We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death..
December 18, 2008 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I rarely pay attention to lyrics in a song - when I do, it's usually because of strong imagery or a really twisted message. I'd love to find songs now based on lyric recommendations - what are your favorites? Powerful, or hidden, or just especially memorable. And not limited to any particular genre nor subject, either. I just want songs that will make me pause and think over what I heard, rather than go "Ahh, pretty sounds!"
posted by Bakuun to Media & Arts (78 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
May not be your style, based on the title of your post, but I've always found Don McLean's "Vincent" to be especially powerful, in a small and human sort of way.
posted by zap rowsdower at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thom Yorke's "The Eraser" might do it for you.
posted by Diskeater at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2008

Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall's got you in the strong imagery department.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2008

I find Richard Thompson can serve up at least one brilliant image and/or striking metaphor per song.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2008

joan - butch walker

youtube - joan

Joan moved away to Colorado
Said she found God and a boyfriend as well.
One that won't hit her or make her feel shallow
There's a lot to learn about Joan

Before I moved in Joan had a fling with the landlord
So she got to stay here for free
And I'm not a genius but I figured out
There's a lot to learn from Joan

And after all this time, you were waiting on the ride
To stop at the place where they slowly misplaced your life...
Go get it right

I went to the closet to get dressed for work
When I spotted a box I had not seen before
With all kinds of letters that never got sent to a guy in Colorado since 1994
And I know it's wrong
But I sat and opened in no certain order
A letter or two she talked about blisters and bruises of anger
And she bought a handgun to learn how to shoot
And the last letter said that she had to get out
But I couldn't make out the rest of the note
From the blood stains all over the page of the letters
There's a lot to learn
And there's a lot I learned about Joan

And after all this time, you were waiting on the ride
To stop at the place where you slowly misplaced your life
Oh and after all this time, you were waiting on the ride
To stop at the place where they slowly misplaced your life...
Go get it right
Go get it right
Go get it right
Go get it right


one of the most powerful songs i have ever heard.

another good one from butch:
Cigarette Lighter Love Song - Butch Walker
awesome youtube version of song (better than the original marvelous 3 version)

have a list of some other good ones at home. will post em tonight
posted by knockoutking at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2008

Me too! At least I used to. For the longest time I wouldn't even notice if a song had lyrics or if they were in another language. I got over that a couple years ago, but I still have two branches of music - instrumental and lyrical.

My suggestion is to find a band or a couple albums you enjoy singing along with, and take them on a road trip. For me that band was Moxy Fruvous. I also highly recommend Great Big Sea and Jonathan Coulton.
posted by valadil at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Arab Strap
posted by fire&wings at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2008

Also, if you're into twisted, the Tiger Lillies have you covered.

And seconding valadil's Jonathan Coulton and Moxy Fruvous recommendations.
posted by averyoldworld at 8:54 AM on December 18, 2008

One lyric that always jumps right out at me is the opening to Big Star's "O, Dana": "I'd rather shoot a woman than a man." "What's Goin Ahn" is pretty memorable, too.

Neutral Milk Hotel has great lyrics, even if they don't make a lot of sense. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the best album to get, but "Song Against Sex" from the previous album also has fantastic lyrics.

Guided by Voices is great for unlikely anthems. You wouldn't think "buzzards and dreadful crows/a necessary evil, I suppose" would make for a catchy chorus, but it does.

They Might Be Giants have a lot of great lyrics, which are frequently a lot darker than the accompanying music. Lincoln is a good album to check out.

For sheer depressing power, it's hard to beat Pink Floyd--check out "Wish You Were Here" and "Mother".
posted by equalpants at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon are two of my favorite writers of great lyrics (the latter both in his Simon & Garfunkel days and in his solo work). I could cite numerous examples, but I'll limit myself to one apiece for illustrative purposes: Springsteen's Thunder Road and Simon's Graceland.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:57 AM on December 18, 2008

As I look over this beautiful land,
I can't help but realize that I am alone.
Why am I able to waste my energy?
To notice life being so beautiful?
What of the people who don't have what I ain't got?
Are they victims of my leisure?
To fail is to be a victim,
To be a victim of my choice.
Maybe partying will help.

posted by Joe Beese at 9:09 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Handsome Family's lyrics are like tiny little Flannery O'Connor stories, funny and creepy. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's lyrics are grim, absurd, and poetic. Warren Zevon's lyrics can often be bleak, vulgar and often very, very funny.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:11 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Almost anything by Elvis Costello has killer lyrics. The entire "Armed Forces" album has some great words, and neat lyrical tricks.

Two favs:
"If it wasn't for some acci-- accidents, then some would never, ever learn." - Chemistry Class

"There's so many people to see
So many people you can check up on
And add to your collection
But they keep you hanging on
Until you're well hung" - Accidents Will Happen
posted by SansPoint at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2008

TV on the Radio. I really like the lyrics to Wolf Like Me.
posted by god particle at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2008

Bob Dylan is at his best when he's snarking over a breakup:
"You just kinda wasted my precious time."
"you know as well as me you'd rather see me paralyzed."

Also, everything by Dar Williams.
posted by emd3737 at 9:19 AM on December 18, 2008

equalpants is my hero of the day. Neutral Milk Hotel has amazing lyrics. Song Against Sex is one of my favorites, along with Two-Headed Boy, Two-Headed Boy part 2, and Holland, 1945. Actually, MeFite Scram wrote a book about them. Guided by Voices has lots of good lyrics, but so many songs that I'm not going to try to pick some. Ditto TMBG.

But rather than just squeeing about what other people are saying, I'll add the Weakerthans, Rilo Kiley, and Bright Eyes to the pile.
posted by averyoldworld at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you want an interesting read -- at the bookstore or at your coffee table -- I've always enjoyed a flip through the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics book. It turns out their songs are packed with clever Biblical, historical, and cultural references. Some of it is just plain poetry by Robert Hunter, who's done work on his own, too.

nthing Moxy Fruvous, and if you want another batch of sometimes-touching-often-funny, Eddie From Ohio. Also, Chris Trapper who used to write/sing for the PushStars (can never quite remember/figure out if they like spaces or not in their name).
posted by knile at 9:21 AM on December 18, 2008

Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse writes great, often subversive lyrics. So does Maynard James Keenan of Tool.
posted by Roach at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2008

Agreeing with what others have suggested. I really like and listen to lyrics personally. Mountain Goats are my personal favorites for consistently interesting storysongs. A few more.

- Gil Scott Heron is pretty well known for his lyrics: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
- Gram Parsons tells some good stories: $1000 Wedding
- I like the imagery of Husker Du from New Day Rising: Celebrated Summer, Books About UFOs
posted by jessamyn at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2008

Iron & Wine has some great lyrics, and I've recently been very interested in the lyrics of the songs on his latest album - The Shepherd's Dog. Specifically, Innocent Bones, and especially Resurrection Fern.

Innocent Bones:
"Cain bought a blade from some witch at the window
Abel bought a bag of weed
And even the last of the brown-eyed babies see
That the cartoon king has a tattoo of a bleeding heart
There ain’t a penthouse Christian wants the pain of the scab, but they all want the scar
How every mouth sings of what it’s without so we all sing of love
And how it ain’t one dog who’s good at fucking and denying who he’s thinking of"

Resurrection Fern, which I've been unravelling as an aching wound of a song about loss:
"When Sister Lowery says, "Amen"
We won't hear anything:
The ten-car trains will take that word
That fledgling bird

And the fallen house across the way
It'll keep everything:
The baby's breath
Our bravery wasted and our shame

And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire
Both our tender bellies wound in baling wire
All the more a pair of underwater pearls
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern"

Also, both songs are real purty.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2008

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is one of the best lyricists writing today.

You'll also want to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel, John Vanderslice, and Leonard Cohen.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:32 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not everyone can get into the sound, but it's hard to deny that Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes is a great lyricist.

Joanna Newsom.
Jolie Holland.
nth the Mountain Goats.
posted by prior at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2008

Several artists on this track with fantastic lyrics pounding out over what sounds like a thunderstorm in the desert, but my favorite lines are probably the final ones on the song. This is a remix that lightens it somewhat.

"Entrenched in this wickedness, nestled in god's fury as he combats the wicked, the serpentine styles. Causing a paradigm shift for the subservient who reconfigure their priorities and moral code response to the lightning rate of technological advancement and sensory overload, followed by central nervous system failure. Nations fold as quick as the gold standard.

The accelerated dissemination of misinformation leads this virtual generation closer to the edge of distinction, blinded by their own perception. Patterns and signs are pushed aside, widening the great divide...where emotions and rationale collide the cleverly disguised remain hidden. Until after nuclear winter has risen - picture a planet cloaked in ash and cinder forever. Total eclipse - rotating caskets - blown off it's axis...(etc)"
posted by cashman at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2008

I've been getting a big kick out of the lyrics on Frightened Rabbit's album, The Midnight Organ Fight. For starters, check out The Modern Leper, Head Rolls Off, and Keep Yourself Warm (lyrics very NSFW).

For more, um, "high brow" fare, I second Leonard Cohen.
posted by lovermont at 9:43 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whenever Eno's The Fat Lady of Limbourg is playing, this verse always pops me out of whatever else I may be concentrating on. I don't have a clue what it means but the imagery is very vivid for some reason. Also, I love the way Eno puts the meter of the rhyme into the songs in such a tasty way.

The Fat Lady of Limbourg
Looked at the samples that we sent
And furrowed her brow.
You would never believe that
She'd tasted royalty and fame
If you saw her now.
But her sense of taste is such that she'll distinguish with her tongue
The subtleties a spectrograph would miss,
And announce her decision,
While demanding her reward:
The jellyfish kiss.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:43 AM on December 18, 2008

I'm dismal at picking up on lyrics myself, but occasionally I get around to figuring out what a song is saying, and a couple of great ones come immediately to mind:

VNV Nation - Airships (lyrics (with typos) / YouTube fan-vid) - actually, VNV have tons of great lyrics, e.g.: Fearless - Homeward - Nemesis - Testament

And there's the Trashcan Sinatras (Country Air), and the Magnetic Fields (Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin), and 10,000 Maniacs (The Big Parade), and... and...

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's The Owls' "Air"
posted by dilettanti at 9:46 AM on December 18, 2008

A few I've always liked:

Don Henley - The more I know, the less I understand (Heart of the Matter)

Sting - Men go crazy in congregations they only get better one by one.(All This Time)

Bob Seger - Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then. (Against the Wind)
posted by Bonzai at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2008

Response by poster: Fantastic! I'm getting goosebumps reading a lot of these, so the suggestions are very much appreciated. If you can, keep 'em coming!
posted by Bakuun at 9:53 AM on December 18, 2008

Chris Smither always writes lyrics that I wish I had written.

For example:

Winsome Smile

Stop thinking now
Quit second-guessing all your failed relations
With your would've, could've, should've, maybe might-have-been
I'll show you how
Send your feelings out for lubrication
Lose these blues and screw your head on tight again
She cut you bad, your heart is just a scar
But if you could just get mad, you'd be better off by far
What you want is taken
What you need is better circulation
Work that heavy heart and get it light again.

Listen to me now
You suffer from a sad misapprehension
That if she could read your mind she'd see just how it ought to be
But she's read it all by now
And your style don't get a grip on her attention
She ain't in your state of mind and she don't want to be
You think if she'd just talk, you could explain it all
She'd be polite, but all night she's been hoping you won't call
She'll it's all her fault, she'll always be your friend
Plus loads of shit too dumb to mention
I've been that road and it's paved with good intentions.

Well it's hard to believe
But I'm telling you your heart would soon recover
But you don't want it to, you love this aching agony
'Cause it's noble, and it's true
You won't forsake this pain for other lovers
Happiness would fill your mind with misery
Time will wound all heels, and it ain't pretty
With any luck at all, she'll find some dope that you can pity
Your loss is measured in illusions
And your gain is all in bittersweet intelligence
And your winsome smile will lose some of its innocence
Your winsome smile
Your winsome smile will lose some of its innocence.

More Chris Smither
posted by tdismukes at 10:03 AM on December 18, 2008

Also, if you like songs that tell a story, I have to second emd3737's recommendation of Dar Williams.

Ani DiFranco knows how to pack a lot of emotion in just a few sharp lines:

"I opened the fire door, to four lips, none of which were mine, kissing.
And I tightened my belt around my waist where your hands were missing."

Dan Bern just has fun with lyrics:

The day that Elvis died was like a mercy killing
America breathed a sigh of relief
We knew all about the drugs and the Vegas shows
And there wasn't much of anything that looked like grief

And I guess he shoulda done like James Dean did
'Stead of putting on weight and sinking down, down, down
Easier to take if he had just skidded straight
To souvenir city and T-shirt town

And sometimes I wish I was smarter that I am
But I'm on my 3rd city
And I'm on my 4th car
And I'm on my 5th apartment
And so many of my days have sprung

And now it's too late to crash
Too late to burn
Too late to die young

posted by tdismukes at 10:23 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said be careful, his bow tie is really a camera

--Simon & Garfunkel, "America"

Damn, I love that song.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Not particularly twisted I suppose, but I always been a fan of John K Sampson's way with words for The Weakerthans.

For example, from Pamphleteer, the lines of

How I don't know what I should do with my hands when I talk to you.
How you don't know where you should look, so you look at my hands.
How movements rise and then dissolve, melted by our shallow breath.
How causes dance away from me.
I am your pamphleteer.

And the following "I walk this room in time to the beat of the Gestetner,
contemplate my next communique." is still one of my top favorite lyrics because of the use of "Gestetner". I don't know, that always made me giddily kick my heels because I'd get all happy in a weird way to hear it used so poetically.

And from "My Favorite Chords," the block of lyrics that always got me was this. Especially the first half. The part about the smallest bones in your feet and inner ear was just so right:

Hey I found the safest place to keep all our tenderness.
Keep all those bad ideas. Keep all our hope.
It's here in the smallest bones, the feet and the inner-ear.
It's such an enormous thing to walk and to listen.
I'd like to fall asleep to the beat of you breathing
in a room near a truckstop on a highway somewhere.
You are a radio. You are an open door.
I am a faulty string of blue christmas lights.
You swim through frequencies.
You let that stranger in, as I'm blinking off and on and off again.

posted by kkokkodalk at 10:25 AM on December 18, 2008

kkokkodalk beat me to my recommendation. In fact, it was the "smallest bones" line that made me stop what I was doing and really pay attention. "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue" convinced me I needed to buy some albums, and "(Hospital Vespers)" still gives me chills, even though it's only 2 verses:

Doctors play your dosage like a card trick
Scrabbled down the hallways yelling "Yatzee"
I brought books on Harper in the Arctic
Something called "The Politics of Lonely"
A toothbrush and Quick Pick with a plus
You tried not to roll your sunken eyes

And said "Hey can you help me? I can't reach it"
Pointed to the camera in the ceiling
I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn't see
Turned to find you out of bed and kneeling
Before the nurses came took you away
I stood there on a chair and watched you pray.
posted by natabat at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2008

The entire Murder Ballads CD by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
Where The Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue
posted by geekyguy at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2008

Seconding Sting (for some Police stuff and early-to-mid solo work); the guy managed to invoke Nabokov in a pop song, after all. A lesser-known track from Synchronicity called "Murder By Numbers" is deliciously creepy, and "I Burn For You," something he did for a little-known English movie called Brimstone And Treacle, has wonderfully erotic lyrics.

Also seconding Tom Waits, about which I will only say "take almost all the lyrics from his album Rain Dogs and insert here." A few gems that have stood out for me:

"Uncle Vernon, independant as a hog on ice..." ("Cemetery Polka")

"Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair,
Deal out jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs,
You'll tell me all your secrets, but I'll lie about my past,
And you'll send me off to bed forever more..." ("Tango Till They're Sore")

"Brought a second hand Nova from a Cuban Chinese
Dyed his hair in the bathroom of Texaco
With a pawnshop radio, quarter past 4
Well, he left Waukegan at the slammin' of the door,
He left Waukegan at the slammin' of the door..." ("Gun Street Girl")

And a song from his album "Bone Machine", called "I Don't Want To Grow Up," is a delightfully fun-sounding little song until you hear the lyrics:

Well when I see my parents fight
I don't wanna grow up
They all go out and drink all night
And I don't wanna grow up
I'd rather stay here in my room
Nothin' out there but sad and gloom
I don't wanna live in a big old tomb on Grand Street

When I see the 5 o'clock news
I don't wanna grow up
Comb their hair and shine their shoes
I don't wanna grow up
Stay around in my old hometown
I don't wanna put no money down
I don't wanna get me a big old loan
Work them fingers to the bone
I don't wanna float a broom
Fall in love and get married then boom
How the hell did I get here so soon
I don't wanna grow up

Peter Gabriel's also got some good stuff -- the best example I've got offhand is his song "Fourteen Black Paintings" -- the lyrics, in their entirety, are:

From the pain
Comes the dream

From the dream
Comes the vision

From the vision
Come the people

From the people
Comes the power

From this power
Comes the change.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2008

Another nod for Richard Thompson. His album Mock Tudor has some great songs.

Bruce Cockburn's lyrics really speak to me, and these are a few of my favorites:
- Southland Of The Heart on Dart To The Heart
- Pacing The Cage from The Charity of Night
- Mighty Trucks Of Midnight on Nothing But A Burning Light

I recently got into Lucinda Williams album World Without Tears and absolutely love the title track.
posted by hoppytoad at 11:02 AM on December 18, 2008

Man, I love the Mountain Goats. Other musicians with intelligent lyrics: The Decemberists (epic, epic stuff), Josh Ritter, and Laura Veirs.
posted by fantine at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2008

Try American Music Club and solo Mark Eitzel
posted by porn in the woods at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2008

Like every other right-thinking person, I recommend the Mountain Goats for this. My favorite song of theirs is The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, which I find by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and furious:

The best-ever death metal band out of Denton
was a couple of guys, who'd been friends since grade school.
One was named Cyrus, and the other was Jeff,
and they practiced twice a week in Jeff's bedroom.

The best-ever death metal band out of Denton
never settled on a name.
But the top three contenders, after weeks of debate,
were Satan's Fingers, and The Killers, and The Hospital Bombers.

Jeff and Cyrus believed in their hearts they were headed
for stage lights and Lear jets, and fortune and fame,
so in script that made prominent use of a pentagram,
they stenciled their drumheads and guitars with their names.

And this was how Cyrus got sent to the school
where they told him he'd never be famous.
And this was why Jeff,
in the letters he'd write to his friend,
helped develop a plan to get even.

When you punish a person for dreaming his dream,
don't expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best-ever death metal band out of Denton
will, in time, both outpace and outlive you.

Hail Satan! Hail Satan tonight! Hail Satan! Hail, hail!

(Spinning off of that: John Darnielle's book Master of Reality tells essentially the same story in epistolary novella form, using a Black Sabbath tape at the catalyst rather than Jeff and Cyrus's band.)
posted by Greg Nog at 11:26 AM on December 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, for your post-graduate lyrical studies, try anything by Kristen Hersh.
posted by elendil71 at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, I knew I'd think of more.

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album is another "take all the lyrics and insert here" album for me. I'm especially taken with a line from his song "Sweet Thing":

"I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry
'Hey, it's me, I'm dynamite and I don't know why'...."

...Which just seems to evoke that kind of wild, eager freedom you find in teenagers going out for a drive on summer nights. Speaking of teenagers -- REM's song "Nightswimming" is a sweetly nostalgic song about an older guy looking back at a night spent skinny dipping with friends.

I'd also try paying attention to songs that you wouldn't think would have profound lyrics, because you may be surprised. One of the more surreal lyrics I've ever heard is in the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive," of all things:

"We can't try to understand
The New York Times' effect on man."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2008

This may seem like a strange list but here it goes.

Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar

Song to the Siren by Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley's dad.

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning by The Smashing Pumpkins

Ball of Confusion by the Temptaions

Rev. 22:20 by Puscifer, one of Maynard's side projects

The Line by BRMC

Abraham, Martin, and John by Dion

The Noose by A Perfect Circle

Lateralus Tool

The Flesh Failures from Hair

Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drum by A Perfect Circle
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:37 AM on December 18, 2008

A friend got me into Psapp a while back. Just minimize that video while you listen, though.

Counted ten on one hand today
My fingers get in the way
I get all tired out

posted by jinjo at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2008

Thirding The Weakerthans and especially My Favourite Chords, which I was about to recommend. Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist (this version sounds off-key to me, but) is a totally different lyrical beast but they stand out too ("let's plant a bomb at city hall, let's kill and immolate...or talk the night away - you call in sick, i'll quit the word games that I play").

Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman contains an entire world in three verses.

M. Ward, with To Go Home, Vincent O'Brien and Poison Cup ("a sip or a spoonful won't do, i want it all") as openers.

R.E.M. - So. Central Rain and (Don't Go Back To) Rockville ("at night i drink myself to sleep and pretend i don't care that you're not here with me, 'cause it's so much easier to handle all my problems if i'm too far out to sea"), for starters.

I have the opposite problem, nearly, so I could list forever. Apparently a bit heavy on the melancholy and a lot of drinking-'cause-I'm-sad songs for a 0% kind of girl.
posted by carbide at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2008

Elton John -- The Greatest Discovery and Daniel

Pink Floyd --- All of Darkside of the Moon (including "The Great Gig...")
posted by Justin Case at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2008

The Tragically Hip have the best lyrics ever. The song "Nautical Disaster" is particularly awesome.
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (scroll down a bit for lyrics). Lyrics by Woody Guthrie. It's been performed by many different artists, so you can take your pick. May not be as high on the "evocative imagery" or "clever turn of phrase" scales as some of the recommendations here, but makes up for it on the "powerful" criterion.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:04 PM on December 18, 2008

Ahhh inconsequentalist, my first 2 thoughts were Lateralus and the Noose...

A couple of others (on the opposite end of the rock/pop continuum):
Death Cab for Cutie - We Looked Like Giants
Jason Mraz - Sleeping To Dream

posted by theDrizzle at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2008

Do You Realize- The Flaming Lips

Shows that a song can be simple, but extremely complex and deep.

"Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize - Oh - Oh - Oh
Do You Realize - that everyone you know
Someday will die -

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize"
posted by bradly at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I second Arab Strap and Nick Cave.

Also, I don't listen to Tool much but I really love the lyrics to "Reflection." Very beautiful imagery. Ad-heavy lyrics site warning for this one though.

The rest are youtube video links:

Stephen Malkmus

Lovage - Video not related but song is good.


and finally, these two bands don't usually sing in English but I found that I became more interested in the sounds of the words and then finding what they say because of it.

Kaizer's Orchestra


About a million more, but alas not today....
posted by occidental at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2008

Billy Bragg.

"The Short Answer"
Between 'Marx' and 'marzipan' in the dictionary
There was Mary

"Little Time Bomb"
Well if there are no winners
Then what is this he thinks
As he watches her complete a lap of honour
And he sits in the stands with his head in his hands
And he thinks of all the things
He'd like to bring down upon her

"Strange Things Happen"
Our love is so strong
It moves objects in my house

"The Price I Pay"
My friend said she could see no way ahead
And I was probably better off without you
She said to face up to the fact that you weren't coming back
And she could make me happy like you used to
But I'm sorry to say I turned her away
Knowing everything she said was true
And that's the price I pay for loving you the way that I do

In "Tank Park Salute," his tribute to his deceased father, he sings "You were so tall/How could you fall?" which captures a big part of what it's like to lose your dad.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:22 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Joanna Newsom (everything on Ys)
Magnetic Fields - "The Nun's Litany"
posted by naju at 1:27 PM on December 18, 2008

Faith No More have brilliant lyrics, especially on Angel Dust. Here's one song:

Backside melts into a sofa
My world, my TV, and my food
Besides listening to my belly gurgle
Ain't much else to do
Yeah, I sweat a lot
Pants fall down every time I bend over
And my feet itch
Yeah-I married a scarecrow
I hate you
Talking to myself
Everibody's starin' at me
I'm only bleedin'
Someone taps me on the shoulder every 5 minutes
Nobody speaks English anymore
Would anybody tell me I was gettin' stupider?
I hate you
Talking to myself
You don't feel it after awhile
You take the beating
I'm a swingin' guy
Throw a belt over the shower curtain rod
And swing - - -
Toss me inside a Hefty
And put me in the ground
A drink needs me
I don't
I ain't about to guzzle no tears
so kiss my ass
newscasters, coakroaches, and desserts
I hate you
Talkin' to myself
Everibody's starin' at me
I'm only bleedin'
Where are the kids?
I think it's time I had a talk with my kids
I'll just tell 'em what my daddy told me

posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:51 PM on December 18, 2008

Elliott Smith for me. I love the ambiguity of the lyrics too. My SO and I often talk at length about the intention of a certain turn of phrase he has chosen to use, or an allegory he has created. Anything on the albums Figure 8 or From a Basement on the Hill in particular, comes with my highest recommendation.

Oh, Elliott... we will probably always miss you.
posted by lottie at 2:07 PM on December 18, 2008

Many, many Replacements lyrics. (Well, most records are hit and miss - "Gary's Got a Boner"? But the best ones are incredible.)

Here Comes a Regular
You're like a picture on a fridge that's never stocked with food
I used to live at home, now I stay at the house


Kneeling alongside old sad-eyes
He says, "Opportunity knocks once, then the door slams shut"
All I know is I'm sick of everything that my money can buy
The fool who wastes his life, God rest his guts

(Not to mention that the first and last verses just kill me.)

Swingin Party
If being wrong's a crime, I'm serving forever
If being strong's your kind, then I need help here with this feather
If being afraid is a crime, we hang side by side
At the swinging party down the line...

posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:12 PM on December 18, 2008

Here's a shout out for standard American tinpan alley, jazz, and show tunes. They are moody, sometimes depressingly romantic, etc. The music is often so perfectly wedded to the words. The following are parts of Porter's lyrics for "Got you under my skin". It tells about the ache for love that is dangerous, cannot continue, etc. The warning "comes in the night". And the "you" is the subject, not someone else. The singer is the fool. (Porter was gay.) Look under lyrics.astraweb.com

i've got you under my skin
I've got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me
I've got you under my skin
I'd sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear

Don't you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time i do, just the thought of you
Makes me stop before i begin
'cause i've got you under my skin
posted by yazi at 2:23 PM on December 18, 2008

Mostly on the fact of the songs making sense, they make more sense then they ought to. You just count on your subconscious making some sense. And I find after I've made a record that there's connections between songs I didn't even realize, from living with the songs for so long.
Andrew Bird, interview, sample.
A lot of stuff is me intentionally putting two things together that weren’t written with each other in mind, so it’s kind of awkward when they’re next to each other. But I liked that when I stared doing that. It’s cool because you don’t expect that. Like I said in the blog, a lot of the time you can finish the artists’ sentences. That’s obvious. That’s obvious. It’s always obvious. At times it can be great, but I didn’t want to make anything obvious. I wanted to surprise the listener.
—Lead singer of of Montreal Kevin Barnes, interview, sample

And I'd definitely vouch for Elliott Smith and the Mountain Goats.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 2:24 PM on December 18, 2008

Much of Ryan Montbleau's stuff, particularly songs from Patience on Friday.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2008

Leonard Cohen "Famous Blue Raincoat"

Bob Dylan, I'm really big on Highway 61 Revisited right now..
Curtis Mayfield Curtis, There's No Place Like America Today

do you listen to hip hop? not sure where I'd say to start, maybe Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt, Nas Illmatic
posted by citron at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2008

Bob Dylan's lyrics usually grab me, but specifically "Tangled Up in Blue." Also, "Jenny and the Ess Dog" by Stephen Malkmus.
posted by Frank Grimes at 4:15 PM on December 18, 2008

The lyrics to most Talking Heads songs are surreal and lovely. My absolute favorite is This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
posted by Viola at 4:36 PM on December 18, 2008

U2. 'Nuff said.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2008

John Prine:
Sam Stone
There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Souvenirs (with Steve Goodman)
All the snow has turned to water
Christmas days have come and gone
Broken toys and faded colors
Are all that's left to linger on
I hate graveyards and old pawn shops
For they always bring me tears
I can't forgive the way they rob me
Of my childhood souvenirs

Mexican Home
It got so hot, last night, I swear
You couldn't hardly breathe
Heat lightning burnt the sky like alcohol
I sat on the porch without my shoes
And I watched the cars roll by
As the headlights raced
To the corner of the kitchen wall.

and many, many, many more.
posted by qldaddy at 5:12 PM on December 18, 2008

Pefume Garden by the Chameleons (UK)

Disney Girls by the Beach Boys
posted by wittgenstein at 5:37 PM on December 18, 2008

Has no one mentioned Randy Newman? Dear heavens.

Or Public Enemy?!? I've long considered Chuck D to be the best lyricist of his entire generation.

Or Townes Van Zandt? Or Phil Ochs? Or Belle and Sebastian? Or Kool Keith? Or Pavement?

And for bitter, literate, sardonic lyrics, ya can't do better than my namesake band.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:03 PM on December 18, 2008

I'm embarrassed that I forgot to mention the Lucksmiths. You can't do much better with rhyme and narrative and such. Here's one of my favorite verses, including a great use of zeugma, from the song Great Lengths.

You kept me guessing and your distance
Were it not for my persistence
We would never have been lovers

You kept your distance and me guessing
Finally acquiescing
only after I’d discovered

You kept the things I sent you
The lengths I went to
Great lengths

posted by ludwig_van at 7:11 PM on December 18, 2008

The contrast in this line has always been memorable to me:

and don't be afraid of the language
I know you don't mean what you said
well, your tongue can get sharp
but it's soft in my mouth

Clem Snide - Don't Be Afraid of Your Anger (link to some guy on YouTube)
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 7:29 PM on December 18, 2008

I've always liked Frank Black for this. For example:

"How do you love me? Deeply, with your scalpel" (Hermaphroditos)

"Roll away the rock so I can get to my ascension" (Black Francis, Threshold Apprehension)
posted by dixie flatline at 9:00 PM on December 18, 2008

For years, Tori Amos has got me enthused trying decipher her multi-level lyrics that sound like gibberish on the surface, but are quite clever and/or quirky. She borrows a lot of imagery from mythology. If I wasn't so tired, I would throw a few examples your way, mainly because there's so many to choose from.

Agree on Nick Cave. Try "Red Right Hand".
posted by chronic sublime at 11:23 PM on December 18, 2008

I've always found Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard to be quite a masterful lyricist.

My favorite currently:

You Remind Me Of Home

You remind me of home: the paint cracks when the water leaks
from the rusty pipes that are just beneath my feet
You remind me of home: the heater's warm but fills the room with a
potpourri of dust and gas fumes

You remind me of home: a broken bed with dirty sheets that creaks
when I am shifting in my sleep
You remind me of home: in a suburban town with nothing to do,
patiently waiting for something to happen
But the foundation is crumbling and becoming one with the ground
while you lay there in slumber...
You're wasting your life

You remind me of home: sitting on a thrift store couch, I'm trying to
get this all down
posted by Defenestrator at 3:11 AM on December 19, 2008

Lucinda Williams
Gillian Welch
Tom Lehrer!
Kris Parker, aka KRS-ONE
Neko Case (check out "Deep Red Bells," eg)
Fats Waller is an underappreciated lyricist, also; jokey and pithy is just as great as poetic and deep
Hank Williams
Smokey Robinson
-- the last two being arguably the two greatest American songwriters ever (and personal faves of Mr. Robert Zimmerman, to boot!)
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:03 AM on December 19, 2008

If you're willing to move into hip hop, Aesop Rock has some very intricate lyrics.

"I've got her majesty Athena riding shotty wide-eyed"
posted by dixie flatline at 5:36 AM on December 19, 2008

Was going to say The Mountain Goats, but that's covered. I'd also add Crooked Fingers.
posted by moof! at 5:39 PM on December 19, 2008

Darren Hayes! Especially "The Tension and the Spark", "This Delicate Thing We've Made", and any b-sides.
posted by divabat at 1:13 AM on December 20, 2008

Not every song by the Barenaked Ladies has brilliant, thought provoking, or emotionally weighty lyrics, but a lot of them do. Try Bank Job, Sell, Sell, Sell, Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hank, Thanks, That Was Fun, Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel, and War on Drugs.
posted by Caduceus at 12:53 AM on December 21, 2008

Piggybacking on caduceus -- and for more BNL, I'd add For You, which breaks my heart each and every time.

And also seconding Randy Newman, particularly from his album Good Old Boys -- you've heard "Louisiana 1927" ad infinitum, I'm sure. I'll put in a plug for "Naked Man", actually, which I now have pop into my head whenever I hear a news story about someone streaking or the like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on December 22, 2008

you have to listen to the decemberists.

nthing the weakerthans.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 12:18 PM on December 23, 2008

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