More examples of a specific type of metaphorical 'pun' in song lyrics?
June 22, 2013 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I really like metaphors and I really like song lyrics. Every once in a while I run across a particular type of cleverly extended metaphor in a song lyric. I'm trying to develop this idea a bit and looking for more examples of this particular thing. I've included some explanatory examples I've found.

Three examples:
Firewater's song '6:45 (so this is how it feels)' includes the line "The band's on fire / it's a pyre / and the bodies are burning." I really like how the metaphor of a 'band being a fire' is extended on both sides of the equation. That is, on one side, the band is really good (hot, on fire) and the audience is dancing (or really into it, metaphorical proximity of catching their 'fire'). On the other side the band is the wood of a fire, in the formation of pyre (raised on a round stage) and the audience is all the closely surrounding kindling, catching fire as well.

Another song, Chuck Prophet's 'Pin a Rose on Me' does a similar thing, but requires some context. He's singing about someone he wishes he could be with but she's in a relationship with someone else; he sees danger signs in their relationship but she is oblivious to those things (hence, 'pin a rose on me' for being so clever to no real benefit). Two lines in the song do this same extended metaphorical pun thing (actually many more lines of this song do, and they relate to each other, but in the interest of getting to the point here...):

"You saw a light, I saw a freight train coming."
In this line, he's saying that she sees goodness but he sees the inevitable crash. At the same time he's saying that she's blinded by the light at the front of the train but from his vantage point he sees the entire train heading toward her.

"You heard the bells, I heard a hammer falling."
In this line, he's saying that she hears music of (possibly wedding) bells, but he hears (again) the objects crashing into each other. At the same time he's saying that while she hears the bell's chime, he hears the part that came just before (the action of the hammer striking the bell).

What these lines all have in common is that there is parallelism between the relationships of the objects in the metaphor's source domain (e.g., the parts of a fire, or parts of a train, or parts of bells) and the relationships of the objects in the target domain — the elements of a performance (band, audience, stage, etc.), of a relationship/life, of a promise of the future. You could also make a case that the mapping is illustrated so well that the definition of which is source material (the thing used to describe some experience) and which is target (the thing being described) could conceivably swap places.

I'd love to know more examples of these in song. They're really clever and please me to no end.
posted by iamkimiam to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I don't have time to pull examples but Elvis Costello is famous for double-meanings, puns, turning cliches upside down, wordplay ("Kid About It" comes to mind). Great songwriter, too! Start with the classics, My Aim is True, This Year's Model and Imperial Bedroom.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need country music. Lots of country music. (Which is where Elvis Costello learned his excellent ability for wordplay, by the way.)

Here's just a few classics of extended metaphor:
Merle Haggard -- Old Flames (Can't Hold A Candle To You)
George Jones -- The Race is On
Randy Travis - On the Other Hand

but the trope (extended/literalized metaphor) itself is pervasive in country. There are hundreds of major examples.
posted by spitbull at 2:57 PM on June 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Foetus - and if you like Firewater you will probably like Foetus.

From I'll See You In Poland, Baby (a song from the perspective of Hitler):
I gave you a lot of slack - but all I get from you is flak
Flak is, of course, in the metaphorical and literal sense.

From Lust for Death (sung from the perspective of someone who's fixin' to die):
Put me out of my misery / I'm dying to get away from it all
The death in this case is both metaphorical and literal.

From Street of Shame:
I'm watching my life swirl down the drain / and I feel about as Abel as Cain

I feel like OK Go must have some examples of this but I'm not finding any right now.
posted by rednikki at 3:38 PM on June 22, 2013

Seconding thinkpiece: Elvis Costello is your man. Entire albums are built on ridiculously clever and self indulgent wordplay. My favourite line? 'Riot Act' from Get happy:
'Don't put your heart out on your sleeve, when your remarks are off the cuff'.

To be fair, sometimes his wordplay veers into clever-for-clever's sake territory, but modt of it, particularly on say his first 4 or 5 albums is just spot on.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:42 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like some Magnetic Fields lyrics must illustrate this, but the closest example I can think of is from "Long Vermont Roads":
Your eyes are the Mesa Verde
Big and brown and far away

It's not quite a pun, but it's an extended metaphor and also a comic triple, where two aspects of the source establish an obvious pattern that the third breaks to tell you something different about the target. That seems pretty close.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lyrics by Squeeze - penned by Chris Difford - are filled with metaphors, double entendres, and puns. Here are just a few:
From the song If I Didn't Love You:
Singles remind me of kisses
Albums remind me of plans

From Another Nail in my Heart:
So here in the bar, the piano man's found another nail for my heart
In the song Tempted, I've always wondered about the line, past the church and the steeple, the laundry on the hill, is he calling the church a kind of laundry or does he mean a literal laundromat? Then there's this line:
Your body gets much closer, I fumble for the clock
Alarmed by the seduction, I wish that it would stop

Does he mean the seduction or the clock?
posted by kbar1 at 4:23 PM on June 22, 2013

Elvis Costello: Green Shirt:

Somewhere in the Quisling Clinic there's a short-term typist taking seconds over minutes. She's listening in to the Venus Line, she's picking out names, I hope none of them are mine.

Oliver's Army in its entirety.
posted by effluvia at 4:44 PM on June 22, 2013

Best answer: The sequence you're describing is "A1 is like B1, and A2 is B2, (oh, and maybe A3 is B3)". The mention of Magnetic Fields reminded me of one of my favorites by them, where it's presented more like "Here's A1, and A2, and A3. Now, look at B." Epitaph for My Heart:
"Caution (caution, caution): to prevent electric shock
do not (do not, do not) remove cover
No user-serviceable parts insde
Refer servicing to qualified
service personnel"
Let this be the epitaph for my heart ...
I've enjoyed savoring all the parallels there, explicit and implied.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:45 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trashcan Sinatra's Cake is chock full of tremendous wordplay.
posted by parki at 6:14 PM on June 22, 2013

In the Sean Hayes* song Bam Bam, I love the line "Pivot and swing you're hypnotizing" for the play between "Pivot and swing your hips" and "you're hypnotizing".

* This Sean Hayes, not this one.
posted by Lexica at 7:45 PM on June 22, 2013

For some reason this makes me think of the Sisters of Mercy's "Dominion/Mother Russia":

And the fifty-two daughters of the Revolution
Turn the gold to chrome.
Gift, nothing to lose,
Stuck inside of Memphis with the mobile home...

(That last line being an inverted reference to Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again".)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:34 PM on June 22, 2013

They may not be exactly what you're looking for, but your question makes me think of St. Vincent's "Paris Is Burning" and Madeleine Peyroux's "You Can't Do Me." Maybe take a listen?
posted by mlle valentine at 10:22 PM on June 22, 2013

"Our Life is not a Movie or Maybe" - Okkervil River

"The Flowers" - Regina Spektor
posted by John Cohen at 11:44 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: More Elvis C:
She said that she was working for the ABC news
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use

And if you've seen enough Elvis, how about Lloyd Cole:

It took a lost weekend in a hotel in amsterdam
And double pneumonia in a single room
And the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now may I please laugh along with you
(from Lost Weekend)
posted by Prof Iterole at 11:55 PM on June 22, 2013

Best answer: Another candidate: "Dear Stephen Hawking" by Allo, Darlin'. It starts ...
Dear Stephen Hawking would you invent
A machine that would make me out of size
That I would crawl down beside your ears
And go swimming deep inside your mind
I would hover on the edge of physics
And see the universe from your eyes
The last two lines are both complex double entendres based on the narrative and on implied metaphors such as knowledge is seeing, knowledge has limits / edges, and physical reality has an edge. The singer is inside Stephen Hawking's brain (at the edge of physics as a discipline) and also shrunk down to some Planck length scale (at the edge of what can physically happen). And from there she's seeing aspects of the universe that Hawking studies but also seeing them from inside where he 'sees' those things too.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:25 AM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: Er, I suspect the lyrics site I consulted has that wrong, and it's "atom size."
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:32 AM on June 23, 2013

"The bottle is waiting
the cap is twisted
begging to be used
and so are you"

Dashboard Confessional, This Bitter Pill
posted by Flamingo at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2013

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