Best Of Rock: 10 Lyrics That Rattle The Brain
By Ralph Greco, Jr.
Being in these jaded years of my late thirties — so late that I am 48 — I am still surprised when a song I have heard hundreds of times brings a smile to my face. I guess this speaks to the enduring quality of a classic tune where a guitar lead, a vocal inflection or a beat can still get you responding after hearing it so many times.
So it is true I find of lyrics. Certain lines or words I have heard millions of times before, I still either find myself waiting to laugh over or experience a chill when I hear sentiments that are way too true. Below is a list of 10 of these lyrical rock and roll moments that, for whatever reason, still bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye — even with repeated listenings.
1 ) Kodachrome – "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school / It's a wonder I can think at all." Paul "Rhymin'' Simon has had his ups and down with Art Garfunkel and some will argue his best days were way back in the "Sounds Of Silence" 60s. Simon, however, has made some great solo music and "Kodachrome" is one of his best. What I particularly like about this one is how it pretty much sums up those four years I spent in a social whirlwind where girls and rock and roll mattered a hell of a lot more than learning ever could.
2) Schools Out – "And we got no class / And we got no principles / And we got no innocence / We can't even think of a word that rhymes." These are the lyrics of the 'I-laugh-out-loud-every-time-I-hear-it' variety. Less we forget how Alice Cooper originated the entire rock and roll as theater thang every much as David Bowie or anyone else, the intelligence belying these fours lines shows the genius from a time when Alice Cooper was truly alone in his field.
3) Candle In The Wind – "From the young man in the 22nd row / Who sees you as something more than sexual / More than just our Marilyn Monroe." As celebrated a lyricist as Bernie Taupin is and as fantastic a songwriter Sir Elton John has proved himself to be around Taupin's words, this particular couplet from 1973 works for me on two levels — as much for what's being said as much as how it is said. For one, the lines conjure a great visual of a young man watching sex symbol Marilyn Monroe in a movie theater, reconciling his thoughts of love with lust. Secondly (and to John's credit), the lyric does not fit the meter of the song. John makes it fit, of course, but he rushes the "22nd row" part as well as offering his very English pronunciation of "sexual" to make it all flow.
4, 5, 6) Three from Pete Townshend – There are plenty I can pick from the Who's master architect, but his solo vocal bridge — "Don't cry / Don't raise your eye / It's only teenage wasteland" — from "Baba O'Riley," along with the emboldened declaration — "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss" — from "Won't Get Fooled Again," fall into the chill-up-my-spine category of speaking truths that not only succinctly and beautifully comment on the times, but are still as applicable today. From Townsend's stellar solo works, nothing stops my blood cold like these lines from "Slit Skirts," from the All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes album — "And girls who lost their children cursed the men who fit the coil / And men not fit for marriage took their refuge in the oil." When I finally understood what Townshend was really saying in this song, I nearly had to pull my car over to the side of the road to catch my breath.
8) Ziggy Stardust – "Making love with his ego." So does David Bowie mean in this seminal song that when Ziggy made love, he did it with as much of his ego than with what one would usually use to make love with? Or that Ziggy was making love to his ego? Or both? I know Bowie could have said "to his ego," but then we wouldn't have this double meaning (or at least I wouldn't). I love this line and ponder it every time I hear it. Maybe I just have too much time on my hands.
9) She's The One – No self-respecting Jersey boy could leave Springsteen off this list and there are lots from The Boss to choose from. From "She's The One," some of my favorite opening lines, balancing the line between the slightly ethereal and the downright urban: "With her killer graces and her secret places that no boy can fill / With her hands on her hips and that smile on her lips because she knows that it kills me." I could have sworn Bruce knew some of the girls from my neighborhood.
10) Karn Evil 9, First Impression – While I would agree that Emerson, Lake and Palmer didn't always deliver lyrically as much as they did musically, when the boys were on target (with some heavy contributions from lyricist Peter Sinfield, (Greg Lake's buddy from his King Crimson days) they could be right on target. Along with the example above, another of my favorite opening lines, as much for the apocalyptic sci-fi imagery, is how one needs to take a big breath in just the precise place to even be able to sing these lines without collapsing, is from "Karn Evil 9, First Impression" — "Cold and misty morning I heard a warning borne in the air / About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare / Where the seeds have withered, silent children shivered in the cold / Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold."
11) The End – I know I said 10, but I can't get through a list like this without something from the Beatles. "The End" not only has what I feel might be the best lyric to end any rock song (certainly one that sums up the Beatles' entire career), but it is also the only Beatles tune to feature solos from all four members, including Ringo Starr, who detested drum solos. The final line — "And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love / You make" — is a stellar Macca moment.