April 17, 2006

"One Life, With Each Other, Sisters, Brothers."

Best line in a song, ever? It was voted so, in a VH1 survey, beating out "So You Go, And You Stand On Your Own, And You Leave On Your Own, And You Go Home, And You Cry, And You Want To Die." Well, it's a hell of a lot cheerier, and since optimistic, hopeful lines -- like "Look At The Stars, Look How They Shine For You" -- are all over the place on this list of 20, I think it's a very impressive showing for The Smiths.

Re "One":
U2 classic One is often played at weddings, but guitarist Edge has in the past said: “It’s not that kind of song”.

The three videos that the band made for the single – depicting everything from the band in drag, Bono singing at a restaurant table, and buffalos running across a plain – shed no light on the meaning of the song either.
I think people especially love song lyrics that they can't quite understand. A few evocative words, sung with passion and style, but just enough out of reach that you can pour your own meaning in -- we love that.

58 comments:

Gerry said...

I saw, in a discussion about this very same article, someone say (tongue in cheek, I assume) they were disappointed that Led Zepplin's Dancing Days didn't make the list, with:

I saw a lion he was standing alone, a tadpole in a jar

Joseph Hovsep said...

I think people especially love song lyrics that they can't quite understand.

I loved to watch people slow dance to "Every Breath You Take" by the Police at high school dances. Either kids didn't understand the lyrics or they had really creepy relationships.

My pick for best lyrics is from Dreaming by Blondie: "When I met you in the restaurant. You could tell I was no debutant". Best rhyme ever.

Ann Althouse said...

An' I say, "Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante."
An' she says, "Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want.


It's not even the best "debutante" rhyme!

Kevin S. said...

How about the Valentine's Day DJ playing "The One I Love."

This one goes out to the one I love
This one ges out to the one I left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

SippicanCottage said...
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Kevin S. said...

My votes (at this moment...):

(1)
"Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together"
America, Simon and Garfunkel

(2)
"How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away."
Father and Son, Cat Stevens

(3)
"And she used to fall down a lot
That girl was always falling
Again and again
And I used to sometimes try to catch her
But I never even caught her name"
Catch, The Cure

George Wallace said...

What? No Elvis Costello?

I said 'I'm so happy I could die,'
She said, 'Drop dead!' and left with another guy...


And another thing: what's it all about with Capitalizing Nearly Every Word in the Quoted Lyrics in That Article?

And oh yes, lest we miss it, Ann is exactly right in citing Dylan's debutante as best lyrical debutante ever.

SippicanCottage said...
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Terri said...

What? No "It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford / Slowing down to take a look at me" ... ?

I am shocked and disappointed!

bill said...

Brenda Kahn's "Mint Juleps and Needles" is the most ebullient song of youthful nihilism I've ever heard and has two of my favorite lines of all time:

1. Mint juleps and needles don't add up to wisdom

2. We are the people our parents warned us about.

Next favorite would be the Replacements: Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes

George Wallace said...
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George Wallace said...

This article, with the Manchester-centric title "U2 top The Smiths in battle of the lyrics, indicates that the survey was of "Britain's favourite lyrics," which would go a long way toward explaining the presence of Robbie Williams.

But if that's the case, it's hard to fathom the omission of:

God Save the Queen!
She ain't no human bean'!

Ann Althouse said...

George: Yeah, funny about the capitalization. I'm thinking some editor got confused and believed he was looking at song titles.

C. Schweitzer said...

U2 is the source of many a fine lyric:

You say you'll give me a highway with no one on it

I love the image that line conveys. On the flip side, I like the unabashed cynicism of The Kinks' "Celluloid Heroes":

I wish my life was a non-stop hollywood movie show, a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes, because celluloid heroes never feel any pain and celluloid heroes never really die

Finn Kristiansen said...

I think you have to have some Leonard Cohen, when it comes to great lyrics, and some of those top 20 choices I am not to keen on.


Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Gerry said...

Now, if we are going to get into Kinks lyrics, Lola is fun, but my fave is...

I remember, when you were down
And you needed a helping hand
I came to feed you
But now that I need you
You won't give me a second glance
Now I'm calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I'm falling

Help me now I'm calling you
Catch me now I'm falling
I'm in your hands, it's up to you
Catch me now I'm falling

I remember when you were down
You would always come running to me
I never denied you and I would guide you
Through all of your difficulties
Now I'm calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I'm falling ...

When you were broke you would come to me
And I would always pull you round
Now I call your office on the telephone
And your secretary tells me that she's sorry,
But, you've gone out of town...

I stood by you through all of your depressions
And I lifted you when you were down
Now it's your chance to do the same for me
I call your office and your secretary tells me
That you've gone out of town ...

I was the one who always bailed you out
Of your depressions and your difficulties
I never thought that you would let me down
But the next time you're in trouble
Better not come running to me

Now I'm calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I'm falling
Catch me now I'm falling

chuck b. said...

You're completely right about the vague lyrics, Ann.

Also, I love the lyrics whose merest incantation summons up the whole song--i.e., Leonard Cohen's "Come over to the window, my little darling, I'd like to try to read your poem..." or Stevie Wonder's "There is superstitious writing on the wall..."

If you know the songs, you can't imagine hearing the words any other way than the way they're sung.

Re U2: For a year I thought it was "I *can* live with or without you", not "I can't". I like it my way better.

Mark Daniels said...

My favorite all-time line in a song is, "gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight" from Bruce Cockburn's song, 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time.'

Mark Daniels

SippicanCottage said...
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Alan said...

Woke up this morning with a wine glass in my hand
Whose wine, what wine, where the hell did I dine?

Abraham said...

Settle down, raise a family, join the PTA.
Buy some sensible shoes and a Chevrolet.
Then party 'till you're broke and they take you away.
It's okay.
Dare to be stupid.

PatCA said...

"and when no hope was left in sight on that starry
starry night.
You took your life
as lovers often do;
But I could have told you
Vincent
this world was never
meant for one
as beautiful as you."

I also love Costello, some Sting and Cohen--pop lyrics with an adult edge.

Palladian said...

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace, and rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace.

Palladian said...

I may make you feel but I can't make you think. Your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink.

SippicanCottage said...
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XWL said...

Pop, should be Poppy and peppy.

Therefore any list that doesn't include Mmmbop, isn't worth paying attention to.

Come on, look at the chorus

Mmmbop, ba duba dop ba do bop,
Ba duba dop ba do bop,
Ba duba dop ba do. oh yeah,
Mmmbop ba duba dop ba do bop,
Ba duba dop ba do bop,
Ba duba dop ba do

SippicanCottage said...
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Palladian said...

I don't think that I can take it.

'Cause it took so long to bake it.

And I'll never have that recipe again.

Oh no.

Palladian said...

She wrecked the car and she was sad
And so afraid that I'd be mad
But what the heck.

Though I pretended hard to be,
Guess you could say she saw through me
And hugged my neck.

MadisonMan said...

Pretty Women out walking with gorillas down my street,
From my window I'm starin' while my coffee grows cold

and

'Til the time that I can do my dancin with a partner, those happy couples ain't no friend of mine.

What a sublime album! (Look Sharp!)

I also have a soft spot for

I was working all night in my office
When a man I had recently killed
Called me up from a phone near my building
So I looked out the window at him
He had the same obsequious manner
That was the reason I had him killed
So to calm my nerves I sang this song
To him, over the phone...

Actually, just about any lyric by TMBG are great.

Adam said...

Losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

SippicanCottage said...
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Matt Barr said...

Great thread. As President, Fiona Apple Fan Club, Red State Blogger Division, here's one:

It won't be long till you'll be lying limp in your own hands

We must have Zevon in this thread.

Even the lhasa apso seems to be ashamed

Name that tune:

I'm tired of making out on the telephone

downtownlad said...

Horrible choice. I'm a big U2 fan, but "One" has got to be one of their worst songs ever.

I've never thought that lyrics were a strong point with U2. It's their rock anthems combined with Bono's passion that makes them such a good band.

If you want good lyrics, I'd have to go with Sufjan Stevens any day of the week. It's hard to find better lyrics than "Come on Feel the Illinoise!" and "Chicago", some of the best songs of this decade.

downtownlad said...

I changed my mind.

Too Much Joy has the best lyrics ever. Every single song. Here's an example:

"Thanksgiving in Reno" by Too Much Joy
From the album, "Cereal Killers"

At the $5.99 buffet
In reno on thanksgiving day
nobody seemed to care
why anyone else was there

me and my buddy jay
watched bad cover bands play
got little drinks for free
kept betting on twenty-three

we got drunk
we got sad
i met a girl who
said she could save me

she said "i am a hug
i wrap around you and i scrub
you're made of dirt my dear
i scrub until you disappear

that's what absolution means"
she put a dollar in a slot machine
three triple bars came up we won six hundred bucks

we got stoned
we had sex
i dreamt that i was
evel knievel

SippicanCottage said...
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loner said...

Mine since the day I first heard it:

All over people changing their votes
Along with their overcoats
If Adolf Hitler flew in today
They'd send a limousine anyway


though a certain lyric about every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n' roll by the same band isn't half bad.

BC it was one or another Beatles, Dylan or Stones lyric when it wasn't:

Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and a juke-box jumping with records like in the U.S.A.

Wade_Garrett said...

My personal take: what's so appealing about the song "One" is that the song's narrator seems to weigh loving somebody imperfect against going out on his own, finally coming down on the side of love. I like the fact that its not puppy dog love, but a serious reflection on real adult love. The lyric "we're one, but we're not the same, we've got to carry each other, carry each other . . ." seems to put the value of real love above the value of an idealized love with some woman he has not yet met, and suspects he never will. I love that song. I read once that the song grew out of a leftover bridge that The Edge wrote for "Mysterious Ways." The band liked it, but thought it was not the best fit for Mysterious Ways, so they played around a little bit and composed a song to put around it. An accidental classic!

I know it isn't British, but I haven't ever had a lyric hit my quite like "I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind, you could've done better but I don't mind. You just kind of wasted my precious time, but don't think twice, its all right." That hit me like a fist to the gut the first time I heard it -- I almost started crying.

Wade_Garrett said...

There's a good argument that everything written by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter is better than anything written by Robbie Williams, but I'm guessing that the average age of the polled audience, combined with the fact that standards can't really be considered to be "pop" music anymore, made them off limits.

MadisonMan said...

There's a good argument that everything written by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter is better than anything written by Robbie Williams,

Excellent point.

The girls today in society long for classical poetry, but to win their hearts you must quote, with ease, Aeschylus and Euripides.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Lyrics You can't understand"

----Isn't that called dissonance?

I'll show you lyrics you can't understand. Try listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon". Great Gig In The Sky----my favorite song on that album. Been trying to figure out those lyrics for the past 25 years....I'l get it yet.

Peace, Maxine

SippicanCottage said...

My eyes adored you
Though I never laid a hand on you
My eyes adored you

Abraham said...

My favorite all-time lyricist of course: Tom Lehrer.

All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon,
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.
Ev'ry Sunday you'll see
My sweetheart and me,
As we poison the pigeons in the park.

When they see us coming, the birdies all try an' hide,
But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.
The sun's shining bright,
Ev'rything seems all right,
When we're poisoning pigeons in the park.


Or, from my favorite tune of his, "Smut" (about the infamous line of obscenity cases that went before the SCOTUS):

Smut!
Give me smut and nothing but!
A dirty novel I can't shut,
If it's uncut,
And unsubt-
Le.

I've never quibbled
If it was ribald,
I would devour where others merely nibbled.
As the judge remarked the day that he
Acquitted my Aunt Hortense,
"To be smut
It must be ut-
Terly without redeeming social importance."

Por-
Nographic pictures I adore.
Indecent magazines galore,
I like them more
If they're "hard core"...

bluehoo12 said...

So many too choose from, here are two that sprung to mind.

Last Kiss by Frank Wilson

Where, oh where, can my baby be?
the lord took her away from Me. she’s gone to heaven, so I’ve got to be good. so I can see my baby when i Leave this world.


Mountain Bed by Woodie Guthrie

Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves:
Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds:
You laughed as I covered you over with leaves, face, breast, hips and thighs,
You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes.

There in the shade and hid from the sun we freed our minds and learned
Our greatest reason for being here, our bodies moved and burned
There on our mountain bed of leaves we learned life’s reason why
The people laugh and love and dream, they fight, they hate to die.

bill said...

"Lyrics You can't understand"

----Isn't that called dissonance?


Reminds me of a routine a friend and I did about "REM Songs You Almost Know the Lyrics To!" My favorite part being:

...(while bobbing your head to the music in your head and performing the white man overbite) ...pause...pause...pause...pause... "LEONARD BERNSTEIN."

Comedy, do not attempt at home.

SippicanCottage said...
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Al Maviva said...

Man. A lot of lame-oid stuff on that list. But then I have always hated post 1970 pop, preferring alt.pop or other genres like blues or jazz. I can't give just one best lyric from the most "pop" stuff I've listened too, so here's a couple best:

You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.


- The Dead

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself-Why...How did I get here?

- Talking Heads

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names.
An' he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won't be treated all the same.
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down.
When the man comes around.


- Johnny Cash

SteveR said...

"You sit and wonder just who's gonna stop the rain
Who'll ease the sadness, who's gonna quiet the pain
It's a long dark highway and a thin white line
Connecting baby, your heart to mine
We're runnin' now but darlin' we will stand in time
To face the ties that bind
The ties that bind
Now you can't break the ties that bind
You can't forsake the ties that bind"

Bruce

Henry said...

I'd nominate this, a great line from the Queen hit none of the idols chose to cover:

She keeps her Moet et Chandon
In her pretty cabinet
'let them eat cake' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette


Unfortunately, I don't think story songs can ever get the vote. Emotive lyrics, of love or longing, are much more addictive.

Which is why this isn't in the top 20, either:

Just a man with a man's courage
He knows nothing but a man
But he can never fail
No one but the pure in heart
May find the golden grail
Oh oh - oh oh - Flash

PatCA said...

"I've never thought that lyrics were a strong point with U2. It's their rock anthems combined with Bono's passion that makes them such a good band."

Exactly.

Hey, we agree on something!

mdmnm said...

Matt (10:27 4/17) challenged: "Name that tune: I'm tired of making out on the telephone"
Dire Straits: So Far Away From Me
Downtownlad (10:44 4/17) opined "Horrible choice." I thought the song was ok as performed by U2, but really grew to like it much better having heard it covered. Listen to the Cowboy Junkies' cover on "Early 21st Century Blues", acoustic and greatly benefitting from Margo Timmins' wonderful voice. "One" is a great "no longer in love" or maybe "no longer able to continue in love" song. Very harsh, really. Not my choice for a wedding, funny people would play it at such an event. On the big day, would you want to listen to:
Did I ask too much?
More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it's all I've got
We're one but we're not the same
Well we hurt each other then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got when all you got is hurt

MadisonMan said...

I'd nominate this, a great line from the Queen hit none of the idols chose to cover:

She keeps her Moet et Chandon
In her pretty cabinet
'let them eat cake' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette


That would be a very hard song to sing, especially if you aren't able to electronically jazz up your voice at dynamite with a laser beam.

And I'm sure the AI people had no clue who Khruschev was.

I don't quibble with the Queen song on the list (B. Rhapsody), however. Great lyrics, whatever they mean.

Barry Kearns said...

'Cause in my head
there's a Greyhound station
where I send my thoughts
to far-off destinations
so they may have a chance
of finding a place where they're
far more suited than here...

-- Death Cab For Cutie, "Soul Meets Body"

Barry Kearns said...

(since first hearing that lyric, I've considered it one of the most poetic descriptions I've heard of my particular impulse to blog...)

YAMB said...

Best recent lyric rhyming band: Bowling for Soup.

She went to Cleveland
With some guy named Leland
That she met at the bank.

She went to make a deposit
Then she cleaned out her closet . . .

Joseph Hovsep said...

Jeff Buckley's bitter lyrics to Hallelujah (peformed by lots fo people from John Kale to Rufus Wainwright):

"All I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you"

There is something about love-gone-wrong lyrics that bite harder than anything. But then again, maybe its too easy a genre.

Joseph Hovsep said...

BTW, after some soul searching, I have found it in my heart to forgive Prof. Althouse and George Wallace for their blasphemous comments about the "best" "debutante" rhyme. If it was anyone other than Dylan's lyrics, I might not have been able to suck it up.

knoxgirl said...

I always thought the way Bono sort of sings/says that line from "One" sounded kind of awkward. It seems like a warm-fuzzy choice to me.

I don't know about "best," but I always liked this line from the Flaming Lips' "Are you a Hypnotist?":

I had forgiven you for tricking me again
But I have been tricked again into forgiving you