More songs about buildings and food!
April 26, 2022 4:48 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite songs that don't involve people? I want to hear more of them, in all genres.

You can assume I'm very familiar with everything by the Talking Heads, Fujiya & Miyagi, The Books, Deerhoof, Apples in Stereo, Brian Eno, and Build Buildings, which popular bands that immediately spring to mind for me. But, if there are particular tracks that you love, I don't mind hearing about them.

Inspired by this old question that I randomly stumbled across in a search.
posted by eotvos to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Boat Dreams From the Hill by Jawbreaker. Somehow a heartbreaking story...about a boat.
posted by General Malaise at 5:12 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

(I guess it tangentially mentions a carpenter, but the song is about a boat.)
posted by General Malaise at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2022

I mean, technically I guess humans are in the mix, but you can't go wrong with Mammal by They Might Be Giants. The whole TMBG canon is heavy with songs about stuff that are often not-human-related, including most of their kids' music.
posted by Shepherd at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

I pity inanimate objects
posted by the Real Dan at 5:37 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I had a really hard time finding songs which don't involve people at all, since the singer's there too, but I do have a bunch that I like that aren't necessarily about people. There's the very haunting If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray, UGH! by BTS - which is about senseless anger - and just for nostalgia value, Bicycle Race by Queen.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 5:38 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

shonen knife and cibo matto both had a lot
posted by raisindebt at 5:46 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Robyn Hitchcock - My Favourite Buildings

Cardiacs - Tarred and Feathered
Frankly the lyrics are slightly opaque, but this certainly seems to be literally about a seabird caught in an oil slick!

Of Montreal - Happy Yellow Bumblebee

Thinking Fellers Union - My Pal the Tortoise
posted by equalpants at 5:48 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hawksley Workman’s Claire Fontaine (the song is written to a major Canadian paper manufacturer)
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 6:31 PM on April 26, 2022

Wabash Cannonball is about a train.
posted by FencingGal at 6:51 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Beatles - Savoy Truffle (sweets)
Regina Spektor - All The Rowboats (museum artifacts)
Andrew Bird - Natural Disaster (natural disasters)
posted by eponym at 7:15 PM on April 26, 2022

Águas de Março (Elis Regina and Tom Jobim). From wikipedia:
The inspiration for "Águas de Março" came from Rio de Janeiro's rainiest month... The lyrics and the music have a constant downward progression much like the water torrent from those rains flowing in the gutters, which typically would carry sticks, stones, bits of glass, and almost everything and anything ... In both the Portuguese and English versions of the lyrics, 'it' is a stick, a stone, a sliver of glass, a scratch, a cliff, a knot in the wood, a fish, a pin, the end of the road, and many other things.
posted by pjenks at 7:16 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Europe Endless by Kraftwerk (parks, hotels, and palaces...)
Buck Hill by the Replacements (Buck Hill in Burnsville, MN)
posted by theory at 7:45 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am just a microwave by SoftLightes
posted by aetg at 8:43 PM on April 26, 2022

Morning Has Broken, sung by Cat Stevens, lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon.

There is one pronoun which refers to a Person, but not a human person.
posted by jamjam at 10:59 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Nthing Europe Endless by Kraftwerk! And also Autobahn (roads, cars), Metropolis (city), Neon Lights, Radioland (tuning a radio dial), etc.

Some other thoughts:

Farväl Portmonnä by Facit, a swedish song about a coin purse

Europe (celebrating Europe's reliable train and telephone networks), Le Camion (about a truck), and Paris Orly (about the old Paris airport) by Deux

Zero as a Limit by the Human League (about a slow motion car crash) and WXJL Tonight (about a fading radio station)

Maybe: Cinemascope (about seeing life as icy geometries on film) by Edith Nylon

Walkman On by SSQ (about the joy of portable cassette players)

My Private Tokyo by Vicious Pink Phenomena (cheesy but fun song about a litany of Japanese brands and things)
posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 11:59 PM on April 26, 2022

Oh, and also:

Lifestyle (about fashion and phonemes) and TV (about watching the news programmes) by Elektrik Musik

This is a fun exercise!
posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 12:13 AM on April 27, 2022

Elvis Costello, Hoover Factory! (An oddly earnest and pretty song from his earlyish years, one of my favorites.)
posted by miles per flower at 4:14 AM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great. Thanks! I'm working through the unfamiliar ones and happy to remember the familiar ones.
posted by eotvos at 5:18 AM on April 27, 2022

Broken Household Appliance National Forest by Grandaddy
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:55 AM on April 27, 2022

'Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat' by Bob Dylan

'Easter Parade' by Irving Berlin is mostly about an Easter bonnet (hat).

I'll stop there. There must be a lot of songs about hats, not to mention other articles of clothing.
posted by JonJacky at 9:51 AM on April 27, 2022

The whole TMBG canon is heavy with songs about stuff that are often not-human-related, including most of their kids' music.

Including "Birdhouse In Your Soul", which is from the perspective of a nightlight serenading the occupant of its room.

I'm also reminded of "Snail Shell", which is from the perspective of a snail that received help from a human and feels overwhelmed with gratitude.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2022

Response by poster: I think i've heard all of them now, and they're great. A best answer is really hard

I also thought of the B-52s Rock Lobster and Quiche Lorraine while listening to others. Thanks!
posted by eotvos at 5:52 PM on April 27, 2022

Disclaimer: Inanimate objects as centerpieces, people are often involved, with lots of allegory.

M.T.A., Kingston Trio, 1959
Wolverton Mountain, Claude King, 1962
Rocky Top, Osborne Brothers, 1967

Sloop John B, The Beach Boys, 1966
Penny Lane, The Beatles, 1967
The Long and Winding Road, The Beatles, 1970
Ventura Highway, America, 1972

Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver, 1971
Rocky Mountain High, John Denver, 1972
Sunshine on My Shoulders, John Denver, 1973
Grandma’s Feather Bed, John Denver, 1974

Streets of Bakersfield, Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, 1988
City of New Orleans, Willie Nelson, 1984
Gulf Coast Highway, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, 1990
John Deere Green, Joe Diffie, 1993

If These Walls Could Speak, Nanci Griffith, 1995
Blue Train, Maura O’Connell, James Grant, Nanci Griffith, 1998
The Lighthouse’s Tale, Nickel Creek, 2001
You Can’t Weld a Body, Karine Polwart, 2006
posted by TrishaU at 6:08 PM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Does “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America count? I mean… there are millions of them and only one amorphous (but enthusiastic) narrator.
posted by argonauta at 6:38 PM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pocket Calculator (Yes, it mentions the operator, but mostly it's about addition, subtraction, and the fact that "by pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody!").

posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 8:15 PM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Cars are not my thing, so I'm not going down this rabbit hole, but YMMV (pun intended):

25 songs with car names

Johnny Cash's One Piece At A Time (about a factory worker who steals car parts one piece at a time in order to build his own car, only to find out he's ended up with a '49, '50, '51, '52, '53, '54, '55, '56 Psycho-Billy Cadillac wit only one tail fin, and everyone mocks him.
posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 8:28 PM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

”Car Bomb” by Negativland is just a shouted list of car parts, punctuated by a repeated strangled cry of “Car Bomb!” (This is my second AskMe where I got to recommend this song and I vow to keep recommending it here as often as possible.)
posted by ejs at 11:20 PM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ejs, despite having that album on my shelf and server, I don't think I ever actually paid attention to the lyrics. Thanks! (It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize you weren't talking about Chumbawamba's Time Bomb. Which isn't toooo far removed, but is definitely not the same. Brains are weird.)
posted by eotvos at 4:54 AM on April 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sufjan Stevens does a lot of songs about many topics, some involving people and some not so much. Here's Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!) from the Michigan album, which also has other songs about Michigan places. And
Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World’s Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)
from the Illinois album; again there are plenty of other non-people songs on that album. I love both so much.

Meg Hutchinson's The Crossing is about a bridge; also a metaphor for an internal state of mind. From the same album, Coming Up is a similar mix of the outside world reflecting the inner world. Not sure if that's the king of thing you're after. Similar vein, the Indigo Girls' Southland in the Springtime.

Animals? Dog Dreams by The Story, which takes inspiration from the Far Side cartoon with two dogs planning mayhem and leaving a note for their "owner": "Me and Rex took the car, ha-ha, stay home! Stay!" And with a completely different sound, M83's Raconte-moi une histoire (that is not the full song but the animation is so cute I had to link it).

Donovan's completely silly but very catchy I Love my Shirt. Since it is about clothing there are people wearing the clothes, but it's about the clothes rather than the people.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:05 PM on April 28, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks, Athanassiel. I'd forgotten about Soufjan Stevens, even thought I've heard it. (At the risk of chat-filter, I played a song from Illinois on stage at the South Pole. It wasn't my idea. The request I received was, "can you transcribe this and then find an instrument with which to play these woodwind parts by tomorrow evening, 'cause nobody else wants to do it." It turned out pretty good, I think, even if it was played on the wrong instruments. It also convinced me to buy the album.) I'm listening to the rest now, as well as earlier suggestions.
posted by eotvos at 8:18 PM on April 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

That sounds very cool, pun not intended. If you do like Illinois (the album), may I also suggest The Avalanche, which is a collection of songs that didn't make it onto Illinois but in my opinion are just as good as the ones that did. It also features about three different versions of "Chicago", which admittedly is a great song, but I often skip them because it gets a bit tedious hearing about how much he doesn't mind and all the mistakes he made. (How many mistakes did you make? Was it a lot? I BET IT WAS A FRIGGIN LOT!)
posted by Athanassiel at 9:33 PM on April 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of these between bouts of insomnia last night and I knew there was one I forgot: Ducks Don't Need Satellites by Kate Miller-Heidke. It is great. And I promise I'll stop now, unless I have trouble sleeping tonight too.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:58 AM on April 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Back again: Laurie Anderson, Big Science. This whole album is just so brilliant.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:01 AM on May 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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