CC Issue 47 / Music

My Top 100 Song Lyrics

For me, great lyrics are the difference between songs I only listen to casually and songs that are on constant rotation. There’s no doubt that I can tap my feet to a hypnotic beat and let a melody sink its teeth into me. But that pleasure is only fleeting. When a song contains great lyrics—even if it’s just one or two brilliant lines—you can hold onto them and carry them around even when your earphones are wound up in your pocket. In this post, I have compiled a list of my 100 favourite song lyrics of all time. I have listed them in rough order from least favourite to favourite. I did not try to hide my admiration for Neil Finn and Paul Dempsey. These geniuses are my two favourite songwriters, and their music has helped me immensely throughout life. That’s why their lyrics constitute about a quarter of the entries on this list. For entries 100 to 11, I have simply listed the lyrics. For my top 10, I have briefly described why those particular lyrics mean so much to me. I think you can tell a lot about a person by studying their favourite lyrics. Here is your chance to psychoanalyse me.

100. If you’ll be my bodyguard / I can be your long lost pal / I can call you Betty / And Betty when you call me / You can call me Al. (Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al)

99. Nothing really matters / Anyone can see / Nothing really matters / Nothing really matters to me / Any way the wind blows… (Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody)

98. And if I tell you something / You take me back to nothing / I’m on the edge of something / You take me back / And I’m happy when it rains. (The Jesus & Mary Chain – Happy When it Rains)

97. Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait without you. (U2 – With or Without You)

96. And I find it kind of funny / I find it kind of sad / The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had. (Tears for Fears – Mad World)

95. Sweet wonderful you / You make me happy with the things you do / Oh, can it be so / This feeling follows me wherever I go. (Fleetwood Mac – You Make Loving Fun)

94. Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids / In fact it’s cold as hell / And there’s no one there to raise them / If you did. (Elton John – Rocket Man)

93. He is alive and kicking and screaming / Calls it gymnastics / Calls it velocity. (Something for Kate – Twenty Years)

92. The ashtray says / You were up all night / When you went to bed / With your darkest mind. (Wilco – A Shot in the Arm)

91. Though I know I’ll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I’ll often stop and think about them / In my life, I love you more. (The Beatles – In My Life)

90. Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance / Silver moon’s sparkling / So kiss me. (Sixpence None the Richer – Kiss Me)

89. I’ve got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby / Come with me Friday, don’t say “maybe” / I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby, like you. (Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag)

88. ‘Cause I don’t want to be a container / Or a bastard with a ten-page disclaimer. (Something for Kate – Monsters)

87. Let us be lovers / We’ll marry our fortunes together / I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.(Simon & Garfunkel – America)

86. I want to trip inside your head / Spend the day there / To hear the things you haven’t said / And see what you might see. (U2 – Miracle Drug)

85. Hey, don’t look now / But there goes God / In his sexy pants and his sausage dog / And he can’t stand Beelzebub / ‘Cause he looks so good in black, in black. (Crowded House – There Goes God)

84. We’re after the same rainbow’s end / Waiting ’round the bend / My huckleberry friend / Moon river, and me. (Audrey Hepburn – Moon River)

83. I lost my shirt / I pawned my rings / I’ve done all the dumb things. (Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls – Dumb Things)

82. Now it seems to me some fine things / Have been laid upon your table / But you only want the ones / That you can’t get. (The Eagles – Desperado)

81. Come loose your dogs upon me / And let your hair hang down / You are a little mystery to me / Every time you come around. (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Ship Song)

80. Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been / Lives in a dream / Waits at the window / Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door / Who is it for? (The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby)

79. Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox / They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe. (The Beatles – Across the Universe)

78. Give me reason but don’t give me choice / ‘Cause I’ll just make the same mistake again. (James Blunt – Same Mistake)

77. It’s a pretty pass / How you always seem to land on your feet / A little undone / Anybody else by now would be cold meat. (Paul Kelly – (You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed)

76. She lives with a broken man / A cracked polystyrene man / Who just crumbles and burns.(Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees)

75. But I’m in so deep / You know I’m such a fool for you / You got me wrapped around your finger / Do you have to let it linger? (The Cranberries – Linger)

74. I don’t mind stealing bread / From the mouths of decadence / But I can’t feed on the powerless / When my cup’s already overfilled. (Temple of the Dog – Hunger Strike)

73. Sweet dreams and flying machines / In pieces on the ground. (James Taylor – Fire and Rain)

72. It’s like you’re trying to get to Heaven in a hurry / And the queue was shorter than you thought it would be / And the doorman says / You need to get a wristband. (Alex Turner – It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind)

71. What the world needs now / Is some answers to our problems / We can’t buy more time / ‘Cause our tender isn’t valid. (Bad Religion – Faith Alone)

70. She can’t remember a time when she felt needed / If love was red then she was colour blind.(Savage Garden – To the Moon and Back)

69. I’m strangled by your haunted social scene / Just a pawn outplayed by a dominating queen. (Elton John – Someone Saved My Life Tonight)

68. There is no such place / If I lower mine to yours / Would you kiss me on the face? (Augie March – There is No Such Place)

67. I would go out tonight / But I haven’t got a stitch to wear / This man said “It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care.” (The Smiths – This Charming Man)

66. We gotta get out while we’re young / ‘Cause tramps like us / Baby we were born to run. (Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run)

65. I would love / To trouble you in your time of need / Lose your way / It’s a pleasure when you’re in my command. (Crowded House – In My Command)

64. I’m an alligator / I’m a mama-papa coming for you / I’m the space invader / I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you. (David Bowie – Moonage Daydream)

63. We’ll choke on our vomit / And that will be the end / We were fated to pretend. (MGMT – Time to Pretend)

62. In my life / Why do I give valuable time / To people who don’t care if I live or die? (The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now)

61. Lover, there will be another one / Who’ll hover over you beneath the sun / Tomorrow, see the things that never come / Today. (Neil Young – Birds)

60. The frozen stare / The clothes and hair / These make me taste like a man. (The Jesus & Mary Chain – On the Wall)

59. Your hills and valleys / Are mapped by my intrepid fingers. (Snow Patrol – Crack the Shutters)

58. Oh, isn’t this exactly where you’d like me / I’m exactly where you’d like me, you know / Praying for love in a lap dance / And paying in naivety. (Panic! at the Disco – But It’s Better If You Do)

57. I’m just a slave to ambition / Tension—your permanent condition / So much you’ve always wanted / Too much giving you a sore head. (Crowded House – I Walk Away)

56. If you wait / I’ll give all my aches to you. (You Am I – Berlin Chair)

55. Colour is its own reward. (Crowded House – Fingers of Love)

54. So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I / While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry / And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind / I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those fuckers in. (Josh Pyke – The Lighthouse Song)

53. I told you / That we could fly / ‘Cause we all have wings / But some of us don’t know why. (INXS – Never Tear Us Apart)

52. I’ll know you by the thunderclap / Pouring like a rain of blood to my emotions. (Crowded House – When You Come)

51. So you dance and you shuffle into the eye of the storm / Eyes all on fire as if you’ve never been here before. (Something for Kate – Reverse Soundtrack)

50. And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry / Hey, it’s me, I’m dynamite and I don’t know why. (Van Morrison – Sweet Thing)

49. All I ever wanted was to be your spine. (Archers of Loaf – Web in Front)

48. Could you learn to read minds? / In the case of mine / Do you read in the dark? (Grant Lee Buffalo – Honey Don’t Think)

47. Last cigarettes are all you can get / Turning your orbit around. (Wilco – Jesus, Etc.)

46. I’m the next act waiting in the wings / I’m an animal trapped in your hot car / I am all the days that you choose to ignore. (Radiohead – All I Need)

45. I’ll be your plastic toy. (The Jesus & Mary Chain – Just Like Honey)

44. And you know that I love you / Here and now, not forever / I can give you the present / I don’t know ’bout the future / That’s all stuff and nonsense. (Split Enz – Stuff and Nonsense)

43. I warn you, if cornered / I’ll scratch my way out of the pen / Wired, an animal / The claustrophobia begins. (The Afghan Whigs – What Jail is Like)

42. Have you come here to play Jesus / To the lepers in your head? (U2 – One)

41. Your freezing speech bubbles / Seem to hold your words aloft / I want the smoky clouds of laughter / To swim about me forever more. (Snow Patrol – The Planets Bend Between Us)

40. Burn down the disco / Hang the blessed DJ / Because the music that they constantly play / It says nothing to me about my life. (The Smiths – Panic)

39. Hold me closer, tiny dancer / Count the headlights on the highway / Lay me down in sheets of linen / You had a busy day today. (Elton John – Tiny Dancer)

38. And you know she will trust you / For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind. (Leonard Cohen – Suzanne)

37. Not much time has passed / But already she likes concrete better than grass / And I don’t think we’ll last. (Something for Kate – Pinstripe)

36. No more empty self-possession / Vision swept under the mat / It’s no New Year’s resolution / It’s more than that. (Split Enz – Message to My Girl)

35. And the waitress is practising politics / As the businessmen slowly get stoned / Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone. (Billy Joel – Piano Man)

34. And if a double-decker bus crashes into us / To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.(The Smiths – There is a Light That Never Goes Out)

33. So I’ll start a revolution from my bed / ‘Cause you said the brains I had went to my head. (Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger)

32. All I really, really want our love to do / Is to bring out the best in me and in you. (Joni Mitchell – All I Want)

31. There’s a battle ahead / Many battles are lost / But you’ll never see the end of the road while you’re travelling with me. (Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over)

30. Your waitress was miserable / And so was your food / If you’re gonna try and walk on water / Make sure you wear your comfortable shoes. (Alex Turner – Piledriver Waltz)

29. She can take the dark out of the nighttime / And paint the daytime black. (Bob Dylan – She Belongs To Me)

28. How can I convince you it’s me I don’t like / And not be so indifferent to the look in your eyes / When I’ve always been distant / And I’ve always told lies for love. (Wilco – Reservations)

27. And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they’re going through. (David Bowie – Changes)

26. She’s a jar / With a heavy lid / My pop quiz kid / A sleepy kisser / A pretty war / With feelings hid / She begs me not to miss her. (Wilco – She’s a Jar)

25. I’m a name in a black book / Attached to a face / At the back of your memory’s window display / It’s on the tip of your tongue, I’m sure / But I must away. (Paul Dempsey – Fast Friends)

24. And if the gods desert us now I’ll turn this chapel into flames / And if someone tries to hurt you I would put myself in your place. (Neil Finn – Try Whistling This)

23. And you run like a cat to the cream / And you’re acting so nice it’s obscene / You put on a wonderful show / Do you really, really think I don’t know? / Black and white boy. (Crowded House – Black and White Boy)

22. There’s no hypochondriac novelist / Scrawling messages in your DNA. (Something for Kate – Begin)

21. I can see / That you and me / Live our lives in the pouring rain / And the raindrops beat out of time to our refrain. (The Jesus & Mary Chain – About You)

20. There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness / Truth, beauty, and a picture of you. (The Whitlams – No Aphrodisiac)

19. And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war / For a lead role in a cage? (Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here)

18. Total surrender / Your touch is so tender / Your skin is like water on a burning beach / And it brings me relief. (Crowded House – Nails in My Feet)

17. I feel like I’m in love / With a stranger I’ll never know / Although you’re still a mystery / I’m so glad I’m not alone. (Neil Finn – Anytime)

16. As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset / I am in paradise. (The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset)

15. Magnetism and mystery / Wishful thinking and fantasy / And I hope that you’re not / Hoping for me. (Something for Kate – White)

14. Sooner or later, one of us must know / That I really did try to get close to you. (Bob Dylan – One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later))

13. You only hide because you know I’ll find you. (Something for Kate – You Only Hide)

12. The guilty get no sleep / In the last slow hours of morning / Experience is cheap / I should’ve listened to the warning. (Crowded House – Into Temptation)

11. I could drink a case of you, darling / And I would still be on my feet. (Joni Mitchell – A Case of You)

10.

If I could kill only the time
That truly deserves to die

                                                                 ~ Something for Kate – Deep Sea Divers

This lyric by Paul Dempsey is exquisitely simple, but it conveys that innately human desire to skip all the crap in life and get to the moments that matter. When we speak of “killing time” in everyday parlance, we are generally referring to a situation where we arrive at a place early and need a way to fill the surplus minutes or hours. In Deep Sea Divers, the notion of killing time is more concerned with eradicating painful memories from our psyches. Or maybe it’s about killing those everyday annoyances (conversations about the weather, long queues at the supermarket) that befall us all, and only existing in moments that we’ll remember on our deathbeds.

9.

As is once
Will always be
Earth and sky
Moon and sea

                                                              ~ Crowded House – Together Alone

I don’t have any tattoos, but if I ever decide to get one, this lyric will be it. I love it because it makes me feel so insignificant. I am just a speck in the universe. Earth was turning before I was born into it, and it will continue to turn once I have departed it. When everyone who knows me is dead, no one will talk about me. I will be forgotten. It is an extremely humbling thing to realise and accept this. Do you ever just gaze up at the moon and think about how indifferent the universe is to you? It doesn’t care about your salary or your fancy car. You are nothing to the Earth and Sky. You are nothing to the Moon and Sea.

8.

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around

                                                                             ~ Neil Young – Don’t Let it Bring You Down

This is Neil Young’s rendition of the proverb “This too shall pass.” It’s a fantastic chorus to a fantastic song, and it’s that image of castles burning that really boosts it. Most people would think of castles burning as a catastrophic event, but Young just brushes it aside as a slight inconvenience. He implores us to find someone who’s turning, which reminds us to be happy for our friends’ successes rather than to envy them. I really like this notion of “coming around”. It evokes the idea of starting afresh while still acknowledging the things that broke you in the first place.

7.

I should’ve consulted my local physician
I’m stuck now forever with this tunnel vision
My periphery is screwed
Wherever I look now
All I see is you

                                                          ~ Tim Minchin – You Grew on Me

First of all, I believe Tim Minchin’s You Grew on Me has the finest lyrics of any song ever written. It is thecleverest song ever written. From beginning to end, there is not a single flat spot. I strongly encourage you to listen to the whole song before reading my thoughts on the above lyrics.

As Minchin explains, the song is about the type of love that creeps up on you. It smashes the myth of love at first sight. What I adore about this song is how Minchin approaches love not as a sweet, blissful emotion, but as something dark and stormy…a twisted malady. When you become infatuated with someone, it isn’t pleasant. Sure, you might smile when you hear that person’s favourite song. Hearing that person laugh may fill you with enough joy to subsist on for the rest of the week. And hey, if the feeling’s mutual, then infatuation may not be bad at all. Unrequited love, on the other hand, is something no one ever enjoys. Minchin’s extended metaphor of a love interest as an illness is hauntingly beautiful. The lyrics I have chosen here provide an almost literal interpretation of not being able to get someone out of your head.

6.

But you stand there so nice
In your blizzard of ice
Oh please let me
Come into the storm

                                                                                      ~ Leonard Cohen – One of Us Cannot Be Wrong

This whole song is characterised by lyrical ingenuity. You’ve got rooms filling up with mosquitoes, a doctor locking himself into a library shelf, and a saint drowning himself in a pool. For me, it’s the final verse where most of the magic happens. Most people would attempt to get out of a storm. Cohen cleverly subverts this idea, conceptualising a nude woman as a storm. Despite her being nude, it doesn’t come off as cheap eroticism, and I interpret “Please let me come into the storm” as a way of saying “Let me be a part of your life.”

5.

Sleeping on an unmade bed
Finding out wherever there is comfort there is pain

                                                                                 ~ Crowded House – Four Seasons in One Day

This one’s very self-explanatory, and yet it still makes me shiver whenever I hear it. What’s great is that Finn uses the image of an unmade bed, something that all listeners would be familiar with. It’s not only the image we relate to, but also that crushing disappointment of discovering the flaws to something we initially thought was untainted. I think this gels nicely with the song’s title, perpetuating the notion of emotional turbulence and fluctuations in mood.

4.

I don’t pretend to know what you want
But I offer love

                                                       ~ Crowded House – Distant Sun

Yep, another Crowded House lyric—I told you I love Neil Finn! This lyric is testament to the idea that there is beauty in simplicity. It shows you don’t need an extensive vocabulary to touch another human being. All you need is an underlying sentiment that listeners can call their own. Sometimes a friend or family member will come running to you for help, and you literally have no idea how to help them. You feel like a terrible confidant, as though you have failed in your duty as a person. But there’s often nothing youcan do except listen. Show your love for them by lending an ear. It is worse to pretend you know what they’re talking about and offer half-hearted advice.

3.

The finger of blame has turned upon itself
And I’m more than willing to offer myself
Do you want my presence or need my help?
Who knows where that might lead?

                                                                 ~ Crowded House – Fall at Your Feet

I swear this is the last Crowded House entry on this list! But surely you must excuse me when Neil Finn’s lyrics are as good as this! I’m not sure if Finn has ever explicitly stated what this song is about, but most fans believe it’s about a man who comforts a woman after a breakup, or after she’s been cheated on. The man is romantically interested in this woman, but she only sees him as a shoulder to cry on. This beautiful verse hints that the man finally got to sleep with the woman, which in turn makes her a cheater, hence the finger of blame turning upon itself. It’s all very dark and troublesome. I love the ambiguity of that last line…how we’re left with two fragile people trying to find some reconciliation.

2.

I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

                                                           ~ The Smiths – How Soon is Now?

Isn’t that what we all want? To find someone who won’t kick us out of bed? We all want to be a part of someone else’s life. Maybe not now, but being alone is only comfortable for so long. We want to be the reason someone cancels their plans on a Friday night. We want someone to come home to and sidle up with on the couch. We want someone who will accept our shortcomings because our virtues make them happier than anything else. We just want to be loved. Or maybe some of us just want to be liked. We want 10 new Facebook notifications when we wake up in the morning. We want someone to save a seat for us at the movies. We want to be told, “Hey, I like you. You’re kinda funny.” We want anything but the rejection of who we are at our cores. We want to be validated. That’s why we get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t get up and do something, no one will know you’re alive.

1.

There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

                                           ~ Joni Mitchell – Little Green

This is it. This is the lyric that encapsulates the totality of existence better than any other. This sums up life’s dizzying highs and its depressing lows. This lyric is every girl who’s ever broken your heart. This lyric is finding ten bucks behind the couch. This lyric is dipping a biscuit into your cup of tea and having it break off and sink to the bottom. This lyric is the first sip of water after a long hike in the middle of summer. This lyric is peeing your pants in front of your classmates. This lyric is the time you fought the bully and won. This lyric is your grandmother’s funeral. This lyric is a New Year’s Eve kiss. This lyric is falling off the skateboard and grazing your knee. This lyric is putting sunglasses on your dog and laughing at how much he looks like a human being. This lyric is finding out there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny. This lyric is an electric blanket on subzero nights. This lyric is seeing your parents cry. This lyric is sucking the helium out of a balloon. This lyric is cancer. This lyric is the day you removed the training wheels from your bike. This lyric is a three-hour lecture on something you don’t care about, like quantum physics or politics in Lichtenstein. This lyric is coffee with an old friend on Sunday morning. This lyric is “I think we should start seeing other people.” This lyric is the smell of a library with heritage status. This lyric is your first trip to the dentist. This lyric is soft-serve ice cream from McDonald’s. This lyric is the reason you check your closet before you go to sleep at night. This lyric is racing out of bed on Christmas morning and stubbing your toe on the way to the tree. This lyric is everyone you’ve ever known, and everything you could possibly be.

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