Lyrical double takes?
January 6, 2017 10:33 PM   Subscribe

What are some lyrics that are so good that the first time you heard them you kind of did a double take, or they stopped you in your tracks, because they're so good and also had an unexpected quality to them. (Don't get too hung up on the unexpected part but I think people know what I mean.)
posted by jitterbug perfume to Media & Arts (89 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fun For Me Moloko.
posted by jbenben at 10:42 PM on January 6, 2017


The second verse in this song totally did that to me!

Thumpers - Together Now
Are you coming back to me racing
With your arms outstretched like a fall?
Are you imagining when you see me?
Can I make you rush any more?
Take the back roads now, let me lead you
Take the by-roads 'til we're alone
That's what you want
That's what you've been needing
Just abandon, darling
And don't look back 'til you're home
posted by bleep at 10:51 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Like so many others, the first hearing of the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah was magical for me. And then so many other Cohen songs that it led me on to explore. But elsewhere, here are some lyrics (that combined with the vocal delivery, they don't necessarily stand on their own as poetry) made me put the track on repeat for a while:

Marbles
You knew you were lost as soon as you saw her, you saw your life as a series of complicated dance steps. Impossible to learn, they had to come naturally.
Paint The Moon
I saw you suffering, so I knelt down by your side. I saw that you were fading, that you were leaving your own mind. I gave you water, just to soothe your failing heart and take away the fear of what we both know we will find
Sleep All Summer
I would change for you, but baby, it doesn't mean I'm gonna be a better man.
A Song To Welcome The Onset Of Maturity
Cringing at a joke I told while drunk and 41 years old
I wonder if there's karma after all
But only for a second till I'm beckoned to a pattern
Then I doodled on the floor when I was small
And I don't know if I can go as far as where I used to go
Without a thought for my own safety or of yours
posted by Candleman at 10:54 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


2 specific instances made me marvel:

From "I'll never fall in love again"
What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia
After you do, he'll never phone ya

And from "My funny valentine"
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
posted by Prof Iterole at 11:00 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


--The final lines of "Love is Like a Bottle of Gin" by the Magnetic Fields had me like...whoa. (You've really got to hear it for full effect, though.)

It makes your words more flowery
It makes the sun shine, makes it rain
You just get what they put in
and they never put in enough
Love is like a bottle of gin
but a bottle of gin is not like love
posted by artisthatithaca at 11:16 PM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


Prince of Darkness By the Indigo Girls. These lyrics are so deeply moving to me.

I don't know when I noticed life was life at my expense
The words of my heart lined up like prisoners on a fence
The dreams came in like needy children tugging at my sleeve
I said I have no way of feeding you, so leave
But there was a time I asked my father for a dollar
And he gave it a ten dollar raise
And when I needed my mother and I called her
She stayed with me for days
Now someones on the telephone, desperate in his pain
Someones on the bathroom floor doing her cocaine
Someones got his finger on the button in some room
No one can convince me we aren't gluttons for our doom
But I tried to make this place my place
I asked for providence to smile upon me with his sweet face
Yeah but Ill tell you
My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
And I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark
My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
(By grace, my sight grows stronger)
And I do not feel the romance I will not be
(And I will not be a pawn for the prince of darkness any longer)

Maybe there's no haven in this world for tender age
My heart beat like the wings of wild birds in a cage
My greatest hope my greatest cause to grieve
And my heart flew from its cage and it bled upon my sleeve
Oh the cries of passion were like wounds that needed healing
I couldn't hear them for the thunder
I was half the naked distance between hell and heavens ceiling

And he almost pulled me under

Now someones on the telephone, desperate in his pain
Someones on the bathroom floor doing her cocaine
Someones got his finger on the button in some room
No one can convince me we aren't gluttons for our doom
But I tried to make this place my place
I asked for providence to smile upon me with his sweet face
But Ill tell you
My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
And I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark
My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
(By grace, my sight grows stronger)
And I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark
(Grows stronger)
By grace
(My place is of the sun)
My sight
(And this place is of the dark)
Is growing stronger
(I do not feel the romance)
I will not be a pawn
(I will not be)
For the prince of darkness any longer
posted by gt2 at 11:18 PM on January 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


Let Go by Frou Frou has gotten me through many a turbulent time. I love the idea that turbulence is beauty. I agree with Candleman that there's a lot in the delivery, though.

Drink up, baby doll
Mmm are you in or out?
Leave your things behind
'Cause it's all going off without you
Excuse me, too busy, writing a tragedy
These mishaps, you bubble wrap when
You've no idea what you're like

So let go (let go) and jump in
Oh well, whatcha waiting for?
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
So let go (yeah let go) and just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
posted by danceswithlight at 11:39 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan
When you're drunk at 3 a.m.
Knowing that the chances are
No matter what you'll never write like him
by Rodney Crowell.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:41 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Lately I've been crying like a
Tall child"
Mitski's lyric from First Love / Late Spring
posted by sweetjane at 11:42 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Silver Jews, "People"

Moments can be monuments to you
If your life is interesting and true
It's just the same for a man or a girl
The meaning of the world lies outside the world

People love people and they understand
If you wanna renovate your background mind
(A federal woman needs a municipal man)
People gotta synchronize to animal time

You can't change the feeling
But you can change your feelings about the feeling in a second or two
People always come around

I'm studying the ceiling on a little afternoon
And when I paint my dining room
People gonna come around

I love to see a rainbow from a garden hose
Lit up like the blood of a centerfold
I love the city and the city rain
Suburban kids with biblical names

People ask people to watch their scotch
People send people up to the moon
When they return, well there isn't much
People be careful not to crest too soon

The drums march along at the clip of an I.V. drip
Like sparks from a muffler dragged down the strip
I really hope you'll come around

It's sunny and 75, it feels so good to be alive
Come on baby, don't stay inside
Everybody's coming out tonight
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:55 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sunrise. Sunset.
Since the beginning it hasn't changed yet.
People fly high --- begin to lose sight.
You can't see very clearly when you're in flight.

It's high time that you found
The same people you misuse on your way up
You might meet up
On your way down.

"On Your Way Down" -- Allen Toussaint
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:11 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sleater-Kinney - Memorize Your Lines
The Replacements - Oh, let's go with Answering Machine
posted by rhizome at 12:14 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


You wouldn't leave 'til we loved in the morning,
You'd learned from movies what love ought to be.
And you'd say you love me and look in my eyes
But I know through mine you were looking in yours.

Mitski - last words from a shooting star
posted by btfreek at 12:16 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


So many double takes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExVtrghW5Y4
posted by benadryl at 12:17 AM on January 7, 2017


You are a china shop
And I am a bull
You are really good food
And I am full

- Ani Difranco - you had time
posted by miles1972 at 12:27 AM on January 7, 2017 [9 favorites]


"Hell's boiling over
Heaven is full
We're chained to the world
And we all gotta pull"

-Tom Waits

Thinking of getting this tattooed on me.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 12:31 AM on January 7, 2017 [11 favorites]


The Weakerthans - "Watermark"

I count to three and grin. You smile and let me in. We sit and watch the wall you painted purple. Speech will spill on space, our little cups of grace, but pauses rattle on about the way that you cut the snow fence, braved the blood, the metal of those hearts that you always end up pressing your tongue to. How your body still remembers things you told it to forget. How those furious affections followed you.

I've got this store-bought way of saying I'm okay, and you've learned how to cry in total silence. We're talented and bright. We're lonely and uptight. We've found some lovely ways to disappoint, but the airport's always almost empty this time of the year, so let's go play on a baggage carousel, and set our watches forward like we're just arriving here from a past we left in a place we knew too well.

Hold on to the corners of today, and we'll fold it up to save until it's needed. Stand still. Let me scrub that brackish line that you got when something rose and then receded.
posted by atropos at 12:35 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


The litebrite's now black and white
Cause you took apart a picture that wasn't right
Pitch burning on a shining sheet
The only maker that you'd want to meet
The dying man in a living room
Who's shadow paces the floor
Who'll take you out in the open door
This is not my life
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
It's not what I'm like
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
Who couldn't get things right
Fond farewell to a friend
He said really I just want to dance
Good and evil matched perfect it's a great romance
I can deal with some physic pain
If it'll slow down my higher brain
Veins full of disappearing ink
Vomiting in the kitchen sink
Disconnecting from the missing link
This is not my life
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
It's not what I'm like
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
Who couldn't get things right
Fond farewell to a friend
I see you're leaving me and taking up with the enemy
The cold comfort of the in between
A little less than a human being
A little less than a happy high
A little less than a suicide
The only things that you really tried
This is not my life
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
It's not what I'm like
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
Who couldn't get things right
Fond farewell to a friend
This is not my life
It's just a fond farewell to a friend
Elliot Smith
posted by yodelingisfun at 12:43 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh, and of course, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Mountain Goats. There are so so many songs. "King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1" still gives me chills every time I hear it. So does "Oceanographer's Choice." Just pierces me through the heart and keeps right on going. If there is a cult of beautifully, brutally honest songwriting, John Darnielle is the patron saint.

Here's "No Children" by The Mountain Goats

I hope that our few remaining friends
Give up on trying to save us
I hope we come out with a fail-safe plot
To piss off the dumb few that forgave us

I hope the fences we mended
Fall down beneath their own weight
And I hope we hang on past the last exit
I hope it's already too late

[...]

And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can't find one good thing to say
And I hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way

I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die
posted by danceswithlight at 12:48 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


Alexandra Leaving and Light as the Breeze by Leonard Cohen, No Children and Up the Wolves by The Mountain Goats, and pretty much every song from Hadestown straight up arrested me.

I'm currently limited by my phone, but can pop back with links and excerpts tomorrow.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 1:01 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ah, danceswithlight beat me to No Children.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 1:01 AM on January 7, 2017


I'm not surprised someone has beaten me here with some lines from Magnetic Fields. What came to mind for me were the unexpected geographic metaphors / comparisons / rhymes:
"Long Vermont Roads": "Your eyes are the Mesa Verde / Big and brown and far away / And your eyes are Kansas City / In Kansas and in Missouri [pronounced like misery]"

"Grand Canyon": "If I was the Grand Canyon, I'd echo everything you say / But I'm just me, I'm only me and you used to love me that way"

"All the Umbrellas in London": "All the umbrellas in London couldn't stop this rain / And all the dope in New York couldn't kill this pain"

"Nothing Matters When We're Dancing": "Be we in Paris or in Lansing / Nothing matters when we're dancing"
But a lot of striking metaphors / rhymes are just fun:
"Papa Was a Rodeo": "Papa was a rodeo - Mama was a rock'n'roll band / I could play guitar and rope a steer before I learned to stand / Home was anywhere with diesel gas - Love was a trucker's hand"

"Acoustic Guitar": "Acoustic guitar, if you think I play hard / Well, you could of belonged to Steve Earle / Or Charo or Gwar, I could sell you tomorrow / So bring me back my girl"
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:11 AM on January 7, 2017 [11 favorites]


Two that incorporate lists come to mind. The unfolding of each item adds power to the lyric.

The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving
Memory will rust and erode into lists
Of all that you gave me:
A blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest
The best parts of lonely,
Duct-tape, and soldered wires
New words for old desires
And every birthday card I threw away


Joni Mitchell — Hejira
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

posted by wemayfreeze at 1:12 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


Anything from Bright Eyes, specifically the album I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. More specifically Landlocked Blues.

And the moon's laying low in the sky
Forcing everything metal to shine
And the sidewalk holds diamonds like the jewelry store case
They argue walk this way, no, walk this way

...
You'll be free child once you have died
From the shackles of language and measurable time

posted by Crystalinne at 1:13 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Wanda Jackson from '66, singing in that sweet country girl voice.

I looked in the closet for my wedding gown
But the box that it came in was all that I found
He took everything with him that wasn't nailed down
Bet he's got a new sweetheart to fill my wedding gown
But somewhere I'll find him then I'll have peace of mind
And the box he comes home in will be all satin lined.

Emmylou Harris

But I'm gettin' off where the crossroads meet
It's a quarter moon in a ten-cent town
It's time for me to lay my heartaches down
Saturday night, I wanna make myself a name
Take a month of Sundays to try and explain
posted by ridgerunner at 1:47 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


Kate Bush: Rocket's Tail. Gets me every time.

That November night, looking up into the sky,
You said,

"Hey, wish that was me up there--
It's the biggest rocket I could find,
And it's holding the night in its arms
If only for a moment.
I can't see the look in its eyes,
But I'm sure it must be laughing."

But it seemed to me the saddest thing I'd ever seen,
And I thought you were crazy, wishing such a thing.
I saw only a stick on fire,
Alone on its journey
Home to the quickening ground,
With no one there to catch it.

I put on my pointed hat
And my black and silver suit,
And I check my gunpowder pack
And I strap the stick on my back.
And, dressed as a rocket on Waterloo Bridge--
Nobody seems to see me.
Then, with the fuse in my hand,
And now shooting into the night

And still as a rocket,
I land in the river.
Was it me said you were crazy?

I put on my cloudiest suit,
Size 5 lightning boots, too.

'Cause I am a rocket
On fire.
Look at me go, with my tail on fire,
With my tail on fire,
On fire.
Hey, look at me go, look at me...
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Every song on Joanna Newsom's discography?

But a recent especial one:

In December of that year,
the word came down that she was here.
The days grew shorter.
I was sure, if she came 'round,
I’d hold my ground. I'd endure.
But they'd alluded to a change
that came to pass,
and Spring, deranged,
weeping grass and sleepless,
broke herself upon my windowglass.

And I could barely breathe, for seeing
all the splintered light that leaked her fissures,
fleeing, launched in flight:
unstaunched daylight, brightly bleeding,
bleached the night with dawn, deleting,

in that high sun,
after our good run,
when the spirit bends
beneath knowing it must end.

posted by mymbleth at 3:02 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Difficult to think past Tom Waits here. Admittedly the delivery is stellar!

Make sure they play my theme song
I guess daisies will have to do
Just get me to New Orleans
And paint shadows on the pews
Turn the spit on that pig
Kick the drum and let me down
Put my clarinet beneath your bed
Till I get back in town

Let me fall out of the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I'll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
So send me off to bed forever more

- 2nd verse and chorus from "Tango Till They're Sore" - Rain Dogs 1985
posted by 1head2arms2legs at 3:21 AM on January 7, 2017


Victor Trumper, by The Lucksmiths:

(may require some knowledge of cricket, sorry)

I am bowling to Victor Trumper
And the sun is shining
And my shirt is white
This is the best day of my life

I am bowling to Victor Trumper
And he shrugs his shoulders
And I'm gone for six
(Yabba:)"Oh for a strong arm and a walking stick!"

I am bowling to Victor Trumper
And he dances down the wicket
And he is stumped and I am stunned
I feel like a boy who has killed a dove

posted by pompomtom at 4:31 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Billy Bragg
A New England

I was twenty one years when I wrote this song
I'm twenty two now, but I won't be for long
People ask when will you grow up to be a man
But all the girls I loved at school
Are already pushing prams

I loved you then as I love you still
Tho I put you on a pedestal,
They put you on the pill
I don't feel bad about letting you go
I just feel sad about letting you know
posted by sconbie at 4:37 AM on January 7, 2017 [8 favorites]


I find a lot of Elvis Costello's lyrics hit a sweet spot of cleverness where he manages to say exactly those deeper things I've felt but been unable to articulate.

Beyond Belief

History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues
I'm just the oily slick
On the windup world of the nervous tick
In a very fashionable hovel
I hang around dying to be tortured
You'll never be alone in the bone orchard
This battle with the bottle is nothing so novel


Human Hands

Whenever I put my foot in my mouth
and you begin to doubt
that it's you that I'm dreaming about
Do I have to draw you a diagram?


This line from Eddie Vedder's Guaranteed:

Don't come closer or I'll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you

posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:45 AM on January 7, 2017


Another one from Billy Bragg that I really like:

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward
In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded
That Dr Robert Oppenheimer's optimism fell
At the first hurdle


There's quite a pause after "fell" - just long enough for you to guess wrong about the next line.

I also really like the ending of Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat where the repeated refrain of "And anyway I told the truth and I am not afraid to die" changes at the end to "...and I'm afraid I told a lie". That song always gives me a chill when I hear that bit.
posted by crocomancer at 5:08 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


lyrics that are so good that the first time you heard them you kind of did a double take, or they stopped you in your tracks, because they're so good and also had an unexpected quality to them

These are basically the stock-in-trade of Pete Atkin (singer) and Clive James (lyricist). One of my favourite examples is 'Beware of the Beautiful Stranger', which is is basically this start to finish (lyrics here, but it's best listened to, as it's Atkin's delivery that perfects it). Also 'Canoe', where a certain line pivots the entire scenario from islanders sailing a canoe to something else (hover to view spoilers).
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 5:21 AM on January 7, 2017


LCD Soundsystem, Drunk Girls
Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut
it comes back but it's never the same...
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:32 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I could completely flood you with suggestions. For the moment though I will restrict myself to suggesting just about anything by Augie March. Here is one of my favourites, Pennywhistle (the video is also great).

Just an ordinary day, I knew that autumn was on its way,
I could see by the gilt of the clouds, the burnish on the bay,
A ring of effusia settled on the city like a vision of the future
Before the scales fell away,
A vision of the future looking more than just okay,
A good feeling
Yes, just a good feeling
And it only happens now and then -
Out of the mouth of a black dog,
Out of the terrors of 3 am,
Out of the dark and whispering fen,
I was blind then I could see, now I'm blind again.

So I hollered up to Jill,
"Come down from the mountain, your ears are a-burning,
My speech is a fountain, it's been another long year
But you know I'm not counting,
I dreamed you like you dreamed me,
O the bomb dreamed the fuse and the drowner dreamed the sea",
What a strange feeling...
Yes, it's a strange feeling
And it only happens now and then -
Out of the mouth of a black dog,
Out of the terrors of 3 am,
Out of the dark and whispering fen,
I was blind then I could see, now I'm blind again.

Most of the Aegean Sea rushes into my bedroom and glitters for me,
The hills of Gallipoli all throw up their bones for my industry,
So I build from the charnel the ale house,
I build from the tomb a palace of dreams,
That old barren rockface got silver seams for a miner of middling means,
Singing poems of dissolution and schemes -
My penny whistles, lo!

Now I summon up Jack, sat up on the hill,
The wrong kind of music, the wrong kind of pill,
Impotent as a potato but still pleading "Give it up Mary,
But not by degrees..."

A portrait of Jack, a study in sin, well I knew of myself before I knew of him,
Now even I couldn't tell ya just who it is asking
"Give it up Mary, but not by degrees,
Give it up Mary, your virtue, please..."

Into the mouth of a black dog - I go
Into the terrors of 3 am - I go
Into the dark and whispering fen - I go
I was blind then blind again
Into the mouth of a black dog - I go
Into the terrors of 3 am - I go
Into the dark and whispering fen - I go
O what beast has my name on its snaggle tooth,
And eternal slobber for my finishing youth?
My penny whistles low.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:41 AM on January 7, 2017


Jason Isbell probably has a dozen or more songs that fit the bill here, but the first one that did it for me was Alabama Pines. That stanza about the air conditioner gives me metaphorical chills every time I hear it:


Well I moved into this room (if you could call it that) a week ago
I never do what I'm supposed to do
Hardly even know my name any more
When no one calls it out, it kinda vanishes away

And I can't get to sleep at night, the parking lot's so loud and bright
The A/C hasn't worked in twenty years
Prob'ly never made a single person cold
But I can't say the same for me, I've done it many times

Somebody take me home
Through those Alabama pines

You can't drive through Talledega on a weekend in October
Just head up north to Jacksonville, cut around and over
Watch your speed in Boiling Springs
They ain't got a thing to do, they'll get you every time

Somebody take me home
Through those Alabama pines

Somebody take me home
Through those Alabama pines

If we pass through on a Sunday, better make a stop in Wayne
It's the only open liquor store north
And I can't stand the pain of being by myself
Without a little help on a Sunday afternoon

Well I needed that damn woman like a dream needs gasoline
And I tried to be some ancient kinda man
One that's never seen the beauty in the world
But I tried to chase it down
Tried to make the whole thing mine

Somebody take me home
Through those Alabama pines

Somebody take me home
Through those Alabama pines

Well I've been stuck here in this town (if you could call it that) a year or two
I never do what I'm supposed to do
I don't even need a name any more
When no one calls it out, it kinda vanishes away

No one gives a damn about the things I give a damn about
Liberties that we can't do without
Seem to disappear like ghosts in the air
When we don't even care, it truly vanishes away
posted by HillbillyInBC at 5:44 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


Well I don't know cricket so here are some different lines from the Lucksmiths! Their strength I think is that one line in the middle of a pop song that is a particular gem:

I sat backwards on the train and suddenly/the city was further and further in front of me

I've woken up on one too many floors/but my favorite was yours

So nonchalant, though thoroughly thought through

More literary: Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. Ordinary Town, Tanglewood Tree.

The Last Fare of the Day by Richard Shindell. But it's about a particular time and place, so: imagine that it's summer 2002 and you're hearing him introduce the song something like this. "This is a song about a cab driver in New York, the first verse takes place last fall and the end takes place in about May." It's not a kind of song I usually appreciate but this one, unlike others from its time, is perfectly done.

And frankly there's something in just about every Weakerthans song but I always liked Utilities.

Got a face full of all this weather/smirking smile of a high pressure ridge
Got more faults than the state of California/and the heart is a badly built bridge.
posted by clavicle at 6:24 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


I frequently marvel at Paul Simon's lyrics, both within Simon & Garfunkel and in his solo work:

The Sound of Silence:
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
And the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls."
The Only Living Boy in New York:
I get the news I need on the weather report
Oh, I can gather all the news I need on the weather report
America:
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."
Graceland:
The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar
American Tune:
And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:42 AM on January 7, 2017 [12 favorites]


My mind jumped to a few songs by a grown-up New Jersey indie-rock band called The Wrens. In She Sends Kisses, the singer says, "Hopes pinned to poses honed in men's room mirrors," which has lovely alliteration and captures a sort of adolescent romantic insecurity so, so well.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on January 7, 2017


A lot of Robyn's songs have lyrical bits that delight me, like this from "Love Crimes":

Stockholm Syndrome and misery
Is the penalty
For love crimes

And from "We Dance to the Beat":

We dance to the beat
Of bad kissers clicking teeth

And

We dance to the beat
Of your brain not evolving fast enough

I'm also a big fan of Grandaddy/Jason Lytle. The song "The Group Who Couldn't Say" is a delightful and unexpected song about office workers who get to spend a day in nature. The chorus has the line

And the sprinklers that come on at 3am
Sound like crowds of people asking
"Are you happy what you're doing?"

The song "I'm on Standby" is from the perspective of a robot being sent in for servicing. They also have a song called "Broken Household Appliance National Forest". I like them because their songs are about different things than most people sing about, and the tunes are catchy and sing-alongable.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 7:06 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


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.

Perfect for this Brownshirt election 2016.
posted by effluvia at 7:26 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


The spin of the earth impaled the silhouette of the sun on the steeple

~Elliot Smith
posted by ZabeLeeZoo at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Anything by Paul Simon for sure, but here's an old one that really caught me when I was re-listening to a bunch of his albums after the election. Peace Like a River:
You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules but you know
You can't outrun the history train

And from Graceland, the Mississippi delta is shining like a National guitar, I have always thought that simile was so unexpected and so vivid, poignant, perfect.
posted by bluebird at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've been listening to Josh Ritter a lot lately - he's cut from some of the same cloth as Jason Isbell, mentioned above, but highly recommend.

Southern Pacific

Southern Pacific
Red, white and blue
Where are we running to?
Over the wide plains
Over the wide plains
Take me to someplace new

Remember me to Roxy Anne
You know she’s still lovely
Tell her I was on the move
The last time you saw me
That you only saw the back of my head

Climb through the timbers
And I’ll breath the dust
Of cosmos and wild rose bud
And thunder the unknowns
In the phosphorous white glow
Of saber-tooth bones in the dusk
[...]


Wolves

I still remember that time when we were dancing We were dancing to a song that I’d heard Your face was simple and your hands were naked I was singing without knowing the words But I started listening to the wolves in the timber Wolves in the timber at night I heard their songs when I looked in the mirror In the howls and the moons round my eyes

So long, so high!

Then winter came and there was little left between us Skin and bones of love won’t make a meal I felt my eyes drifting over your shoulder There were wolves at the edge of the field But I still remember that time when we were dancing We were dancing to a song that I’d heard Your face was simple and your hands were naked I was singing without knowing the words

So long, so high!

Then one day I just woke up And the wolves were all there Wolves in the piano Wolves underneath the stairs Wolves inside the hinges Circling round my door At night inside the bedsprings Clicking cross the floor I don’t know how they found me I’ll never know quite how I still can’t believe they heard me That I was howling out that loud

So long, so high!
[...]

posted by jferg at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also John Prine is good for this, plain lyrics with a plaintive twist, say Angel from Montgomery:
Make me an angel
That flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
Of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
That I can hold onto
To believe in this living
Is just a hard way to go

Or he has a beautiful song about a couple growing old, the name escapes me:
They lost Davy
In the Korean War
They don't even know what for
Don't matter anymore
posted by bluebird at 7:44 AM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


Look, just about everything Bob Pollard writes turns unexpected locks in my head. It changed the structure of my brain when I started listening to Guided by Voices and all of his other prodigious output.

The Official Ironmen Rally Song
Bitter fish in crude oil sea
You don't have to bother me
You just have to join in on this song

Crawling people on your knees
Don't take this so seriously
You just have to hum it all day long
Surgical Focus
With surgical focus
She stared at me and said
"I'm willing to reach out—
Get into your head"

"And I will keep you and cleanse you,"
She glared at me and wept
"Change is not going to hurt you—
Not this time"

And I've been waiting in line for this
Now that it's taken forever I insist
Until I get it I can't breathe
Climbing high upon the rocky cliffs she flies
With surgical focus, with surgical focus
Smothered in Hugs
In the summer that you came
There was something eating everyone
And the sunshine fund was low
We couldn't greet you
With a simple hello

And the watchers of the flood
Were busy in their chambers
Making sure there was new blood
To sustain their dying veins

But I believed you—
No need for further questioning
I—I'm gonna leave with you
You can teach me all you know
Which way will we go now
On our trip to taller windows?
I really don't know now
I really don't know

In the winter that you left
There was business as usual
With the same old fears and frustrations
But the word got out
It was really such a pity

But the judges and the saints
And the textbook committee
Decided you should be left out
Not even mentioned
Game of Pricks
I've waited too long to have you
Hide in the back of me
I've cheated so long I wonder
How you keep track of me

You could never be strong
You can only be free
And I'll never ask for the truth
But you owe that to me

I entered the game of pricks
With knives in the back of me
Can't call you or on you no more
When they're attacking me

I'll climb up on the house
Weep to water the trees
And when you come calling me down
I'll put on my disease
Cut-Out Witch
Do you suppose she could change your life?
If she could then I wish she would
Do you suppose she could save my life?
If she could then I think she should

It's another busy day for the cut-out witch
Silver threads for our heads need another stitch
Golden needles in our eyes then we realize
It's another busy day for the cut-out witch

And could she change this wrong into a right?
Say pretty please and I think she might
Cause if she won't then you'll fall and bust
And turn to dust and so I think she must
I used to have words from "Smothered in Hugs" up on a Post-it on my wall at a job in a past life. Words from the others enter my head all the time. I'd recommend going through the songs on Human Amusements at Hourly Rates.
posted by limeonaire at 8:04 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps a darker kind of "whoa" than you're looking for, but Prine was a master of the kinda bleak little lyrical ironies I seem to enjoy, ditto Stephen Merritt and Tom Waits.

The getting old verse is from "Hello in There."

Prine:
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
(from "Sam Stone")

Warren Zevon:
Grandpa pissed his pants again
he don't give a damn
brother Billy has both guns drawn
he ain't been right since Vietnam
Sweet Home Alabama
play that dead band's song
turn those speakers up full blast
play it all night long
(from "Play it all Night Long")

Townes Van Zandt:
One-time friends I had a ma, I even had a pa
He beat her with a belt once cause she cried
She told him to take care of me, she headed down to Tennessee
It's easier than just a-waitin' 'round to die

Gillian Welch:
I was thinking that night about Elvis
Day that he died, day that he died

Just a country boy that combed his hair
And put on a shirt his mother made and went on the air
And he shook it like a chorus girl
And he shook it like a Harlem Queen
He shook it like a midnight rambler, baby
Like you never seen, like you never seen
(from "Elvis Presley Blues")

Obligatory Dylan:
Ain't it just like the night to play tricks
When you're tryin' to be so quiet
We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off
(from "Visions of Johanna")

Freakwater:
Wound up tighter than a cheap watch
Wind it up and watch how the time flies
Little white teeth wound around what sounds like more cheap lies
Little black clouds suck us up into the sky
Wound up where the Christmas lights stay up all year
And it takes the barman half an hour just to get me another beer
(from "Cheap Watch")
posted by aspersioncast at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


From Shipwrecked Blues by Clara Smith:

Oh I don’t mind drowning
but the water is so cold
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:34 AM on January 7, 2017


So many great suggestions!

I second The Wrens, although delivery means you can't always make out all their lyrics - "13 Months In 6 Minutes", though, every word comes through and hits.

Mike Doughty loves wordplay, but one of his "stop and listen" songs for me is the relatively straightforward "Down On The River By The Sugar Plant."

I find some of Tracey Thorn's solo work scratches a similar itch to Stephin Merritt's, though not quite so arch, e.g. "Oh! The Divorces."

Pretty much anything of Dessa's but "Mineshaft II" and "Children's Work" jump to mind right now.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:39 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Robert Wyatt, Sea Song

You look different every time you come
From the foam-crested brine
Your skin shining softly in the moonlight
Partly fish, partly porpoise, partly baby sperm whale
Am I yours? Are you mine to play with?
Joking apart - when you're drunk you're terrific when you're drunk
I like you mostly late at night you're quite alright

But I can't understand the different you in the morning
When it's time to play at being human for a while please smile!
You'll be different in the spring, I know
You're a seasonal beast like the starfish that drift in with the tide
So until your blood runs to meet the next full moon
You're madness fits in nicely with my own
Your lunacy fits neatly with my own, my very own

We're not alone
posted by 7 Minutes of Madness at 8:40 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I love, love, love the lyrics to "Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her" by Kishi Bashi.

In the beginning we were scrambled together
Mixed in a celestial bowl and hand fluffed with a feather
And the tears of bliss were not amiss
It was a good day

The second day, we created the earth
Tickled in irony as we made love upon it's girth
And to our delight, the sun gave us the stars

The creation of the moon was a miracle of light
Descended from the rift in the dark star of night
My veins pulsed butter as it illuminated your thighs

On the fourth day, we felt compelled to whistle
For how could we call the love birds to nestle
And keep us company in this world anew and fresh?

Today I paint to life, a portrait of the sacred friend, the perfect wife
In synesthesia
Together we have filled the world with colored wine
But the story nears the present time
Of restlessness and wake up calls
Wake up!

Years have flown fast but then who's counting
The wars have been won but there's few left standing between us
And the shadows of Christmas past

Critically acclaimed but sadly underrated
Fortune definitely favored us, but no one celebrated
Our wits were splitting at their ends...

We gazed upon the city lights
We each laughed aloud one final time and agreed:
This is one thing we'll miss…

And as we held our breath and forced our will
The minutes stopped, the air was still
And minds began to unlearn their faulted ways

We blasted through the hills!
They were the first to go, and the most painful so
Because we made them first when we learned to bleed
With our fingers on the seeds that sowed in the dirt
And then cried when we came in the glorious masterwork of life ending
And beginning again

We ignored the pleas of the forest and the seas
As we scorched the earth with our tears…
We burned them in fear
Until there's nothing left
Nothing left
Nothing, nothing left
But us
posted by noneuclidean at 8:54 AM on January 7, 2017


TV on the radio Red Dress

Hey Jackboot
Fuck your war
Cause I'm fat and in love
And no bombs are falling on me for sure
But I'm scared to death
That I'm living a life not worth dying for
And your plow shear
It's a sword
...
It's a trap
That much is plain
Still, maybe send snapshots
Of all your sweet pain
Playing tortuous games
It goes: Lenses, light, fame
Read my names on your lips
When the man cracks the whip
And you'll all shake your hips
And you'll all dance to this
Without making a fist
And I know that it sounds mundane
But it's a stone cold shame
How they got you tame
And they got me tame
posted by lalochezia at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2017


The chorus of Shriekback's "Nemesis" does it for me:

Priests and cannibals, prehistoric animals
Everybody happy as the dead come home
Big black nemesis, parthenogenesis
No one move a muscle as the dead come home

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:22 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


Lee Greenwood's Dusty Dixie Road fits an amazing word picture into four lines.

I would pick and we would sing to the rhythm of that front porch swing
The moonlight holds the spotlight that we shared
I found new notes on that old guitar, she believed I could be a star
She told me that she wanted to be fair


Hot Time Summer In the City (The Lovin' Spoonful) I just don't know how you can write lines like these:

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

and

Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

and

Till I'm wheezing like a bus stop
posted by SemiSalt at 9:48 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Lots of tracks on the Old 97s' Too Far to Care that don't seem as great when I paste them here without music.

Aforementioned Magnetic Fields songs--honestly, Stephin Merritt might be the Cole Porter of the recent now. I was going to mention the line from "Nothing Matters When We're Dancing" but just a lot of those songs.

"Or I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus
Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
Like I was seventeen
That would be a scream
But I don't want to get over you."

And of course the original generation of great American songwriters. I wouldn't know where to start or stop with Rogers & Hart, Cole Porter etc. Sometimes devilish; sometimes heartbreaking.

"When the only one you wanted wants another
What's the use of swank and cash in the bank galore?
Why, even the janitor's wife
Has a perfectly good love life..."
(Down in the Depths on the Ninetieth Floor.")

Rogers & Hart:

"Once I laughed when I heard you saying
that I'd be playing solitaire,
uneasy in my easy chair.
It never entered my mind."

A slightly more unusual one I love to death is Fran Landesman's lyrics to "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", the idea/title of which apocryphally sprung from someone asking how you'd adapt the opening lines of The Wasteland for a pop song.

"College boys are writing sonnets
In the tender passion they're engrossed
But I'm on the shelf with last year's Easter bonnets
Spring can really hang you up the most."
posted by Smearcase at 10:05 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


The music of Arman Bohn is full of great lyrics, too many to really list.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:06 AM on January 7, 2017


Relatively late to this discussion—surprised no one has mentioned this wonderfully ambiguous line from Elvis Costello:
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Alison, my aim is true.
posted by she's not there at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


This bit of Pavement's Shady Lane smacked me right in the gob:
"You've been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life"
Babies by Pulp is completely perfect.

And the spoken intro to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's The Dead Flag Blues slays me every time.
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:47 AM on January 7, 2017


@she's not there: Another great couplet in Alison:

'cause I don't know if you are loving somebody
I only know it isn't mine

I love the way that second line applies a post hoc revision to the previous line, adding a space between "some" and "body".
posted by HillbillyInBC at 10:54 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Dessa, The Crow:

that old crow came back today
sitting in my window like a prophet
out on the fire escape, to say
anger is just love, left out, gone to vinegar
you wake up a stranger to yourself then you
learn to live with her
posted by deludingmyself at 11:19 AM on January 7, 2017


Got the tipoff from Jason Kottke back in the bad old days, from Estelle and Kanye's "American Boy" - can't find the original link anymore, but Kanye on the third verse:

Dressed smart like a London bloke
Before he speak his suit bespoke

posted by Devika at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you want emotional impact, the Magnetic Fields might not be the best source, but their wordplay is unparalleled. Another example:
Let's pretend we're bunny rabbits
Let's do it all day long
Let abbots, Babbitts and Cabots
Say Mother Nature's wrong
I mean, it's even fucking alphabetical.
posted by aws17576 at 11:31 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


There's a line at the end of Bill Callahan's song Too Many Birds that goes like:
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat.
Except he builds it up one word at a time, repeating the stem again and again. So what the listener hears sung is:
If
If you
If you could
If you could only
If you could only stop
If you could only stop your
If you could only stop your heart
If you could only stop your heartbeat
If you could only stop your heartbeat for
If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heart
If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heartbeat
On paper it might come off as gimmicky, but as music it flows so naturally, and the potential meaning of each unfinished part paints a whole narrative as the line develops.

Eid Ma Clack Shaw from the same album has a similar effect -- reading it you might think it wouldn't work, but musically there's no question:
I dreamed it was a dream that you were gone
I woke up feeling so ripped by reality
Love is the king of the beasts
And when it gets hungry it must kill to eat
Love is the king of the beasts
A lion walking down city streets

I fell back asleep some time later on
And I dreamed the perfect song
It held all the answers, like hands laid on

I woke halfway and scribbled it down
And in the morning what I wrote I read
It was hard to read at first but here's what it said

Eid ma clack shaw
Zupoven del ba
Mertepy ven seinur
Cofally ragdah
posted by rollick at 11:32 AM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Tom Waits, "Time"

Well she said she'd stick around
Until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don't know when to quit
And Matilda asks the sailors are those dreams
Or are those prayers?'
So just close your eyes, son
And this won't hurt a bit
posted by dilettante at 11:55 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I heard a song on the radio once and I thought it was Nick Drake (the Elliot Smith of his generation), but then I heard this line:

And what will happen in the evening in the forest with the weasel with the teeth that bite so sharp when you’re not looking in the evening?

And I thought "Oh, this is a Nick Drake parody!" but then the DJ came on and identified it as an actual Nick Drake song called Hazey Jane II. Definitely a double-take musical moment for me.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:29 PM on January 7, 2017


More Tom Waits:

All your crying don't do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross, we can use the wood
You gotta come on up to the house
posted by STFUDonnie at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Another Josh Ritter fan. My favorite is "Golden Age of Radio":

Picture they took of you in your cowboy hat
Makes you look like you are one of the boys out on a Saturday night
Meanwhile on the outside of the dance hall
I'm a joke that you'd probably enjoy

On the outside of Memphis all the buildings look big
And the white picket fences all dare to charge around the lawn
And hold their heads up high
When my headlights find them out
They'll be the first to put their hands in the air

With my radio on
All singing a country song
Soft and low

So, living on the edge of the city limit line
This is where the boundary finally ends
And I swear that we're the last living souls
In a populated ghost town
All the billboards are our best friends

Oh, which way did our last chance go and can we
Get out if we go right now?
'Cause it seems that with the malls
And the mega-church stadiums
We would get out if we knew just how

With the radio on
All singing a country song
Soft and low

Oh, when I've got a worried mind I know
I hear the ghost of Patsy Cline
On the Grand Ole Opry Show

Standing in line to get my self-help book signed off
On by the reverend who shouts to the converted
Have mercy on this boy
He did it all by the book
But still kind of has his doubts

Yeah you look pretty good in that jonquil dress
But your smile is a wooden nickel's pride
And I know that it ain't worth much
It feels good to touch
And I think that I could dance if I tried

With your radio on
All singing a country song
Soft and low

Oh, when I've got a worried mind I know
I hear the ghost of Patsy Cline
On the Grand Ole Opry Show
posted by candyland at 1:56 PM on January 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


I had one of those double take moments the first time I heard Bloodbuzz Ohio by the National, when they came to the line "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees." Other lyrics from their songs that I like include:
You could drive a car through my head in five minutes
From one side of it to the other


Oh, come, come be my waitress and serve me tonight
Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon


You're tall, long legged
And your heart's full of liquor
And me and everybody are just ice in a glass
There's this part I've always liked in a song called Last Letter Home by Dog's Eye View where the guy sings "Hopeless . . . " and then turns it around with the next line: "Hope less and do more, say less and feel more this time." (No lyrics site agrees with me on these lyrics but I'm 99.5% sure I'm right about them.)

I can think of a couple of songs where the double take didn't come until I read the lyrics and suddenly realized that a song I liked the sound of also happened to have lyrics like a poem. One is Vampire Weekend's A-Punk, which begins:
Johanna drove slowly into the city
The Hudson River all filled with snow
She spied the ring on His Honor's finger
Oh-oh-oh

A thousand years in one piece of silver
She took it from his lily white hand
Showed no fear - she'd seen the thing
In the Young Men's Wing at Sloan-Kettering
Another is Bottle of Smoke by the Pogues:
The day being clear
The sky being bright
He came up on the left
Like a streak of light
Like a drunken f***
On a Saturday night
Up came the Bottle of Smoke
posted by Redstart at 2:17 PM on January 7, 2017


Alexandra Leaving (Leonard Cohen):
Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

As someone long prepared for the occasion
In full command of every plan you wrecked
Do not choose a coward's explanation
that hides behind the cause and the effect

And you who were bewildered by a meaning
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost


Light as the Breeze (also by Leonard Cohen, but link goes to Billy Joel's cover):
And you're weak and you're harmless
And you're sleeping in your harness
And the wind going wild
In the trees,
And it ain't exactly prison
But you'll never be forgiven
For whatever you've done
With the keys.

O baby I waited
So long for your kiss
For something to happen,
Oh something like this.


Up the Wolves, by The Mountain Goats:
There's bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
No matter where you live
There'll always be a few things, maybe several things
That you're going to find really difficult to forgive

There's going to come a day when you feel better
You'll rise up free and easy on that day
And float from branch to branch, lighter than the air
Just when that day is coming, who can say, who can say?

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's going to be a party
When the wolf comes home

We're going to commandeer the local airwaves
To tell the neighbors what's been going on
And they will shake their heads and wag their bony fingers
In all the wrong directions, and by daybreak we'll be gone

I'm going to get myself in fighting trim
Scope out every angle of unfair advantage
I'm going to bribe the officials, I'm going to kill all the judges
It's going to take you people years to recover from all of the damage

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's going to be a party
When the wolf comes home


When the Chips Are Down, by Anaïs Mitchell (although I highly recommend the entire Hadestown album)
What you gonna do when the chips are down?
Now that the chips are down
Take if you can, give if you must
Ain't nobody but yourself to trust
What you gonna do when the chips are down?
Now that the chips are down
What you gonna do when the chips are down?
Now that the chips are down
Aim for the heart, shoot to kill
If you don't do it then the other one will
What you gonna do when the chips are down?
Now that the chips are down
What you gonna do when the chips are down?
Now that the chips are down
And the first shall be first
And the last shall be last
Cast your eyes to heaven
You get a knife in the back
Nobody's righteous
Nobody's proud
Nobody's innocent
Now that the chips are down

posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2017


Love that's fresh and still unspoiled
Love that's only slightly soiled... (Cole Porter)

(I asked, did she just sing slightly soiled love? Yes she did, said Marcia)

While out sailing on the ocean
While out sailing on the sea
I bumped into the Savior
And He said pardon me
I said "Jesus you look tired"
He said "Jesus so do you... (John Prine)

And did you know desire's a terrible thing?
The worst that I can find
Did you know desire's a terrible thing?
But I rely on mine. (The Sundays)
posted by the Real Dan at 3:01 PM on January 7, 2017


Saw a few mentions of Josh Ritter above, which reminded me of The Curse. I won't quote any lyrics to avoid spoiling the story, but it certainly fits the original poster's query. And the marionettes in the video I linked are totally beguiling.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm yet another Josh Ritter fan, but the lines that had me doing a double take are from "Thin Blue Flame":

If God’s up there he’s in a cold dark room
The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons
He bent down and made the world in seven days
And ever since he’s been a’walking away
Mixing with nitrogen in lonely holes
Where neither seraphim or raindrops go
I see an old man wandering the halls alone
Only a full house gonna make a home

And it kind of takes the force of the whole song to build, but the last line of The Antlers' "Kettering" felt like a literal gut punch to me: "I didn't believe them when they told me that there was no saving you." The rest of the album only deepened the emotional devastation.

I'm also a big fan of The National, who frequently have lyrics that catch your attention in a sideways way, or quietly slip a knife in your heart:

From "All Dolled Up in Straps": "The sun fell behind you and never stood up."

From "Sorrow":

Sorrow found me when I was young.
Sorrow waited, sorrow won.
Sorrow, they put me on the pill.
It's in my honey, it's in my milk.

And I second all the Dessa above, and add my favorite lines from "Seamstress":

Stitching up boys is different that way
You fix a bird, you buy a cage
You fix a man
You fix a man, and he flies away

Oh, and Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula"!

See honey, I saw love, you see it came to me
It put its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah, then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing
posted by yasaman at 6:26 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]


There's nowhere near enough Joni Mitchell here. A few of the many great verses from "Come in From the Cold" on "Night Ride Home"

We really thought we had a purpose
We were so anxious to achieve
We had hope
The world held promise
For a slave to liberty
Freely I slaved away for something better
And I was bought and sold
And all I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold

I feel your legs under the table
Leaning into mine
I feel renewed
I feel disabled
By these bonfires in my spine
I don't know who the arsonist was
Which incendiary soul
But all I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold

Is this just vulgar electricity
Is this the edifying fire
(It was so pure)
Does your smile's covert complicity
Debase as it admires
(Just a flu with a temperature)
Are you just checking out your mojo
(Oh oh)
Or am I just fighting off growing old
(Just a high fever)
All I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold
posted by mewsic at 6:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


A couple examples that immediately spring to mind come from Morrissey (The Smiths):

"There is a Light that Never Goes Out"
And if a double-decker bus
Crashes in to us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine


"Life is a Pigsty"
Life, life is a pigsty
Life, life is a pigsty
And if you don't know this
Then what do you know?

posted by Halo in reverse at 7:58 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Delta Rae, Dance in the Graveyards (youtube). I was spellbound the moment it started.

I don't want to rest in peace
I want to dance in joy
I want to dance in the graveyards
The graveyards
And while I'm alive,
I don't want to be alone
Mourning the ones who came before
I want to dance with them some more
Let's dance in the graveyards

Gloria, like some other name
We kept on calling ya
And waiting for change.
But I belong to all of your mysteries

And all of us
are meant for the fire
But we keep rising up
And walking the wires
So when we go below,
Don't lose us in mourning

When I die,
I don't want to rest in peace
I want to dance in joy
I want to dance in the graveyards
the graveyards
And while I'm alive,
I don't want to be alone
Mourning the ones who came before
I want to dance with them some more
Let's dance in the graveyards.

Oh my love, don't cry when I'm gone.
I will lift you up, the air in your lungs.
And when you reach for me,
We'll dance in the darkness

And we will walk beyond
Our daughters and sons.
They will carry on
Like when we were young
And we will stand beside, and breathe in the new life

When I die,
I don't to rest in peace
I want to dance in joy
I want to dance in the graveyards
The graveyards
And while I'm alive,
I don't want to be alone
Mourning the ones who came before
I want to dance with them some more.
Let's dance in the graveyards.
posted by eloeth-starr at 8:50 PM on January 7, 2017


Wow, cool question. Seconding the person above who mentioned Joanna Newsom. I would say her song "Emily" (which she wrote for her sister, and which I got to hear her perform live, WITH said sister) has absolutely gorgeous, poetic lyrics. Not going to post them here but do check them out, seriously. I am sure other Joanna fans agree.
posted by bookworm4125 at 9:53 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh God, so many. Yes to the Mountain Goats, yes forever, yes to Josh Ritter, yes to Joni.
Some particular heart-skippers:

"Waving At You" (the Mountain Goats)

Listen, you can tell your lawyer
That he can go to hell
'Cause I can take whatever you're offering up
Reasonably well

And if four long years come to nothing
It's all right
But it's your birthday
It's your birthday tonight

And I went to buy you something
But I caught myself in time
And nothing makes any sense anymore
But everything rhymes

Die hard, die kicking
Old habit of mine
Die hard, die kicking
Old habit of mine

Die hard
Die hard
Die kicking

And, this lovely ache from Patty Griffin, which I sing quietly when I miss my little cat who I recently lost:

"Go Wherever You Wanna Go"

You can go wherever you wanna go
Go wherever you wanna go
Fly up to the moon and say hello now
You can go wherever you wanna go

You don’t ever have to go to war no more
Never have to go to war no more
Wear them boots and swim that icy shore now
You don’t ever have to go to war no more

You can get up on some sunny day and run
Run a hundred miles just for fun now
Heartaches and yesterdays don’t weigh a ton now
You can get up on some sunny day and run

You don’t ever have to pay the bills no more
Break a sweat or walk a worried floor now
Working like a dog ain’t what you’re for now
You don’t ever have to pay the bills no more

You can go wherever you wanna go
You can go wherever you wanna go
Go to where the time’s wound all the way down
Put a penny on the track and wait for train sounds
Tell your mama you’re coming back before the sun’s down
You can go wherever you wanna go
posted by fairlynearlyready at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2017


Why is no one mentioning Nickelback? I kid, I kid. Aimee Mann's "Labrador" is one of her best.
posted by kerf at 11:23 PM on January 7, 2017


The crushing simplicity of the last two lines of John Doe's "Rising Sun," off The Westerner, knocked me flat the first time I heard them:

in his dreams, he still flies
in his dreams, he still dreams
posted by bassomatic at 8:19 AM on January 8, 2017


I listen to Sirius' classic metal station, and on it I heard a Megadeath song I was not familiar with that features a metaphor that I think is in line with what you are talking about:

My thinking is derailed, I'm tied up to the tracks,
The train of consequences,
There ain't no turning back.

(Probably obvious but the song is called Train of Consequences)
posted by wittgenstein at 3:30 PM on January 8, 2017


Sinead O'Connor's cover of Jeff Buckley's Song to the Siren her Bel Canto style singing lends a layer of dimension to Buckley's gorgeous original. Be forewarned: not for the faint hearted.
posted by effluvia at 3:56 PM on January 8, 2017


I couldn't stop thinking of songs.

"I have faith but don't believe it, it's not there enough to leave it" —The National

"Everything that we have reminds us what we have lost - old friends go to war; love comes, love goes. Everything that we have reminds us what we desire." —Deborah Conway

"Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh." —Indigo Girls

"The paramedic thinks I'm clever cos I play guitar, I think she's clever cos she stops people dying." —Courtney Barnett

"Can't give up acting tough, it's all I am made of. Can't scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love." —Neko Case

"Finding out wherever there is comfort there is pain, only one step away, like four seasons in one day." —Crowded House

"I have fallen in the forest, did you hear me? In the loneliness, oh the loneliness and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist." —Frightened Rabbit

"The ghetto boys are cat-calling me as I pull my keys from my pocket. I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective. Has any girl in history said 'sure, you seem real nice, let's get it on'?" —Amanda Palmer

"It's funny how the first chords that you come to, are the minor notes that come to serenade you. It's hard to recognise yourself as someone you don't desire, as someone you don't want to be." —Laura Marling

"You know some girls are bright as the morning and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind." —Gillian Welch

"The street is singing with my feet and the dawn gives me a shadow I know to be taller." —Elbow

"Longing is a state of mind for home" —Art of Fighting

"And the weight of my mistakes means that everything I touch breaks, I don't want to see you as the next in line. So that's why I won't wake you where you lie, if I could now I'd freeze time. I can't find forever in your eyes, I should leave you while they're dry." —Sarah Blasko

"And I don't want to slide into apathy and I don't want to die in captivity but these monsters follow me round, hunting me down, try to wipe me out." —Something For Kate

"So I'll tell you that I love you even though I'm far away. I'll tell you how you change me as I live from day to day. How you help me to accept myself and I won't forget to say, love is never wasted even when it's hard love. Yes it's hard love, but it's love all the same. Not the stuff of fantasy but more than just a game. And the only kind of miracle that's worthy of the name, for the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love." —Bob Franke (though I came to it through Claudia Schmidt)

That's probably enough.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:16 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Fatlip's verse from The Pharcyde's "Soul Flower":
I go from skip-skop(?) to hip-hop to be-bop to P-funk
Cutting enough bullshit to turn a tree into a tree trunk
Cause we've sunk ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic
I dig dips who've got the hips that are gigantic cause I'm frantic
Take you in a frenzy
Takin' you out is easier than pullin' a pull-out out of a Benzie
Box well I rocks the orthodox styles to make you squirm
Yes I come from Callie no I do not have a perm
I stand firm on the mic device when I gets nice
Don't roll the dice if you can't pay the price
I got more flavor than 7-11 Slurpees
If Magic can admit he got AIDS, fuck it--I got herpes
That last line still cracks me up.

Another this one line, also from Fatlip (in "Passin' Me By"):
There she goes again, the dopest Ethiopian
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:27 AM on January 9, 2017


Another Richard Shindell song that comes to mind is Reunion Hill, which is told from the point of view of a woman whose husband left to fight in the Civil War. Specifically this line jumped out at me:

My well is deep, the water pure
The streams are fed by mountain lakes
I cleaned the brow of many a soldier
Dousing for my husband's face


Then later:

Alone there in a sea of blue
It circles every afternoon
A single hawk in God's great sky
Looking down with God's own eyes
He soars above Reunion Hill
I pray he spiral higher still
As if from such an altitude
He might just keep my love in view

posted by mikepop at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


And really the entire song but I think the line that grabbed me on first listen of Love is Our Cross to Bear was:

But love can pull you out of yesterday
As it takes you without warning

posted by mikepop at 7:40 AM on January 9, 2017


Echoing all the people who mentioned John Darnielle/The Mountain Goats (in addition to all the other songs mentioned above, International Small Arms Traffic Blues, Old College Try, You or Your Memory, Sax Rohmer 1, and Psalms 40:2 are favorites) and John Prine; the second verse of his Christmas in Prison always gets me:

She reminds me of a chess game with someone I admire
Or a picnic in the rain after a prairie fire
Her heart is as big as this whole goddamn jail
And she's sweeter than saccharine at a drug store sale

Billy Bragg's King James Version--"He was trapped in a haircut/He no longer believed in" and Dar Williams, Iowa--"I have never had a way with women/but the hills of Iowa make me wish that I could" (and the rest of it).

For hiphop, the Blue Scholars--No Rest for the Weary, Joe Metro, Cinematropolis, Chief Sealth, many more.
posted by karayel at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2017




Does all of Hamilton count? Like all of Winter's Ball/Helpless/Satisfied?

From Washington on Your Side: "I’m in the cabinet I am complicit in watching him grabbing at power and kissing it, if Washington isn’t gon’ listen to disciplined dissidents this is the difference, this kid it out!"

And this bit from Take a Break kills me every time:

My dearest Alexander
You must get through to Jefferson
Sit down with him and compromise
Don’t stop ‘til you agree
Your fav’rite older sister
Angelica, reminds you
There’s someone in your corner all the way across the sea

In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days
It says:

[HAMILTON/ANGELICA]
“My dearest Angelica”

[ANGELICA]
With a comma after “dearest.” You’ve written

[HAMILTON AND ANGELICA]
“My dearest, Angelica.”


Or Cabinet Battle #2:

You must be out of your Goddamn mind if you think
The President is gonna bring the nation to the brink
Of meddling in the middle of a military mess
A game of chess, where France is Queen and Kingless
We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?
“Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?”
“Uh… do whatever you want, I’m super dead.”
posted by craven_morhead at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2017


This is an old thread but I really need to plug one of my favorite bands, Saintseneca. Specifically their most recent album, such things. The entire album is the vocalist's musings on ghosts, the afterlife, existentialism, etc. I actually got so obsessed with the album I had to write a full-on album review, like I was some nerdy kid who wrote a book report for fun. (If you're also a nerd and want to read it, just memail me).

Just to give you an example, the song "Rare Form" is about the futility of life, what is considered spending it well, and what is just wasting time. During a (rather beautiful, haunting, yet lively breakdown), the lyrics employ this rather complex multi-layered allegory about time, boredom, and the afterlife:

So rile up the holes in your head
let each little abyss have it sips
on the infinite tongue kisses
When we sit still
will we distill
Spirits you might swill?


Where he equates your spirit to alcoholic spirits, being distilled through time and reflection, as libation for your mind.

Honestly when I try and explain it it sounds really convoluted, but the way he lays it out is just so simple and the use of the homonym simplifies what is otherwise a really complex and clever metaphor. He has a propensity for doing that, in another song it's his reflections on how kind the world is, and the whole things is just a simple question - "how many blankets are in the world?"
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2017


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