Saturday, August 4, 2007

Top 5 Lyricists

Lyrics are what compels me more than music, and this list is to honor those who have realized that lyrics are important and not to just be shoved in between the catchy instruments. I will give one example of their writing, though all of these definitely have much more to offer.

Tory's Top 5:

1. Conor Oberst - The front man for Bright Eyes who started writing music when he was about 13, and put out about 20 songs written from the time between age 13 and 15, all showing the technique of an established poet. It isn't so much cleverness of the lyrics, but the use of rhyme along with half-rhyme, assonance and alliteration to make lines fit together. Has also established about 4 other bands."There's a dream in my brain, that just won't go away, it's been stuck there since it came a few nights ago / and i'm standing on a bridge, in the town where i lived as kid with my mom and my brothers / and then the bridge disappears and i'm standing on air / with nothing holding me."

2. Damien Rice - Simply an incredible writer. Pairs music with his songs perfectly, and writes what some could say are the most depressing songs in existence, but always sings them with an incredible beauty. "Cheers darlin, I got years to wait around for you / Cheers darlin, I got your wedding bells in my ear / cheers darlin, you gave me three cigarettes, to smoke my tears away."

3. Maynard - Fronting Tool, Maynard James Keenan writes some of the most enigmatic lyrics to ever be written, but they still hold the ability to be poignant at least in meaning. He's also appeared in A Perfect Circle and has another band he's put together Puscifier. "Some say a comet will fall from the sky / followed by meteor showers and title waves / followed by faultlines that cannot sit still / followed by millions of dumb-founded dipshits / some say the end is near / some say we'll see armageddon soon / certainly hope we will /i sure could use a vaction from this / stupid shit, silly shit, stupid shit."

4. Roger Waters - I am an immense Pink Floyd fan, so much that they are one of my favorite bands, as fandom goes. One of the whole points behind Pink Floyd is obviously the trippy lyrics. "Oh, how I wish, how I wish you were here / we're just two lost souls swimmin in a fish bowl, year after year / runnin over the same old ground, and hav you found / the same old fears / wish you were here."

5. Cedric Bixler-Zavala - This may be premature, or a current bias, but these lyrics are some of the most awkward things I've ever read, and that's all there is to say about it. Oh, he sings for The Mars Volta, but stared with the band At the Drive-in. "You must have been phlegmatic in stature / the gates of thanos are spread-eagle wide / you let the shutters make sackcloth and ashes / out of a blind man's picaresque heart."

Ryan's Top 5:

This is a good idea for a list, but I'm feeling a bit boring, as you'll see, so all my answers would probably make the editors at Rolling Stone happy--which means, of course, that my list sucks.

1. John Lennon - For me it was a close call between Lennon and Simon, but I'm going to have to go with the walrus on this one. I don't believe that songs are simply poetry put to music. Occasionally, Paul Simon can write songs that, while great, are more poetic than musical (see: The Dangling Conversation, which is like a poem with background music. Good, though). Anyway, not much sense trying to explain Lennon's greatness, so here's a random quote: "Always know sometimes think it's me / But you know I know when it's a dream / I think I know I mean, ah yes / but it's all wrong / that is I think I disagree / Let me take you down..."

2. Paul Simon - Not to discount Garfunkel's contribution to the band--namely, big hair--but Simon has an amazing way with words. You want examples, I mean, take your pick--The Boxer, I Am A Rock, Sound of Silence, Mrs. Robinson, America, etc. etc. etc. "Hello darkness, my old friend / I've come to talk with you again / Because a vision softly creeping / Left its seeds while I was sleeping / And the vision that was planted in my brain / Still remains / Within the sound of silence." Bonus points for never burning out and producing crap (see: McCartney, Paul), and also solving apartheid in South Africa with Graceland.

3. David Bowie - "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 / Keep your mouth shut, you're squawking like a pink monkey bird / And I'm busting up my brains for the words." I think that pretty much says it all.

4. Harry Nilsson - There were rumors in 1970 that if Paul left the band, Nilsson could've stepped in. That, of course, would have led to Nilsson, Lennon, and Ringo all dying of liver failure by 1973, but it's still neat to think about. "Have you ever watched a moonbeam / As it slid across your windowpane / Or struggled with a bit of rain / Or danced about the weathervane / Or sat along a moving train / And wondered where the train has been..."

5. Paul McCartney - Has done just about everything possible to soil his musical record as of late, but he wrote some of the best songs ever recorded: Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Hey Jude, etc. As we've all heard these songs nine-hundred times, I'll forego the lyrics.

Honorable mentions: I won't try to sneak these guys in this time around, but I do think, given some more time, they could be on this list: Sufjan Stevens, Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy).

Dan's Top 5:

1. David Bowie - I think that if I have to explain Bowie to you, you're not worth talking to. A candidate for being overlooked lyrically, though, since the music is so strong. "And you / You can be mean / And I / I'll drink all the time / 'Cause we're lovers / And that is a fact / Yes we're lovers / And that is that."

2. Warren Zevon - Songwriting with sardonic dark humor? Sign me up. Honestly, Werewolves of London, though his greatest hit, isn't very indicative of his true talent. "I'm very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins / I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in."

3. Damon Albarn - Blur, Gorrilaz, The Good The Bad and The Queen. They're all good. "She says theres ants in the carpet / Dirty little monsters / Eating all the morsels / Picking up the rubbish."

4. Paul Simon - It still astounds me that with all he did in Simon and Garfunkel, he still had enough left in him for a very good solo career. That rarely ever happens. "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school it's a wonder I can think at all / And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall."

5. Colin Meloy - The Decemberists are, according to Colbert, "hyper-literate prog rock," and that couldn't be possible without Colin Meloy. Though I've had their music in my possession for quite some time, I truthfully have only been listening for the last few days. But their specialty for morose sea shanties and upbeat songs about myriad fictional characters lands them a spot in the Top 5. "And they tell her not to say a thing to cousin, kindred, kith or kin or she'll end up dead / And they throw her thirty dollars and return her to the harbour where she goes to bed, and this is how you're fed."

Honorable Mentions: Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney, excluded as they've been named by Ryan, who did them adequate justice.

Tim's Top 5:
1. Bob Dylan - No question here. Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again), Idiot Wind, Tangled Up in Blue, All Along the Watchtower, It Ain't Me Babe, all great songs...and he would win for My Back Pages alone if it really came down to it. Time Out of Mind's tracks like Love Sick and Not Dark Yet continue the tradition, even if his last two albums aren't really worth mentioning. Who else could have written The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and actually turned it into a decent song?

2. Bruce Springsteen - Few artists could have put together an album like The Rising without coming off as a dreadfully trite assemblage of flag-waving garbage. But it's just the sheer volume of great songs that Springsteen has written that involve characters without making them as repetitive as things like Ben Folds' solo work where nearly every song has to have named characters. Born to Run, Thunder Road, Brilliant Disguise, American Skin -- this is great stuff.

3. John Lennon - He does lose some for his all-too-sentimental period around Double Fantasy, but he wrote the Beatles' best material. Imagine, Tomorrow Never Knows, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Instant Karma...McCartney is good, but not on this level...and seriously, McCartney wrote a song called Biker Like an Icon.

4. Elliott Smith - He picked up the John Lennon introspective torch, but took it way farther. Ballad of Big Nothing is one of the best written songs I've heard even though it's extremely simple. Figure 8 may have been his lyrical peak with Stupidity Tries, Son of Sam, but Either/Or isn't far off and From a Basement on A Hill has some great stuff.

5. Noel Gallagher - Sure, I was in high school when (What's the Story) Morning Glory came out, but it had some songs that really struck me as well-crafted -- Don't Look Back in Anger, Some Might Say, really everything except for She's Electric and Chapagne Supernova. And I prefer Definitely Maybe with Rock n' Roll Star and Cigarettes and Alcohol, which really warrants (by itself) a spot higher than 5th.

Honorable mention: Bernie Taupin (hard to admit, but in the 1970s, Elton John actually recorded decent music); Neil Young, Adam Schlesinger/Chris Collingwood (since they're two people, I had to settle for honorable mentioning them), Billy Corgan.


Annie said...

Dan - what happened to Billy Corgan? Not only were they hard to decipher in meaning at times, but they were catchy too.

Though this last album, not too fond of it.

The Monkey said...

Smashing Pumpkins are sometimes too lyrically ambiguous for me to enjoy. Corgan might make a Top 10, but the "huh?" factor excludes him from the 5.

Vulpes Ryanis said...

Bruce Springsteen loses points for me with "Glory Days" and his reference to a "speedball." A what?