor and other figures throughout this wonderful song. The bridge, in particular, really grabs me:
Once upon a time I was falling in love but now I'm only falling apart. There's nothing I can do - a total eclipse of the heart Once upon a time there was light in my life but now there's only love in the dark. Nothing I can say - a total eclipse of the heartI love the paired contrasting images drawn with similar words, a visual rhyme:
Bonnie Tyler's slightly husky voice lends just the right note of anxious desperation in a perfect rendition.
Jim Croce Jim Croce ABC 1973
If I could save time in a bottle The first thing that I'd like to do Is to save every day 'til eternity passes away Just to spend them with youPerhaps the prettiest song in modern popular music, Time In a Bottle is itself an exquisite scarab in amber. And the main metaphor, of corking up time itself to allow replaying the good parts, is very appealing.
Lee Hazlewood Nancy Sinatra Reprise 1966
You keep lyin' when you oughta be truthin'Puh-leeese! And the whole song is like this! Although this is some kind of figure of speech, it is just too painfully sophomoric. Hazlewood should be have had his hands broken for inflicting this monstrosity on humankind! At least they found a perfect match in the performer.
And it was a #1 gold record! Go figure!
Walter Nims Climax Carousel 1972
Precious and few are the moments we two can share.The Toucan Song! Get it? "... we toucans share."
I cannot listen to this song anymore. I have to change the station whenever it comes on the radio.
This is an example of a mondegreen -- a misunderstood song lyric with humerous effect.
A toucan is a tropical bird with an immense beak.
Jim Steinman (BMI) Meat Loaf Epic 1977
GIRL: Ain't no doubt about it We were doubly blessed 'Cause we were barely seventeen And we were barely dressed • • • Stop right there! I gotta know right now! Before we go any further! Do you love me? Will you love me forever? • • • BOY: I couldn't take it any longer Lord I was crazed And when the feeling came upon me Like a tidal wave I started swearing to my god and on my mother's grave That I would love you to the end of time That I would love you to the end of time I swore That I would love you to the end of time!Was Steinman listening through my radio or something? Is there any Boomer who doesn't connect with this miniature opera?
Again, the clever use of language: "barely" in two different senses is the sort of linguistic hook that reels me in every time. This song is loaded with double entendres. Take the Scooter's baseball play-by-play: In the dirt, indeed!
Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter Coven Warner Bros. 1970
On the bloody morning after One tin soldier rides away.For an anti-war flick, Billy Jack sure had plenty of violence, and this was its theme song. OK, it was not great cinema, but I loved it anyway. And I had to have that hat! I wore it camping for years -- until our little bitch schnauzer ate it! I hated her for that.
John Lee Hooker George Thorogood
So I go down the streets, people. Down to my good friend's house. I say "Look man. I'm outdoors, you know. Can I stay with you maybe a couple days?" He say "Let me go ask my wife." He come out the house, I could see in his face, I know it was "No"! He say "I don't know, man. She kinda funny, you know" I say, "I know! Ever'body funny. Now you funny, too!"This is from Thorogood's long, spoken introduction -- and I just like the pithy pathos from a down and out guy, rejected by his last friend in the world, with nowhere left to turn for solace but to the bottle.
K. Kristofferson, F. Foster (BMI) Janis Joplin Columbia 1971
But I'd trade all of my tomorrows, for one single yesterdayCould there be a better example of lamentation?
I like this line for its use of a subtle figure of speech to good effect. The figure is catachresis, which is incorrect or paradoxical word usage. At any given point in time, there can only be one day called "tomorrow" and one called "yesterday", yet a multiplicity of them is inferred.
One can almost find another figure, synechdoche (use of a part for the whole), in the use of "tomorrow" to stand for the whole future -- except for the plural form.
This is a fine example of the way song lyrics, and poetry in general, often make use of rhetorical devices to heighten the effect of the language -- to pack more meat in it.
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to loseI'm not sure what that means, but I do like the way it sounds!
I've just had it explained to me by someone who I think has been there. Loosely paraphrased:
Jimmy Buffet Jimmy Buffet ABC 1977
Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo. But it's a real beauty A Mexican cutie How it got here, I haven't a clue.God! I'm glad I've never been that drunk! Have I?
Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson Supertramp A&M 1979
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical. And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.Aside from the plaintive lament, and stripped of meaning, the lyrics of The Logical Song have a special sound, a cadence, a music all their own: Adjectives On Parade!
Norman Gimbel, Charles Fox (BMI) Roberta Flack RCA 1973
Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words, Killing me softly with his song, Killing me softly with his song, Telling my whole life with his words, Killing me softly with his song.This entire song is about the effect that I'm describing. The singer hears about a new songster who
has a style,but is stunned by the profound connection of his words with her life, feeling as if "he found my letters and read each one out loud."
(Obviously, this was during the era when people wrote and sent actual letters to one another! -R. 2010)
The song was inspired by a poem by Lori Lieberman, Killing Me Softly with His Blues, which she wrote after seeing a then-unknown Don McLean perform the song "Empty Chairs" live. [Wikipedia]
Mickey Newbury (BMI) Kenny Rogers & The First Edition Reprise 1968
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was inThere are two figures of speech at work here. First, and most visible, is antanaclasis (repetition of a word in two different senses), a form of pun. More subtle is the symbolic allusion in reverse in the words "dropped in" to the "dropping out" of the Psychedelic Era through the use of drugs. The allusion is of a return during an acid-fueled out-of-body experience to the scene of the crime, as it were, to check on things.
Folks forget that Kenny Rogers started out with the Country/Rock group, The First Edition -- who invaded the pop-psychedelic genre with this, their first Top Ten hit, in 1968.
W. Gold, H. Wiener, J. Gluck (ASCAP) Lesley Gore Mercury 1963
Judy and Johnny just walked thru' the door, like a queen with her king. Oh, what a birthday surprise, Judy's wearing his ring.Hey! If you had his ring, he couldn't give it to her, now could he? Obviously, there was no commitment there,
Roger Miller Andy Williams
In the summertime, when all the trees and leaves are green And the redbird sings, I'll be blue 'Cause you don't want my love ...Miller has a way with inner rhymes and meter -- not to mention imagery: three colors in two lines! Williams has one of the best voices in the business, and his handling of these lyrics is perfection.
Hal David, Burt Bacharach (ASCAP) Dionne Warwick Scepter 1970
What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia After you do, he'll never phone ya I'll never fall in love again I'll never fall in love againThat's probably the best rhyme in popular music! Every time I hear it, I have to chuckle.
Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb (BMI) The Bee Gees Atco 1969
I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said 'Till I finally died which started the whole world living Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me Oh no that the joke was on me2003/01/03: Maurice Gibb died yesterday. I suddenly realized that I had not gotten 'round to including any of the Bee Gees' wonderfully quirky lyrics that I so enjoy.
I won't claim to understand all of their songs. Who does? Their songs are often true poetry, requiring us to imagine the flesh and bone from the marrow served us.
Poetry like this is not easy. It makes us work to understand it. I think that's why many folks are not overly fond of poetry. They're unwilling to invest the study required for understanding. More's the pity, because several layers of meaning may be hidden within.
I confess that I suspect the Bee Gees sometimes tucked in a line or two just because they sounded right, without regard for meaning. How else to explain some of the really inscrutable stuff? "Red chair, fade away" is readily explained, but what of this:
Just my dog and I at the edge of the universe. Well, I didn't wanna bring her and I know it'll make her worse.They sure made some beautiful, memorable music! Like Words. Like Islands in the Stream. And the wonderfully multi-textured Odessa (City on the Black Sea). (review) Then there is their little-known instrumental work, like Seven Seas Symphony or With All Nations (both also from album Odessa.)
Beautiful music, indeed!
Trivia: Maurice Gibb's first wife was the Scottish singer/actress, Lulu (To Sir With Love, 1967 film and song).
w/m Paul Simon Simon and Garfunkel Columbia 1966
I have my books And my poetry to protect me; I am shielded in my armor, Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.Here is a soul, so psyche-rent that total retreat is the only solution. As the burnt hand shuns the stove, so love and friendship are denied.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. If I never loved I never would have cried.It's a survival thing.
Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey The Eagles Asylum 1963
You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave.I'm sorry. I can't help it. I'm a pushover for songs with clever lyrics, especially involving plays on words. This is a fine example, playing on the two meanings of "check out", one being what you do when you leave a hotel, in California or elsewhere, the other meaning "to die", or to:
Allan Sherman, Lou Busch (adaptation) Allan Sherman Warner Bros. 1963
Wait a minute, it's stopped hailing; Guys are swimming, guys are sailing; Playing baseball; gee that's bettah; Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter.This enduring little ditty is a testament to Sherman's genius as poet-commentator on the travails of youth. Is there any Baby-Boomer who doesn't instantly think of Camp Grenada's alligator-filled lake on hearing Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours?
Tracy Chapman (ASCAP) Tracy Chapman Elektra 1988
You got a fast car And we go cruising to entertain ourselves You still ain't got a job And I work in a market as a checkout girl I know things will get better You'll find work and I'll get promoted We'll move out of the shelter Buy a big house and live in the suburbs
This song, like Chapman herself, came out of nowhere in 1988. I first heard it while driving in my own fast car, a 1986 Dodge Conquest TSi. "Cool!", said I, "A song about me and my car!"
It wasn't until our lesbian paper-hanger clued me in that I took the time to really listen to the words. That's when I realized: This song isn't about a car at all. The car is a mere plot device, providing continuity in this pathetic story of failed trickle-down economics. Hitchcock would have called it a MacGuffin.
The singer is one of the disadvantaged, to use the PC terminology. Abandoned by her mother, with an alcoholic father to care for, her shiftless husband cruises the bars with his pals, leaving her with the kids.
But she knows things will get better.
Nowadays, whenever I hear this song, it hauls me back to those days. I'm cruising in my Conquest — and wondering if she ever got her big house in the suburbs.
Loudon Wainwright III (ASCAP) Loudon Wainwright III Columbia 1973
You got yer Dead skunk in the middle of the road Dead skunk in the middle of the road You got yer Dead skunk in the middle of the road Stinkin' to high Heaven!This charming little ditty is a favorite of a local radio DJ, so I get to hear it rather often.
Every time I hear it, I imagine how it came to be: In the small hours after the show, Wainwright and crew are bantering big talk around the bar. Wainwright boasts that he can write a song about anything, anything at all. Someone replies, "Oh, yeah?" ...
(Well, it could have happened like that!)
Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus (ASCAP) ABBA Epic 1983
And turning out the light I must have yawned and cuddled up for yet another night And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain The day before you came.
This ABBA song touches me deeply, though I'm not sure exactly why. It's about a girl recalling how her life was so very ordinary and predictable, even to the very day before she meets her true love, an event which has changed everything for her.
In the song she reflects on the tedious details of her humdrum routine on the day before he came, and her clueless innocence of how her life was about to change.
Oh yes, I'm sure my life was well within it's usual frame The day before you came.
Roger Miller Roger Miller Smash 1964
Grape wine in a mason jar Homemade and brought to school By a friend of mine after class Me and him and this other fool Decide that we'll drink up what's left Chug-a-lug...Miller has a special place in my heart. I love his easy, rollicking rhymes and irreverent style. Picking one of his songs as a favorite wasn't easy -- so I picked two!
Neil Diamond Neil Diamond Uni 1969
Room gets suddenly still And when you'd almost bet You could hear yourself sweat, he walks in Eyes black as coal And when he lifts his face Every ear in the place is on him
I see a man cross the stage to the podium. A severe man, lean and true. Rockwell Kent's Ahab with a shock of purest white hair, a little overlong and carelessly combed, dressed in a frock coat of deepest black -- with dozens of ears stuck all over him.
w/m Jim Croce Jim Croce ABC 1973
He got a .32 gun in his pocket for fun He got a razor in his shoe * * * Badder than a old King Kong And meaner than a junkyard dogPhew! Forget Kong. Forget the razor and the pop-gun. It's the dog, man!
I can see him. Leaping at the gate, digging under the fence, tearing at it with his huge teeth, drool flying. How strong is chain-link, d'ya think?
Oh, yeah! He crazy mean!
An' Leroy, he meaner than that!
Thus Croce coins a phrase that instantly becomes a permanent part of the lexicon.
Janis Ian Janis Ian Columbia 1975
To those of us who know the pain Of valentines that never came, And those whose names were never called When choosing sides for basketball. It was long ago and far away The world was younger than today And dreams were all they gave for free To ugly duckling girls like me. We all play the game and when we dare To cheat ourselves at solitaire Inventing lovers on the phone Repenting other lives unknown That call and say, come dance with me and murmur vague obscenities At ugly girls like me At seventeen.Every time this song starts on the radio, I always stop what I'm doing to listen carefully. This song is just so full of powerful -- wrenching, even -- images that I should really put it all here. This is poetry at its best.
Don McLean (BMI) Don McLean American Artists 1972
But February made me shiver; With every paper I'd deliver. Bad news on the doorstep; I couldn't take one more step.Synechdoche! The whole song has a strong impact on me, having myself been a paperboy and having lived through the same epochal events McLean writes of, but these lines affect me the most.
Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter The Four Tops Dunhill 1973
Every drop of rain is glad it found her.The rest of the song is superfluous.
David Olney Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris Electra 2000
The strange young man who comes to me A soldier on a three-day spree Who needs one night's cheap ecstasy And a woman's arms to hide him He greets me with a courtly bow And hides his pain by acting proud He drinks too much and he laughs too loud How can I deny him? Let us dance beneath the moon I'll sing to you "Claire de Lune" The morning always comes too soon But tonight the war is overThis strange, haunting song is about a Paris whore and her young, doomed clients, the cannon-fodder of the Great War. It's about the horrors of that war and, ultimately, all wars. And how even a whore can be a patriot, in her own small way.