Several times, I have heard people say that when they listen to music, they pay attention to the music but not the lyrics. I don’t get this. Musicians are the poets of our time, and lyrics can elicit very strong feelings.
Some of the most romantic passages come from songs. The Association sang, “I could say I need you, but then you’d realize that I want you, just like a thousand other guys who’d say they love you for all the rest of their lives when all they want is to touch your face, your hands, and gaze into your eyes” in their song “Cherish”.
I’ve never been a fan of Glen Campbell, but I loved his lyrics, “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.”
Not terribly long ago, a group called Foster the People recorded a song that, for a brief time was very popular called “Pumped Up Kicks.” This song received a lot of air time, until people realized that they were singing about a school shooting with the lyrics, “he found a six-shooter gun in his dad’s closet, in the box of fun things. I don’t even know what, but he’s coming for you.”
One of my favorite songs is Procol Harem’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. This song took me years to figure out, but eventually I got it. The main idea of the song is that a man is in a bar talking with a woman, not realizing that the band is playing a song with explicit lyrics about the woman. The chorus goes, “And so it’s that later, as the miller told his tale, that her face at first just ghostly turned a whiter shade of pale.” A miller, as it turns out, was a minstrel, a traveling graphic poet. She was ghostly to begin with, but when she heard the lyrics, she turned “a whiter shade of pale”.
Jimmy Hendrix sang a marvelous song, “All Along the Watchtower”, that confused a LOT of people. Everybody seemed to know that the song was filled with meaning, but nobody seemed to know what that meaning was. It’s no wonder; it’s not just Jimmy Hendrix, but the song itself was written by Bob Dillon. I still have no idea what this song means, but I love screaming it at the top of my voice when I’m driving. Who can resist lyrics like, “All along the watchtower, princes kept the view while all the women came and went, barefoot servants too. Outside, in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching, and the winds began to howl.”
I am a Beatlemaniac. They’ve been described to me as starting off as a “boy band” of their time. Well, maybe, but early Beatles did tend to be upbeat and fun dance music. However, one of their early songs melded a sunny beat with dark lyrics. In “Run for your Life”, they sang “Let this be a sermon, I mean everything I’ve said. Baby, I’m determined, and I’d rather see you dead.”
One of my favorite new bands is The Pretty Reckless. Their song, “Nothing Left to Lose”, makes me cry every time. The story of a young woman involved with an older man reminds me of a former lover of mine. She speaks to me personally when I hear the singer say, “Now I see that you and me were never meant, never meant to be. Now, now I’m lost somewhere, lost between Elvis and suicide, ever since the day we died, well I’ve got nothing left to lose.”
Angry songs are such a great way to work out frustrations, when you’re alone in your car and can scream along with the lyrics. Disturbed did a marvelous rendition of a song originally written and recorded by Tears for Fears called “Shout”. I never realized from the original version just how angry this song really is, but when Disturbed gave it that edge, it was an incredible transformation. In Shout 2000, Disturbed also modified the lyrics singing “Those one trick minds, who took you for a working whore. Kiss them goodbye, you shouldn’t have to jump for joy.” I mean, wow.
Sad songs, and songs of loss, frequently seem to touch me. Naked Eyes did a song called “Always Something There to Remind Me”, speaking of a man’s inability to escape the ghost of his past lover, seeing her everywhere he goes. The lyrics include, “As the shadows fall, I pass the small cafe where we would dance at night. And I can’t help recalling how it felt to kiss and hold you tight. Well how can I forget you, girl, when there is always something there to remind me?” To this day, there are places that I find very difficult to go as they tend to remind me of, well, let’s say another time.