Jul 21, 2009

Memorable Lines from Pop and Rock Songs

There are enjoyable pop and rock music songs, and then there are songs with lines that make us laugh out loud, nod our heads in agreement, or pause to reflect on the rhetorical power of the lyrics. This post is an unordered collection of lines from songs that moved me in some way, at least enough for me to dredge them up and list them here.

Feel free to offer your suggestions in the Comments section, along with a brief explanation of why the proffered lyrics affected you the way they did.

  • "Meet the new boss / same as the old boss." The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again." This deceptively simple line resonates with anarchists as much as it does with libertarians and cynics, and Pete Townshend succinctly captured the skepticism that many people feel when listening to the platitudes of a vote-seeking politician or an institutional executive.

  • "The pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder." The Smiths, "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before." I think this is the best line that Morrissey ever wrote, and I chuckle every time I hear this bit of graphic hyperbole.

  • "Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don't come true or is it something worse?" Bruce Springsteen, "The River." Bruce, I do not have the answer to this question, which recollects the adage about whether it is better to be ignorant and at peace, or to be knowledgeable and troubled. Still, Springsteen's character is in a position many of us have endured, and there are days when listening to this song can be an exercise in catharsis.

  • "Just like Pagliacci did I try to keep my sadness hid / Smiling in the public eye but in my lonely room I cry / The tears of a clown when there's no one around." Smokey Robinson, "The Tears of a Clown." Listen: any pop song writer with the guts to include references to an opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo gets bonus points, but this line is both witty and moving.

  • "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." REM, "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." The song closely mirrors the sentiments of this line - that even the impending apocalypse cannot spoil the party - and Michael Stipe's stream-of-consciousness musical rant has become an underground favorite covered by every alternative bar band in the country.

  • "If depth of feeling is a currency / Then I'm the man who grew the money tree / Some of your friends are too brainy to see / That they're paupers and that's how they'll stay / Well, I don't know how many pounds make up a ton / Of all the Nobel prizes that I've never won / And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton / But I know one thing, and that's 'I love you.'" XTC, "Mayor of Simpleton." The irony here is that Andy Partridge's song about a not-so-brilliant protagonist's declaration of love is loaded with thoughtful wordplay and clever turns of phrase. Oh, and the fact that the song has a beautiful melody some intricate musical structures doesn't hurt, either.


dr-exmedic said...

"You know where the door is / Can't give you myself / Compassions just a word in a dictionary on your shelf / Monogamy to you it seems is just black and blue / All the best psychotic lovers ain't got nothing on you"

Sons & Daughters, "Monsters"

Mad Jack said...

Here's a few I like:

Its a new dawn
Its a new day
Its a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good
Feelin' Good by Nina Simone

It could be a spoonful of water
Save you from the desert sand
Just one look at my .45 pistol
Save you from another man
Spoonful by Willie Dixon

Now you swear and kick and beg us that you're not a gambling' man
Then you find you're back in Vegas with a handle in your hand
Your black cards can bring you money so you hide them when you're able
In the land of milk and honey you must put them on the table
Do It Again by Steeley Dan

Molly said...

I'm always a day late on these but my vote for the most cutting line in a "kiss off" type song is:

And my zero to your power of ten equals...nothing at all.

Jethro Tull
One White Duck

Anonymous said...

I like to know the name of the Donovan song can only remember 1 line " Cecelia of the seals Ya Know just how she feels"

historymike said...

Ah, the campy "Celia of the Seals":

Should you wander this land to the North,
And few seldom do,
Should you follow the song of the gull
To enchanted western isles,
Coax a fisherman to take you out
Where the silky seals are seen,
Hear the stories that they tell about
The maiden who is their queen,
The maiden who is their queen.
Celia of the seals,
She knows just how they feel,
Celia of the seals.
"Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay"
"Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay"
Seal hunters are not brave and bold,
They murder her poor wee seals
And cut off their skins to be sold,
Cursed be he who deals.
There's no reason for this slaughtering,
They're left on the rocks to bleed
He's not a man who does this thing,
It's a cruel and a heartless deed,
A cruel and a-heartless deed.
Celia of the seals,
She knows just how they feel,
Celia of the seals.
Celia of the seals,
Celia of the seals,
She knows just how they feel,
Celia of the seals,
Celia of the seals,
Celia of the seals,
"Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay"
"Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay"