Throughout history most people have identified themselves with music mostly due to the words that it sings.
Lyrics are a way to express things such as emotions and revolutions all in some personal manner. Only a few artists can capture that emotion within people. By the meaning, it is not just random words being written down to go with the music. They are words that mean something for humanity on different levels- personal, politically, or something else.
Throughout this article the following artists will be mentioned showcasing two songs from each:
Morrissey, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and John Lennon
I personally chose him because of what he means to a lot of people, especially those still lost within themselves slightly.
Ever since the 80s when he started out his career with the Smiths, his lyrics have made people around the world feel that they are not alone. His lyrics are relatable, they show things that not every musician can depict so easily, Morrissey does it almost effortlessly. He’s the kind of artist that can play with both tragedy and humour making it into an art.
“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”
This song touches upon a subject that we’ve all dealt with at some point in our lives. And it is when people laugh at your expense forgetting of your thoughts on that ‘joke’, but they do it because they think it’s ‘funny’. It is a subject that most people can somehow identify themselves with. Here Morrissey words it very well.
“I wish I could laugh
but that joke isn’t funny anymore
it’s too close to home
and it’s too near the bone”
Here we can see that he uses ‘bone’ and ‘home’ to describe the depth of where that joke is hurting the person. It is represented as you want to perceive it, but both ‘bone’ and ‘home’ are things that are a part of you. I find this usage of language in this song very interesting and diverse, because he is using two things to describe one emotion, which is misery, and just like many emotions it is hard to put down in words. But Morrissey makes tragedy an art that is then turned into a really catchy song.
“I just might die with a smile on my
face after all”
The ending has a slight irony to it, which I find most beautiful and it is powerful because it represents a lot. It shows how words can change us in society because we are that frightened to death. It sounds sarcastic of course, but very subtle, because it plays off really nicely with that touch of irony that is needed in this misery.
“This Charming Man”
This was The Smith’s first single, not many bands hit it off as far as The Smiths did with their first single.
The song speaks of subjects such as homosexuality and social standards. The protagonist of the song is obviously this charming man, and he seems quite confused as he punctures his bike on a hillside… perhaps dwelling on his interest in men and his charming looks.
“A jumped up pantry boy, who never knew his place
He said, “Return the ring”
He knows so much about these things”
‘Pantry boy’ being used as perhaps a young boy, still inexperienced but stubborn towards certain things like returning the ring.
“I would go out tonight
But I haven’t got a stitch to wear
This man said, “It’s gruesome
That someone so handsome should care”
“Will nature make a man of me yet?
When in this charming car, this charming man”
The boy is also concerned if nature will make him into a man, because he fears that society will not accept his ways. Therefore he questions his manliness as well, knowing that it would affect his social standards.
He’s a classic when it comes to music and revolution especially in pop. John has a talent for lyrics, he’s an artist in this and he masters this art very well, creating revolutionary and thought provoking lyrics.
This song needs little introduction. It has affected us all somehow, it could affect you too. It’s the kind of song where you need to read between the lines to fully get it. That’s the beauty of music and its lyrics, just like poetry you need to use your imagination to read it.
“No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…”
The lyrics represent peace, touching upon timeless factors that disturb humanity from peace, causing greed or hunger.
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”
The song ends this way; it is a very memorable and epic way to end such song. It is thought provoking, making us actually want to be dreamers due to his dwelling on the word “maybe” to start that stanza with. Then the way it ends with the idea of unity makes the song priceless.
Throughout the song Lennon is able to touch upon subjects that disrupt peace, and he turns them into solutions in the end. This is surely something that most politicians are unable to do!
“Give Peace a Chance”
This song was a song used by quite a few hippies of the 60s when protesting for peace, obviously because of the attractive yet straightforward lyrics it sent out.
“All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance”
I mean this chorus just sticks in your head after one or two listens of the song, and that’s already off to a good start. Not to mention that the song also touches on subjects that everyone who rallying up against war and conflict can easily relate to.
“Everybody’s talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism
Ragism, Tagism, this-ism, that-ism
Ism ism ism”
Well, it’s kind of obvious that “ism” is something that constantly pops up when we refer to a group of something- mostly a religion, belief or cult (or all of it). It is these things that separate us from each other, just as the song illustrates.
This isn’t the only stuff that the song shows which is worth being dissected… but every stanza of the song comes up with different branches of peace and conflict that are addressed simply in the chorus as WE ALL WANT PEACE- SO GIVE IT A CHANCE!
Nirvana/ Kurt Cobain
Huge influential band from the 90s, in this case the big lyricist is Kurt Cobain. His lyrics are slightly grungy in some sense, quite punk and sometimes can be described as ‘metaphorically grotesque’. However they focus on issues that relate to people such as suicide and identity. These lyrics did give identity to a big part of a generation of youths in the 90s.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
This song is overrated, and I can tell you that as a Nirvana fanatic. Kurt Cobain even hated it at some point because that was all most people wanted him to play. It was the anthem for teenage rebellion, due to its instrumentals that sounded pretty cool and it also its straightforward lyrics.
“She’s over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word”
This speaks of a teenage girl being self -assured, but it is not only this perfect depiction that is shown within the song that makes the lyrics so great. It is also the “I know a dirty word” part because it still has that edge of immaturity in a subtle manner, just like any teenager out there.
“I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed”
Quite a contradictory line- I’m worse at what I do best. However it shows how teenagers are (a lot of teenagers at least). It shows their confusion but still certainty of it.
This song depicts that behavior very well, Kurt Cobain has those subtle rebellious lyrics that have some kind of humor coated lightly, making them more interesting and intensifying.
“Come as you are”
Yet another typical Nirvana song (at least for the public). It is quite melancholic in its nature with dark riffs and lyrics that are filled with honesty and even some love. They basically tell you to come as you are because it doesn’t matter, you just gotta be nice.
The song has references to religion, which is allegorically great! It is one of those songs that can be very special to some people; it has scenarios and ways of life that people can relate to.
“And I swear that I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun”
Something as typical as having a gun is used clearly to symbolize violence and trust. This relationship between these two things is shown throughout this song beautifully.
“Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a trend
As an old enemy”
The song takes that attitude of peace within realism, noticing that those that may come could be anything like enemies, friends or just some trend. It is this realistic feel that the song has within its mellow lyrics that plays the subject of trust and self-acceptance off very well.
The Doors/ Jim Morrison
I’ve grown to really love Jim Morrison for his poetry, but it is his song lyrics when he was in the doors that made me fall in love with him. There is a certain freedom that Jim Morrison sets you into within his lyrics, of course the instrumentals, especially the keyboard (Ray Manzarek) cause you to dive into that psychedelic feeling of freedom, but Morrison’s lyrics have always been a big part of it.
Primarily one of the best songs ever (Quite a biased statement from me), because it is so artistically put together to show the feeling of anger and loss
“Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free
Desperately in need, of some, stranger’s hand
In a, desperate land”
He is using the freedom that both lovers in the song once felt between each other to show their freedom now without each other as they dive into somebody else’s world searching for the affection they lost a while ago. Morrison uses this so well by actually making us picture that loss in the first line.
“This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end”
This song speaks for itself- it is practically a beautifully composed poem in form of lyrics. He uses the word ‘end’ many times to show the feelings that the protagonist is undergoing… making it more affective on a personal level because when you listen to the song you become that protagonist. It is the tragedy that lies within this beautifully composed poem/lyrics that makes it so important and therefore becomes a form of art.
“Riders on the storm”
Morrison can somehow make songs feel like a monologue and he is the actor composing it on stage in a one man show. We get those vibes even when reading the lyrics in our heads.
“Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah”
There’s stunning contrast depicted in this poem with the hitchhiker who is the protagonist of this song, turning from sweet into a killer. Then there’s the imagery of children playing, a constant battle of innocence with death is present here and it is played off so well.
“Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm”
I admire the rhyming between ‘alone’ and ‘bone’ that is shown here giving the song an isolated feeling. The title even has an isolated and mysterious feeling- Riders on the Storm, why would these riders go out on a storm? You really want to know who this killer/ hitchhiker is. It is these kind of lyrics in a song that can keep us thrilled at times.
These are a few talented lyricists that we have come to know, their work is admirable and a pleasant joy to sing along to. What other lyricists would go on your list? Do you agree with this list or no?