Of Ear Worms and Pop Philosophy: My Favourite Song Lyrics

I was listening to classic songs on the radio this weekend while cooking. I was singing and jiving along, when two things occurred to me:

  1. There is a part of the brain uniquely specialised in song lyrics you acquired as a child and teenager. You will remember them and be word-perfect even decades afterwards.
  2. No other songs since have quite captured that uncertainty and angst which threatened to overwhelm you back then… and which have periodically reared up their ugly heads. You vaguely realised back then that life is unfair and hard, but you have to keep trudging on. Now you know for sure. And, just occasionally, there are some moments which make it all worthwhile.

So here are my favourite songs from those teenage years. Little wonder I turned to noir novels and dark, emotionally-wrenching poetry later in life… [I hope it’s OK to use these excerpts, by the way, I know that copyright for song lyrics are very, very tricky in books and the like.]

Album cover, from soundcheck.wnyc.org
Legendary album cover, from soundcheck.wnyc.org

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here

We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

Pink Floyd: Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

GloryDaysSpringsteenBruce Springsteen: Glory Days

… I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days



Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes

talkingheadsTalking Heads: Once in a Lifetime

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?

And how could I leave out my favourite Mr. Bowie?

David Bowie: Changes

And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test…

Finally, just in case you thought it was getting all too masculine and self-important, here’s one of the wittiest songs in existence (and so true of me and my passion for shoes):

From KirstyMacColl.com
From KirstyMacColl.com

Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?

Then I met an Englishman
“Oh” he said
“Won’t you walk up and down my spine,
It makes me feel strangely alive.”

I said “In these shoes?
I doubt you’d survive.”

If you know these songs, I’d encourage you to remind yourselves how gorgeous they all are. And if you don’t know them, you should set to discovering them at once.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

17 thoughts on “Of Ear Worms and Pop Philosophy: My Favourite Song Lyrics”

  1. Oh, I couldn’t agree more, Marina Sofia, about songs from those teen years. They do stay with one in ways that no other songs really do. In some ways they just seem to speak to us. You’ve got some great ones here, too!

  2. My thoughts have been running along similar lines recently, but even more so, me being a bit older than you. A few days ago I discovered that someone has put up on YouTube a copy of the very first LP I ever owned, at the grand old age of eight or ten: Scottish Choice, by Robin Hall & Jimmie McGregor and the Galliards. As I played it, I was singing along, still remembering the lyrics virtually word-perfect.

    There’s another oddity about songs one has known since youth. By my late teens I’d graduated to stuff like Simon & Garfunkel and The Incredible String Band, stuff that still gets played on occasion as background to work. Every now and then I’ve caught myself singing along to a song while simultaneously writing. It’s as if some of the songs are so deeply ingrained that I no longer need to use the conscious part of my brain, wholly focused on the writing bit, in order to recall them and even join in.

    One factor that may be important is that, in my yoof, we would actually sit and listen to LPs whereas nowadays we (or certainly I) tend to do other things while the music’s playing.

    1. Thank you for sharing your favourites (I love Simon & Garfunkel too, and Paul Simon post-Garfunkel). You’re probably right about the ‘have seeped through and permeated the subconscious’ and also that we used to listen much more closely to music back then. I remember trying to catch the Top 40 on radio with my finger poised to stop the tape before the DJ started talking on top of the song. And mix tapes – aaaah!

  3. Fab post… love your choices – especially Kirsty MacColl & Talking Heads! Haha and yes – Sunday evenings taping the top 40 – often ruined by mother shouting me for tea or siblings annoying me… absolute rite of passage!

    1. Super-interesting article, thanks for drawing my attention to it, Sylvie. Yes, and of course, all the lovely (or sad, but very heartfelt) memories that we associate with that music…

  4. This is so so true. The songs that hit the spot for me are much older, because I am much older, but I do love that Talking Heads song, which my son introduced to me.

  5. Yes indeed! Great choices, especially the Kirsty McColl – a real treat to be reminded of that one. I can still sing my way through the first six or seven Bowie albums and still regularly sing most of the songs from Don McLean’s American Pie album while doing housework… (on the rare occasions that that happens…)

  6. Very true about remembering lyrics from your teenage years.
    The first songs that came to my mind when I was reading your post are Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen & The Severed Garden by Jim Morrison.

  7. Music was THE most important thing when I was young. I would study the lyrics,trying to get the deep meaning. Nowadays I will listen to the new stuff, but don’t take the time dig deeper.

  8. All great songs. Kind of interesting that Pink Floyd of all bands has some of the ‘catchier pop’ tunes given their overall approach to music. ‘The Wall” is just one ear worm after another – and I think they would appreciate the term ear worm.

    Did remind of the segment from ‘Touching the Void’ where Joe Simpson talks about not being able to get the tune “Brown Girl in the Ring” by Boney M out of his head, while he, severely injured and delirious, crawled back for days to base camp after a mountaineering accident. Makes me afraid that if in a similar situation, my ear worm would be something like Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did It Again”.

    1. In a book I just read recently ‘West’ there is the theme of the song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ running through it, all radio stations seem to be playing it, and of course it’s ironical at the expense of immigrants in search of the ‘promised land’.
      I too fear that a really stupid song might get stuck in my head…

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