Lyrically Speaking

I love music. I love slow songs, fast songs, pop songs, love songs, rock songs, and everything in between…except modern country music. And the main reason I do not like modern country music is because the lyrics are so shallow. How many different ways can people sing about tan lines, drinking, and big trucks? Evidently, about 1,000 different ways. The lyrics, therefore, are boring, which makes the songs less interesting. I want a song to invade my head AND my heart. So, without further ado (whatever that means), here are the 10 best-written songs I have ever heard. (Keep in mind that I will inevitably forget a few and forget to edit this list, but these are the first ones that come to mind.)

  1. The Sound Of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel). Paul Simon wrote this in his bathroom, with the lights turned down. Seriously. It’s where he did a lot of writing. First line of the song: “Hello, darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…”
  2. Black (Pearl Jam). “All the love gone bad, turned my world to black…tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll beeeeeeeeee…..”
  3. The Whiter Shade Of Pale (Procol Harum). Haunting. Mesmerizing. You don’t know if it’s a love song or the saddest song ever written. Is it a dream, hallucination, or fantasy? What I know for sure is that it’s brilliant.
  4. Love Me Tender (Elvis). I hesitate to put any love songs on here because love is the theme of most music. There’s too much competition. But…this song is isn’t vague, too mushy, or cheesy. Just a straightforward, rip-out-your-liver love song.
  5. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen). This song and The Whiter Shade Of Pale tied for the Best Song From 1952-1977 in Britain at the Brit Awards. There is no other song like it. Period. It really belongs in its own category. It has three movements, like an opera. The lyrics are totally bananas, yet fans belt them out when they sing it as if they make perfect sense. Freddie Mercury was asked once what the lyrics mean, particularly the middle verse. He said, “Nothing. They’re just words.”
  6. Fire And Rain (James Taylor). The first verse is about his friend Suzanne who killed herself, and Taylor wasn’t told of her death until a few days after her passing. Then he sings about how his life changed after the demise of his first band, The Flying Machines. In the midst of so much loss, he sings, “Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought I’d see you again.”
  7. Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley). This song has been covered by a million people, but the only version that matters is Buckley’s. It’s actually a cover of Leonard Cohen’s song, but even Cohen didn’t do it as well as Buckley. Many people would put the song number one on this list, and I wouldn’t argue with them. It’s a beautifully constructed song, with biblical underpinnings. What does it mean? Is it about love or God or both? Like all great songs, it’s exactly whatever you think it is. And you can’t forget it. (Buckley only had one album, and this song was on it. During some off time while he was recording his second album, he drowned in the Mississippi River, on an evening swim by himself. He was only 30 years old.)
  8. The Unforgiven (Metallica). A song about a bitter man whose life has been dictated by others, The Unforgiven is a song for modern times. So many young people who have been the victim of bullying can relate to someone who sings, “What I’ve felt, what I’ve known, never shined through in what I’ve shown. Never be. Never me. So I dub thee unforgiven.” (The fact they chose “thee” instead of “you” is also kinda genius.)
  9. Purple Rain (Prince). A perfect marriage of music and lyrics. This is a top five favorite song of mine. Blazing guitar solos by the greatest guitarist ever (yes, Prince is the greatest guitarist ever) and a great opening line (“I never meant to cause you any sorrow…”) make this a masterpiece.
  10. He Stopped Loving Her Today. (George Jones). Considered to be the greatest country song of all time, this Jones tear-jerker balances love and death. Incredibly sad and incredibly loving. “He stopped loving her today. They placed a wreath upon his door. And soon they’ll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.” Jones almost didn’t record it. He said nobody would like it–it was too sad. He was wrong.

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