“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (Album: “Asch Recordings: Volume 1”)

Well I rode that ribbon highway

I saw above me the endless sky

I saw below me the golden valley

This land was made for you and me

I’ve roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps

Through the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts

And all around me a voice was calling

This land was made for you and me

This land is your land

This land is my land

From California

To the New York island

From the Redwood Forest

To the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me

Well the sun came shining and I was strolling

Through wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling

And a voice was sounding

As the fog was lifting

Saying this land was made for you and me

This land is your land

This land is my land

From California

To the New York island

From the Redwood Forest

To the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

Iconic is the word that most readily springs to mind with the above homage to America, a land of natural beauty, but also blighted by iniquities and poverty with this latter only very subtly implied. Such vivid poetry in the early lyrics- “ribbon highway”, “endless sky”, “golden valley”, “sparkling sands” and “diamond desert”- sets a stage of natural beauty as he wanders through a landscape of awe-inspiring beauty. “A voice was calling” contrasts with the later verses, “a voice was sounding, as the fog was lifting”, where Guthrie hints that the call from nature to attend to its beauty has been superceded by a demand for inclusiveness and justice. Superb eloquence and social conscience unified in a compelling hymn to the bounty of a wondrous continent.

“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” by Bob Dylan

If today was not an endless highway,

If tonight was not a crooked trail,

If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time,

Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all.

Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’,

Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’,

Only if she was lyin’ by me,

Then I’d lie in my bed once again.

I can’t see my reflection in the waters,

I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain,

I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps,

Or can’t remember the sound of my own name.

Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’,

Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’,

Only if she was lyin’ by me,

Then I’d lie in my bed once again.

There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river,

There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky,

But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty

That I remember in my true love’s eyes.

Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’,

Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’,

Only if she was lyin’ by me,

Then I’d lie in my bed once again.

Beautifully composed lyric by Dylan is a personal favourite, combines wistful and evocative longing with a compelling portrait of beauty as embodied in his lover, who entrances and beguiles him, even though she seems ephemeral and perennially out of his reach. The stanza “I can’t see my reflection in the waters, I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain, I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps, Or can’t remember the sound of my own name” is as lyrical and as eloquent as any Dylan ever wrote, held completely in the thrall of his “true love’s eyes” that he can think of nothing else, unable to engage with his own being independent of her on any tangible level.

“Moonlight Mile” by The Rolling Stones (Album: “Sticky Fingers”)

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold

With a head full of snow

With a head full of snow

In the window there’s a face you know

Don’t the nights pass slow, Don’t the nights pass slow

The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind

Just another mad, mad day on the road

I am just living to be lying by your side

But I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road

Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes

Gonna warm my bones

Gonna warm my bones

I got silence on my radio

Let the air waves flow, Let the airwaves flow

Oh I’m sleeping under strange strange skies

Just another mad, mad day on the road

My dreams is fading down the railway line

I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road

I’m hiding sister and I’m dreaming

I’m riding down your moonlight mile

I’m hiding baby and I’m dreaming

I’m riding down your moonlight mile

I’m riding down you moonlight mile

Let it go now, come on up babe

Yeah, let it go now

Yeah, flow now baby

Yeah move on now yeah

Yeah, I’m coming home

‘Cause, I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road

Down the road, down the road…….

Mick Jagger/Keith Richards songs often contain overt drug references, or discuss the vicissitudes of drug use, and this is especially so on the “Sticky Fingers” album. This beautifully composed and arranged song is outwardly a lyrical ballad about loneliness and longing, from the perspective of a man living a hard working life plying his trade “on the road”, and missing his lover who is far away. With clear reference to Jagger’s life as a rock musician, he sings of his exhaustion and dissatisfaction with the endless travelling, the raucous tumult and constant parade of “strangers sending nothing to my mind” that he must endure as a rock icon. The reference to a “moonlight mile” and a “head full of snow” are clearly alluding to snorting a line of cocaine on the one hand, which is transporting him in a erotic drug-fuelled haze to “lie”(metaphorically) with his lover, while also drawing a vivid picture of our protagonist out on the highway on a cold dark night using the light of the moon to guide him home to her. All of this is set against dream-like string arrangements with ghostly piano runs rising to an orgasmic crescendo, followed by a wistful, moaning coda where the music trails away seemingly into the clear night sky.

“Into The Mystic”  by Van Morrison (Album: “Moondance”)

We were born before the wind

Also younger than the sun

Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic

Hark, now hear the sailor’s cry

Smell the sea and feel the sky

Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that foghorn blows I will be coming home

And when the foghorn blows I want to hear it

I don’t have to fear it

And I want to rock your gypsy soul

Just like way back in the days of old

And magnificently we will fold into the mystic

When that foghorn blows you know I will be coming home

And when that foghorn whistle blows I got to hear it

I don’t have to fear it

And I want to rock your gypsy soul

Just like way back in the days of old

And together we will fold into the mystic

Come on girl…

Too late to stop now…

Dual meanings and ambiguities abound in this cleverly conceived dissertation on devotion, both secular and religious. The homophonic comparisons between the introductory lyrics of “Into the Mystic”- born/borne, also/all so, sun/son, won/one and mystic/mist/misty – obscure Morrison’s true meaning from the listener, a clear artistic choice he takes deliberately, thereby linking the eternal love of the sailor for his estranged wife with that of returning to a state of grace found in God’s everlasting love and forgiveness. The opening lines give the song a timeless quality that stretches, in at least one interpretation, from before Creation and onward to Eternity. More literally perhaps, the sailor is shown to be imploring his wife to open her soul to the sensuality of the sea and air in order that they might attain unification through the common experiences of nature’s beauty even though they are parted across a great distance, thus releasing them from the earthly realm to be transported to a more metaphysical plane of existence. A truly beautiful and unifying concept by an artist who dares to touch upon the very nature of faith, love and the purity of devotion. 

“Across The Universe” by The Beatles (Album: “Let It Be”)

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup

They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe

Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind

Possessing and caressing me

Jai Guru Deva Om

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes

They call me on and on across the universe

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox

They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe

Jai Guru Deva Om

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter, shades of life are ringing through my open ears

Inciting and inviting me

Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns

It calls me on and on, across the universe

Jai Guru Deva Om

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world

Jai Guru Deva

Jai Guru Deva

Jai Guru Deva

Jai Guru Deva

Jai Guru Deva [fade out]

John Lennon reached the apex of his artistic and poetic powers with this incredibly beautiful lyric, which aims to embody simultaneously his connectedness to the universe, a spiritual journey into abstract thought, and a mantra giving homage to the Maharishi’s teacher (Guru Dev) as his inspiration in gaining higher planes of consciousness through meditation. Thoughts, images, sounds and emotions are at once confined and boundless, his senses are attuned to the wonders around him but at the same time released from earthly concerns and free to explore the limits of reality.The inherent contradictions of the real and the imagined, the concrete and the abstract, the finite and the infinite are merged in a oneness with existence, so that nothing in the corporeal world could ever shake his faith in the opening of his mind to the beauty of these transcendent experiences.

“Streets Of Arklow”  by Van Morrison (Album: “Veedon Fleece”)

And as we walked

Through the streets of Arklow

Oh the color

Of the day wore on

And our heads

Were filled with poetry

And the morning

A-comin’ on to dawn

And as we walked

Through the streets of Arklow

And gay perfusion

In God’s green land

And the gypsy’s rode

With their hearts on fire

They say “We love to wander,

Lord we love,

Lord we love to roam…”

And as we walked

Through the streets of Arklow

In a drenching beauty

Rolling back ’til the day

And I saw your eyes

They was shining, sparkling crystal clear

And our souls were clean

And the grass did grow

And our souls were clean

And the grass did grow

And our souls were clean

And the grass did grow

And as we walked

Through the streets of Arklow………

Van Morrison’s often overlooked yet truly classic album, “Veedon Fleece”, represents the pinnacle of his artistic achievement, in spite of its initial commercial failure. It marked a return to Ireland after the breakup of Morrison’s marriage, as well as to the elliptical, poetic sensibilities of his equally masterful “Astral Weeks” album. Recalling the poetry of William Butler Yeats, Van Morrison’s evocative lyrics depict the sensual and intellectual delights derived from wandering the streets of the town of Arklow, “as the colours of the day wore on”. The author loses all sense of time as he wanders throughout the day and into the night “a-coming on to dawn”, his senses being enlivened to nature and to his own poetic vision, and his creative energy is restored. It becomes a spiritual journey of rejuvenation through returning to his Celtic roots, which has left both Morrison and his companion invigorated and viewing the world with renewed clarity. The penultimate lines are repeated in an incantation to pastoral beauty, surrounded by an eerie vortex of violins that sound like the beating of the wings of angels, while the beautiful flute lines ascend heavenward in a moment of complete transcendence. 

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” by Bob Dylan (Album: “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”)

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?

And where have you been my darling young one?

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains

I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways

I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests

I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans

I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard

It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?

And what did you see, my darling young one?

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it

I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it

I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’

I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’

I saw a white ladder all covered with water

I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken

I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard

It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?

And what did you hear, my darling young one?

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’

I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’

I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’

I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’

Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter

Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard

And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son?

Who did you meet, my darling young one?

I met a young child beside a dead pony

I met a white man who walked a black dog

I met a young woman whose body was burning

I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow

I met one man who was wounded in love

I met another man who was wounded in hatred

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard

And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?

And what’ll you do now my darling young one?

I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’

I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty

Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters

Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison

Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden

Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten

Where black is the color, where none is the number

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it

And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it

Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’

But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’

And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard

It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Dylan’s apocalyptic visions of a possible post-nuclear war future form the basis of a highly original and unique song. Framed as a rhetorical inquiry of his young child, he imagines a nightmarish legacy bequeathed to his son of environmental catastrophe, social upheaval and humanity in utter deprivation and devastation, at the mercy of ravening wolves and murderous villainy. Amidst the horror of these disturbing images, there runs a vein of anger and resentment apparent at the inhumanity of his fellow man, and the callous indifference of some to the suffering that has been caused by mankind’s hubris and stupidity.

“Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” by Van Morrison (Album: “Veedon Fleece”)

Linden Arden stole the highlights –

With one hand tied behind his back –

Loved the morning sun, and whiskey

Ran like water in his veins

Loved to go to church on Sunday

Even though he was a drinking man

When the boys came to San Francisco

They were looking for his life

But he found out where they were drinking

Met them face to face outside

Cleaved their heads off with a hatchet

Lord, he was a drinkin’ man

And when someone tried to get above him

He just took the law into his own hands

Linden Arden stole the highlights

And they put his fingers through the glass

He had heard all those stories many, many times before

And he did not care no more to ask

And he loved the little children like they were his very own

He Said, “Someday it may get lonely.”

Now he’s livin’, livin’ with a gun.

Linden Arden is the mythical character that Morrison utilizes as a symbolic narrative device to highlight his fascination with the inherent contradictions found in the behaviour of his Irish brethren, and perhaps obliquely referring to his own perceived foibles and faults. The capacity of the Irish for brutal violence and, in Linden’s case senseless murder, contrasts heavily with their compassion, tenderness, devotion to family and the religious faith with which they are also imbued. Rather than a call to rebellion as Yeats’  famous and influential poem “Easter, 1916” suggested, Morrison reflects upon the consequences of centuries of conflict and poltical upheaval on the national psyche, and the consequent social toll it has taken on Irishmen, who are often living as rebels, outlaws and outcasts from the mainstream society due to a tendency to take “the law into (their) own hands”.      

“Who Was That Masked Man” by Van Morrison (Album: “Veedon Fleece”)

Oh ain’t it lonely

When you’re livin’ with a gun

Well you can’t slow down and you can’t turn ’round

And you can’t trust anyone

You just sit there like a butterfly

And you’re all encased in glass

You’re so fragile you just may break

And you don’t know who to ask

Oh ain’t it lonely

When you’re livin’ with a gun

Well you can’t slow down and you can’t turn ’round

And you can’t trust anyone

You just sit there like a butterfly

You’re well protected by the glass

You’re such a rare collector’s item

When they throw away what’s the trash

You can hang suspended from a star

Or wish on a toilet roll

You can just soak up the atmosphere

Like a fish inside a bowl

When the ghost comes round at midnight

Well you both can have some fun

He can drive you mad, he can make you sad

He can keep you from the sun

When they take him down, he’ll be both safe and sound

And the hand does fit the glove

And no matter what they tell you,

There’s good and evil in everyone.

This brilliant, unheralded song captures the artist’s feelings of disenfranchisement at the breakup of his marriage, his feelings of isolation as an exile returning belatedly to his homeland, as well as being a prisoner of his public persona. The song begins with a near repetition of the last lines of its companion piece, “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights”, linking it thematically. The contrast between the 2nd and 4th stanza demonstrates his ambivalence and the dichotomy of emotion felt when viewing his life in the public eye, drawing parallels and showing empathy to similar plight of the anonymous listener by being both protected and imprisoned by the scrutiny of others. The whimsical tone of the last half of the song, with playful ghosts, idiosyncratic analogies and referencing the Lone Ranger beloved of his childhood memory in its title suggests a playfulness, joie de vivre and wry humour that gives the song added resonance, balanced as it is with achingly beautiful musical accompaniment. 

“My Father’s House” by Bruce Springsteen (from the album “Nebraska”)

Last night I dreamed that I was a child

Out where the pines grow wild and tall

I was trying to make it home through the forest

Before the darkness falls

I heard the wind rustling through the trees

And ghostly voices rose from the fields

I ran with my heart pounding down that broken path

With the devil snappin’ at my heels

I broke through the trees and there in the night

My father’s house stood shining hard and bright

The branches and brambles tore my clothes and scratched my arms

But I ran till I fell shaking in his arms

I awoke and I imagined the hard things that pulled us apart

Will never again, sir, tear us from each other’s hearts

I got dressed and to that house I did ride

From out on the road I could see its windows shining in light

I walked up the steps and stood on the porch

A woman I didn’t recognize came and spoke to me through a chained door

I told her my story and who I’d come for

She said, “I’m sorry son but no one by that name lives here anymore”

My father’s house shines hard and bright

It stands like a beacon calling me in the night

Calling and calling so cold and alone

Shining cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned

Bruce Springsteen excels lyrically in this very personal and evocative song about the troubled relationship and estrangement of a father and his son. Framed in the context of a dream where the protagonist is wandering alone in a darkening forest, frightened by “ghostly voices” and “the wind rustling”, then having to tear his way through “the branches and brambles” to find his way home where he collapses into the arms of his father, his protector. When he awakens, he is inspired by this dream to try to forget the recriminations of the past and seek out his long estranged father, only to find that he has disappeared without a trace. His opportunity for reconciliation is now lost, and he has no way to make up for the years of anger, pain and conflict that drove them apart. The dream as an allegory is especially clever, with the “broken path” symbolising the course of their relationship, while the distress of the child unable to find his way home mirrors that of the son at his inability to find a way to reconcile with his father.

“Let The Slave (Incorporating: The Price Of Experience)” by Van Morrison (Album: “Sense of Wonder”)

Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field

Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air

Let the enchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing

Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years

Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;

And let his wife and children return from the oppressor’s scourge

They look behind at every step and believe it is a dream

Singing: The sun has left his blackness and has found a fresher morning

And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night

For empire is no more and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease

For everything that lives is holy

For everything that lives is holy

For everything that lives is holy

For everything that lives is holy

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?

Or, wisdom for a dance in the street?

No, it is bought with the price

Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy

And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun

And in the vintage and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted

To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer

To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in wintry season

When the red blood is fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements

To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;

To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast

To hear sounds of love in the thunderstorm that destroys our enemies’ house;

To rejoice in the blight that covers his field

And the sickness that cuts off his children

While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door

And our children bring fruits and flowers

Then the groan and the dolor are quite forgotten

And the slave grinding at the mill

And the captive in chains and the poor in the prison

And the soldier in the field

When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:

Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: But it is not so with me.

In this exceptional song, Van Morrison cleverly combines a recitation of verses from radical poet Adrian Mitchell, while juxtaposing the verses of “The Price of Experience” by their shared inspiration, William Blake. Not only are these lyrics linked by the deep admiration and influence for the musician and the modern poet for their progenitor, but they are also linked thematically through the common belief that all men and all living things “are created holy”. The shared plea is for an end to needless human suffering, a rejection of selfishness and indifference to the plight of others, and a desire for a world free from the yoke of oppression. The nobility of this aspiration is matched by the majesty and ethereal quality of the music accompanying these brilliantly written verses. Perfection.  

“A Day In The Life” by The Beatles (Album: “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”)

I read the news today, oh boy

About a lucky man who made the grade

And though the news was rather sad

Well I just had to laugh

I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

Nobody was really sure

If he was from the House of Lords

I saw a film today oh boy

The English Army had just won the war

A crowd of people turned away

But I just had to look

Having read the book

I’d love to turn you on…….

Woke up, fell out of bed

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup

And looking up I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat

Made the bus in seconds flat

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke

And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

I read the news today oh boy

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

And though the holes were rather small

They had to count them all

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I’d love to turn you on…….

Using the untimely death of the scion of the Guinness fortune (though details were altered for effect) as a starting point, this biting satirical piece covers a broad range in its critique of the emptiness of fame and celebrity, the role of the media in desensitising us to the horrors around us, our fascination with war and conflict, the metronomic relentlessness of our modern existence, and finally the pointlessness of much that purports to be “news”. This leads to a rousing atonal orchestral crescendo, complete with soundbites and disconnected voices, swirling upwards until the crash of the final single note piano chord, which rumbles then vibrates and then fades off into the distance over a full 40 seconds. The modern world in 5 minutes and 3 seconds of avante garde psychedelia would be a fitting description of this unique piece of popular music.

“Blind Willie McTell” by Bob Dylan (Album: “Bootleg Series”)

Seen the arrow on the doorpost

Saying, “This land is condemned

All the way from New Orleans

To Jerusalem.”

I traveled through East Texas

Where many martyrs fell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing

As they were taking down the tents

The stars above the barren trees

Were his only audience

Them charcoal gypsy maidens

Can strut their feathers well

But nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning

Hear the cracking of the whips

Smell that sweet magnolia blooming

(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships

I can hear them tribes a-moaning

(I can) hear the undertaker’s bell

(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

There’s a woman by the river

With some fine young handsome man

He’s dressed up like a squire

Bootlegged whiskey in his hand

There’s a chain gang on the highway

I can hear them rebels yell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven

And we all want what’s his

But power and greed and corruptible seed

Seem to be all that there is

I’m gazing out the window

Of the St. James Hotel

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Bob Dylan outdoes himself in lyrical intensity with his homage to the famed blues icon, Blind Willie McTell. He draws on elements of the African-American experience from tribal origins to enslavement to existence on the fringes of society, all giving context to his admiration for the bluesman, whose music Dylan believes is infused with the pain of shared misfortune, anger at the racial prejudice and injustice, and an indomitable spirit and desire for freedom that refuses to be quelled by oppression.  

“Brand New Day” by Van Morrison (Album: “Moondance”)

When all the dark clouds roll away

And the sun begins to shine

I see my freedom from across the way

And it comes right in on time

Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light

And it comes from the sky above

Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me

And lights my life with love

[Chorus:]

And it seems like and it feels like

And it seems like yes it feels like

A brand new day, yeah

A brand new day oh

I was lost and double crossed

With my hands behind my back

I was longtime hurt and thrown in the dirt

Shoved out on the railroad track

I’ve been used, abused and so confused

And I didn’t have nowhere to run

But I stood and looked

And my eyes got hooked

On that beautiful morning sun

[Chorus]

And the sun shines down all on the ground

Yeah and the grass is oh so green

And my heart is still and I’ve got the will

And I don’t really feel so mean

Here it comes. Here it comes.

0, here it comes right now

And it comes right in on time

Well it eases me and it pleases me

And it satisfies my mind

[Chorus]

Sometimes a song’s lyric manages to be all the more effective as a result of its simplicity and clarity, and “Brand New Day” exemplifies this concept perfectly. It succeeds wholly as a reflection on the artist’s sense of joy, satisfaction and the liberation that he found through regaining religious faith. Morrison compares his spiritual awakening with a glorious sunrise, which instilled in him a renewed faith in humanity and in himself after a troubled period of conflict and turmoil where he “didn’t have nowhere to run”. The deceptive simplicity of the verse ” …….the sun shines down all on the ground, Yeah and the grass is oh so green, And my heart is still……”, seems relatively straight forward lyrically at first glance, but the use of “all” suggests a pervasiveness of God’s glorious light, “oh so” evokes a vivid hyper-realistic sensuality to his perceptions, while “my heart is still” beautifully expresses his being frozen in awe at his dramatically altered perspective on reality, imbued now with a sense of higher purpose. Seldom has religious or spiritual awakening been more persuasively wrought, so that even the most hardened atheist could not fail to have his resolve softened by its sentiments.

“Sister Morphine” by The Rolling Stones (Album: “Sticky Fingers”)

Here I lie in my hospital bed

Tell me, Sister Morphine, when are you coming round again?

Oh, I don’t think I can wait that long

Oh, you see that I’m not that strong

The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my ears

Tell me, Sister Morphine, how long have I been lying here?

What am I doing in this place?

Why does the doctor have no face?

Oh, I can’t crawl across the floor

Ah, can’t you see, Sister Morphine, I’m trying to score

Well it just goes to show

Things are not what they seem

Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams

Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast?

And that this shot will be my last

Sweet Cousin Cocaine, lay your cool cool hand on my head

Ah, come on, Sister Morphine, you better make up my bed

‘Cause you know and I know in the morning I’ll be dead

Yeah, and you can sit around, yeah and you can watch all the

Clean white sheets stained red.

A scarifying vision of life as an end-of-the-line drug addict, lying in a hospital bed begging for release and knowing deep down that the object of his desire is rapidly and inevitably killing him. Sometimes brutal appraisals of harsh realities such as these require plainly wrought lyrics and a straightforward honest portrayal of an event in order to connect more deeply with the listener. “Sister Morphine” is a clear-eyed, nightmarish glimpse into a netherworld seldom experienced by those in mainstream society, and is made all the more immediate and telling by the knowledge that Jagger and Richards were speaking vividly from personal experiences.

 “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd (Album: “Wish You Were Here”)

So, so you think you can tell

Heaven from Hell,

Blue skies from pain?

Can you tell a green field

From a cold steel rail?

A smile from a veil?

Do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade

Your heroes for ghosts?

Hot ashes for trees?

Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

And did you exchange

A walk on part in the war

For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.

We’re just two lost souls

Swimming in a fish bowl,

Year after year,

Running over the same old ground.

And how we found

The same old fears.

Wish you were here.

Most literally this songs lyric laments ex-band member Syd Barrett’s decline into drug addiction and mental illness, which finds him being unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. He is imprisoned by his fears, leading to far greater suffering than if he had perhaps confronted these head on initially. The lyrics dualism is found by casting this critique to our broader society, with people increasingly unable to appreciate beauty in favour of ugliness, freedom as opposed to servitude, good instead of evil. Modern life has seemingly made it harder for us all to prioritise what is important, our fear of adversity and risk leaving us imprisoned and unable to discriminate sufficiently to make the most of life’s bounty and opportunity.

“No Expectations”   by The Rolling Stones (Album: “Beggar’s Banquet”)

Take me to the station

And put me on a train

I’ve got no expectations

To pass through here again

Once I was a rich man

Now I am so poor

But never in my sweet short life

Have I felt like this before

You heart is like a diamond

You throw your pearls at swine

And as I watch you leaving me

You pack my peace of mind

Our love was like the water

That splashes on a stone

Our love is like our music

Its here, and then its gone

So take me to the airport

And put me on a plane

I’ve got no expectations

To pass through here again.

Resignation, regret and the bitterness of defeat are depicted in this tale of a love gone awry. The narrator has been discarded, and now he is left trying to reclaim his dignity and pick up the remnants of his former existence. As the song eloquently yet succinctly opines, there is no going back to reclaim the past, nor is there any point in tawdry recriminations or attempts at reconciliation. One is left to surmise that the narrator has “no expectations” at all for his relationships in the foreseeable future, such is the disillusionment he currently feels. Perhaps once these negative emotions have subsided he might venture once again, but ignominious retreat and escape is all he can focus upon at present.

“Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones (Album: “Sticky Fingers”)

Childhood living is easy to do

The things you wanted I bought them for you

Graceless lady, you know who I am

You know I have let you slide through my hands.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away.

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain

Now you’ve decided to show me the same

No sweeping exits or offstage lines

Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them some day.

I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie

I have my freedom but I don’t have much time

Faith has been broken, tears must be cried

Let’s do some living after we die.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them some day.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them some day.

In a similar vein to “No Expectations”, Jagger sings of a relationship breakdown and lost love, only this time acknowledging that the fault lies solely with him, having “broken” his lover’s “faith” and causing her “a dull aching pain”, presumably through his infidelity. She has hardened her heart to him, and he is left rueing the consequences of his unfaithfulness. His act of contrition is to express his undying devotion to her, to be there should she ever need him, in this life or the next. As the song begins, “childhood living is easy to do”, being much simpler and devoted wholly to one’s own selfish desires, without recourse to consequences, the complexity of human relationships or consideration for the feelings of others. It ends on a note of optimism that some day he will have the opportunity to make it up to her.

 

“I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” by Bob Dylan (Album: “John Wesley Harding”)

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,

Alive as you or me,

Tearing through these quarters

In the utmost misery,

With a blanket underneath his arm

And a coat of solid gold,

Searching for the very souls

Who already have been sold.

“Arise, arise,” he cried so loud,

With a voice without restraint,

“Come out, ye gifted kings and queens

And hear my sad complaint.

No martyr is among ye now

Whom you can call your own,

But go on your way accordingly

But know you’re not alone.”

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,

Alive with fiery breath,

And I dreamed I was amongst the ones

That put him out to death.

Oh, I awoke in anger,

So alone and terrified,

I put my fingers against the glass

And bowed my head and cried.

Obscure and ambiguous in its meaning, the song references St.Augustine of Hippo, a key figure in the history of early Christian thinking. His influence and philosophy were particularly dedicated to discourses on the nature of evil, the meaning of original sin, and the moral equivalence inherent in pacifism in the face of greater evil. Dylan awakens from a feverish nightmare, and seems to be chastising himself for not aggressively confronting injustices, lacking commitment to righteous causes and being seduced by commercialism and sins of the flesh. His shame and anger at his perceived weakness is clearly illustrated in the beautifully rendered closing couplet.

“Soldier’s Things” by Tom Waits (from the album “Asylum Years”)

Davenports and kettledrums

And swallow tailcoats

Tablecloths and patent leather shoes

Bathing suits and bowling balls

And clarinets and rings

And all this radio really

Needs is a fuse

A tinker, a tailor

A soldier’s things

His rifle, his boots full of rocks

And this one is for bravery

And this one is for me

And everything’s a dollar

In this box

Cuff links and hubcaps

Trophies and paperbacks

It’s good transportation

But the brakes aren’t so hot

Necktie and boxing gloves

This jackknife is rusted

You can pound that dent out

On the hood

A tinker, a tailor

A soldier’s things

His rifle, his boots full of rocks

Oh, and this one is for bravery

And this one is for me

And everything’s a dollar

In this box

Wonderful Tom Waits song about a soldier having passed away, bequeathing all the various keepsakes and mementos that he had accumulated over his life, which are now reduced to a mere box of trinkets at a garage sale, where all these once precious items are virtually without value to those he leaves behind. The symbols of valour, and therefore also the momentous events of the war they depict, are but a faded memory now, and with the soldier’s passing much of the significance of these personal treasures has been lost. Many of the items for sale, for just a dollar apiece, have clearly become somewhat outmoded, are no longer fashionable or have lost their context, symbols of a passing age. A sad yet touching indictment of the transitory nature of our lives.

“Simple Twist Of Fate”  by Bob Dylan (Album: “Blood On The Tracks”)

They sat together in the park

As the evening sky grew dark

She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones

It was then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight

And watched out for a simple twist of fate.

They walked alone by the old canal

A little confused I remember well

And stopped into a strange hotel with a neon burning bright

He felt the heat of the night hit him like a freight train

Moving with a simple twist of fate.

A saxophone someplace far off played

As she was walking on by the arcade

As the light bust through a-beat-up shade where he was waking up

She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate

And forgot about a simple twist of fate.

He woke up the room was bare

He didn’t see her anywhere

He told himself he didn’t care pushed the window open wide

Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate

Brought on by a simple twist of fate.

He hears the ticking of the clocks

And walks along with a parrot that talks

Hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailers all come in

Maybe she’ll pick him out again how long must he wait

One more time for a simple twist of fate.

People tell me it’s a sin

To know and feel too much within

I still believe she was my twin but I lost the ring

She was born in spring but I was born too late

Blame it on a simple twist of fate.

A lovely example of narrative songwriting, telling a tale of lament in the complex matters of the human heart. Frailty and vulnerability are communicated strongly, as is the inadequacy of words to express the depth of human pain and suffering at the loss of an idealised love. The futile search for the errant woman who stole his heart is done in the full knowledge that he can never recapture the moment he seeks to reclaim, if indeed his feelings were anything other than an illusion to begin with.

Cyprus Avenue”  by Van Morrison (Album: “Astral Weeks”)

And I’m caught one more time

Up on Cyprus Avenue

And I’m caught one more time

Up on Cyprus Avenue

And I’m conquered in a car seat

Not a thing that I can do

I may go crazy

Before that mansion on the hill

I may go crazy

Before that mansion on the hill

But my heart keeps beating faster

And my feet can’t keep still

And all the little girls rhyme something

On the way back home from school

And all the little girls rhyme something

On the way back home from school

And the leaves fall one by one by one by one

Call the autumn time a fool

Yeah baby my tongue gets tied

Every every every time I try to speak

My tongue gets tied

Every time I try to speak

And my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree

I think I’ll go on by the river with my cherry cherry wine

I believe I’ll go walking by the railroad with my cherry cherry wine

If I pass the rumbling station where the lonesome engine drivers pine

And wait a minute, yonder comes my lady

Rainbow ribbons in her hair

Yonder comes my lady

Rainbow ribbons in her hair

Six white horses and a carriage

She’s returning from the fair

Baby, baby, baby

And if I’m caught one more time

Up on Cyprus Avenue

And if I’m caught one more time

Up on Cyprus Avenue

And I’m conquered in a car seat

And I’m looking straight at you

Way up on, way up on, way up on….

The avenue of trees

Keep walking down

In the wind and the rain, darling

You keep walking down when the sun shone through the trees

Nobody, no, no, no, nobody stops me from loving you baby

So young and bold, fourteen years old

Baby, baby, baby…

Ooooh-ee!

“Astral Weeks” is the cornerstone album of the rock pantheon, in my humble opinion. It is idiosyncratic and improvised, impressionistic and surrealistic in ways that no other album or artist in popular music even remotely approaches. Stream of consciousness lyrics yield bittersweet and heartfelt valentines to distant childhood memories of innocence, naivety and first love. Rarely does an artist share such heartfelt intimacy with his audience so unreservedly, acknowledging their vulnerability and intense sensitivity as Morrison does. Clearly a reminiscence of his youth in Belfast, Morrison paints a portrait of an adolescent’s forbidden infatuation with a younger schoolgirl, “caught” in a more affluent neighbourhood where he feels he does not belong, pining for her to notice him and unable to summon up the courage and conviction to speak and make his feelings known to her. The hesitancy he feels in crossing a social divide and in conquering his own fear of rejection overwhelms him, but he is content to keep her in his mind’s eye for the present, biding his time for a future moment when he can overcome his reticence, and eventually to win her affection.  

“If You See Her Say Hello” by Bob Dylan (Album: “Blood On The Tracks”)

If you see her say hello, she might be in Tangier

She left here last early spring is living there I hear

Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow

She might think that I’ve forgotten her don’t tell her it isn’t so.

We had a falling-out like lovers often will

And to think of how she left that night it still brings me a chill

And though our separation it pierced me to the heart

She still lives inside of me we’ve never been apart.

If you get close to her kiss her once for me

I always have respected her for doing what she did and getting free

Oh whatever makes her happy I won’t stay in the way

Though the bitter taste still lingers on from the night I tried to make her stay

I see a lot of people as I make the rounds

And I hear her name here and there as I go from town to town

And I’ve never gotten used to it I’ve just learned to turn it off

Either I’m too sensitive or else I’m getting soft.

Sundown yellow moon I replay the past

I know every scene by heart they all went by so fast

If she’s passing back this way I’m not that hard to find

Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.

Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album has several standout tracks detailing the wistful regret of love’s opportunities lost, and this song is no exception. It is a touching lament to the lingering pangs felt for a love that the author cannot banish from his mind, perpetually trying to recapture the intensity of feeling and sweep of emotion that once held him in sway. The love he once felt is gone forever, but he still clings to the hope of seeing her once more, on a purely platonic level at least, in the hope of recapturing some last vestige of love’s residue. 

“Day Is Done”   by Nick Drake (Album “Five Leaves Left”)

When the day is done

Down to earth then sinks the sun

Along with everything that was lost and won

When the day is done

When the day is done

Hope so much your race will be all run

Then you find you jumped the gun

Have to go back where you begun

When the day is done

When the night is cold

Some get by but some get old

Just to show life’s not made of gold

When the night is cold

When the bird has flown

Got no-one to call your own

Got no place to call your home

When the bird has flown

When the game’s been fought

Newspaper blown across the court

Lost much sooner than you would have thought

Now the game’s been fought

When the party’s through

Seems so very sad for you

Didn’t do the things you meant to do

Now there’s no time to start anew

Now the party’s through

When the day is done

Down to earth then sinks the sun

Along with everything that was lost and won

When the day is done.

Finality and the inability to make amends for failure has rarely been so lyrically expressed in popular music. Drake’s recriminations and regret over missed opportunities and misjudgements are evident, with some actions requiring him to start anew having learned bitter lessons from his mistakes, while still others being unable to be undone because “the bird has flown”. Drake’s battles with depression are perfectly expressed here, with notable fatalism and despair at being unable to counter the inevitability of life’s decline into darkness. Lovely cello instrumental arrangement compliments the verses mood impeccably, lending an air of resignation to proceedings.

“Tears Of Rage” by Bob Dylan (Album: “The Basement Tapes”)

We carried you in our arms

On Independence Day

And now you’d throw us all aside

And put us on our way

Oh, what dear daughter ‘neath the sun

Would treat a father so

To wait upon him hand and foot

And always tell him “No?”

Tears of rage, tears of grief

Why am I the one who must be the thief?

Come to me now, you know

We’re so alone

And life is brief.

We pointed out the way to go

And scratched your name in sand

Though you just thought that it was nothing more

Than a place for you to stand

Now I want you to know that while you watched

You discover there was no one true

Most everybody really thought

It was a childish thing to do

Tears of rage, tears of grief

Why am I the one who must be the thief?

Come to me now, you know

We’re so alone

And life is brief.

It was all very painless

When you went out to receive

All that false instruction

Which we never could believe

And now the heart is filled with gold

As if it was a purse

But oh, what kind of love is this

Which goes from bad to worse?

Tears of rage, tears of grief

Why am I the one who must be the thief?

Come to me now, you know

We’re so alone

And life is brief.

A lovely song which tells of the disappointment and bitter resentment that some fathers feel when their daughter comes of age and thus develops a wilful, independent disposition of mind. This has the effect of rendering the father (and by extension his opinions and influence) dispensible, leaving a sense of ingratitude at being cast aside. One day he diligently “pointed out the way to go”, given the child a solid path to follow,  “scratched her (sic) name in sand”, only to find himself redundant, and thus unable to shield his daughter from “all that false instruction” from those who might use or abuse her. These lessons she must learn unfortunately can often only be understood from personal experience.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”  by The Beatles (Album: “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”)

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

Towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Aaaaahhhhh…

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain

Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies

Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers

That grow so incredibly high

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore

Waiting to take you away

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds

And you’re gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Aaaaahhhhh…

Picture yourself on a train in a station

With plasticine porters with looking glass ties

Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile

The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Aaaaahhhhh…

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Aaaaahhhhh…

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds [fade out]

Pop art classic which paints a vivid picture of the heightened perceptions and mind altering wonders experienced during an LSD-induced hallucination. That it also can be read as an innocent children’s fantasy is a testament to the artistry of Lennon and McCartney at their most imaginative. Picture yourself indeed!  

“Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who (Album: “Who’s Next”)

No one knows what it’s like

To be the bad man

To be the sad man

Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like

To be hated

To be fated

To telling only lies

But my dreams

They aren’t as empty

As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely

My love is vengeance

That’s never free

No one knows what it’s like

To feel these feelings

Like I do

And I blame you

No one bites back as hard

On their anger

None of my pain and woe

Can show through

But my dreams

They aren’t as empty

As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely

My love is vengeance

That’s never free

When my fist clenches, crack it open

Before I use it and lose my cool

When I smile, tell me some bad news

Before I laugh and act like a fool

If I swallow anything evil

Put your finger down my throat

If I shiver, please give me a blanket

Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

No one knows what it’s like

To be the bad man

To be the sad man

Behind blue eyes

The Who’s Pete Townshend penned his signature tune as part of an aborted concept album, “Lifehouse”, which revolved around themes of teenage alienation and rebellion. The spare and forthright lyrics detail his character’s anger, frustration and feelings of disconnectedness, not only to those around him and a society at large who don’t understand him, but also from his own feelings. His rage is internalised and repressed, so that none of his “pain and woe can show through”, while hiding behind his “blue eyes” is a sad and lonely figure whose conscience is “empty”. Shining through the angst-ridden lyrics, there is a balancing expression of hope, with his dreams of a better existence having not entirely been beaten down by circumstances.  The ambiguity of emotion, however, is perfectly expressed by the chilling phrase “my love is vengeance”, suggesting that our protagonist cannot freely love another for fear of releasing his darker emotions and acting upon them.

“Three Hours”  by Nick Drake (Album “Five Leaves Left”)

Three hours from sundown

Jeremy flies

Hoping to keep

The sun from his eyes

East from the city

And down to the cave

In search of a master

In search of a slave

Three hours from London

Jacomo’s free

Taking his woes

Down to the sea

In search of a lifetime

To tell when he’s home

In search of a story

That’s never been known

Three hours from speaking

Everyone’s flown

Not wanting to be

Seen on their own

Three hours is needed

To leave from them all

Three hours to wonder

And three hours to fall

Three hours from sundown

Jeremy flies

Hoping to keep

The sun from his eyes

East from the city

And down to the cave

In search of a master

In search of a slave.

Nick Drake’s angular and obscure lyrics seem to relate to a quest for knowledge and enlightenment, searching for a direction or a purpose (a “master”) on the one hand, but also for something to serve his own needs and desires (a “slave”) on the other. The repetition of three hours and the directions varying “from” and “to” suggesting a journey through darkness, directionless and not really getting any closer to the goal of his quest. He is in search of something undefinable and intangible, the sense being that it is a quest that cannot be resolved, being “the search of a lifetime”, a search for “a story that’s never been known”. Mysterious and beautiful, and all the more haunting for its ambiguities.

“Way To Blue”   by Nick Drake (Album “Five Leaves Left”)

Don’t you have a word to show what may be done?

Have you never heard a way to find the sun?

Tell me all that you may know

Show me what you have to show

Won’t you come and say

If you know the way to blue?

Have you seen the land living by the breeze?

Can you understand a light among the trees?

Tell me all that you may know

Show me what you have to show

Tell us all today

If you know the way to blue.

Look through time and find your rhyme

Tell us what you find

We will wait

At your gate

Hoping like the blind

Can you now recall all that you have known?

Will you never fall?

When the light has flown

Tell me all that you may know

Show me what you have to show

Won’t you come and say

If you know the way to blue?

Cryptic lyrics on the mysteries of life for which Drake seeks some explanation, while simultaneously acknowledging the limits to his inherent capability for understanding. He exhorts an unnamed person, framed in a series of questions that are open to multiple interpretations, presumably allowing an infinite number of possible answers. This serves to show that Drake is hungry for the alternate perspectives and intuitions of others who may have a different outlook or sensibility to himself. The ideas for which he seeks answers are more abstract and spiritual than concrete and prosaic, as he hopes to find his “way to blue”, presumably this being his conceptualisation of enlightenment, or perhaps an enriched or more vivid artistic understanding.

“Northern Sky”   by Nick Drake (Album “Bryter Layter “)

I never felt magic crazy as this

I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea

I never held emotion in the palm of my hand

Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree

But now you’re here

Brighten my northern sky

I’ve been a long time that I’m waiting

Been a long time that I’m blown

I’ve been a long time that I’ve wandered

Through the people I have known

Oh, if you would and you could

Straighten my new mind’s eye

Would you love me for my money?

Would you love me for my head?

Would you love me through the winter?

Would you love me ‘til I’m dead?

Oh, if you would and you could

Come blow your horn on high

I never felt magic crazy as this

I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea

I never held emotion in the palm of my hand

Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree

But now you’re here

Brighten my northern sky.

Drake’s new love imparts a greater depth of feeling while opening up new ways of experiencing the world around him, as brilliantly expressed in the gorgeous opening stanza of this lilting ballad. The beauty of nature, the interaction of the moon on the ocean, the inner emotional world brought out into the open for the first time are powerful lyrical concepts that paint a picture of a long dormant wellspring of emotion suddenly stirred into life and energised until it bursts forth in complete joy at the “magic” he is experiencing for the first time. Drake invites his new love to “brighten my northern sky”, by becoming a permanent aspect of his life, but then questions arise in the middle verse of the song that raise doubts about whether Drake truly believes their love will be sustained through all the circumstances that their lives may dictate.

“Time Has Told Me”  by Nick Drake (Album “Five Leaves Left”)

Time has told me

You’re a rare, rare find

A troubled cure

For a troubled mind

And time has told me

Not to ask for more

For someday our Ocean

Will find its shore

So I’ll leave the ways of making me be

What I really don’t want to be

Leave the ways that are making me love

What I really don’t want to love

Time has told me

You came with the dawn

A soul with no footprint

A rose with no thorn

Your tears they tell me

There’s really no way

Of ending your troubles

With things you can say

And time will tell you

To stay by my side

To keep on trying

‘til there’s no more to hide

So leave the ways that are making you be

What you really don’t want to be

Leave the ways that are making you love

What you really don’t want to love

Time has told me

You’re a rare, rare find

A troubled cure

For a troubled mind

And time has told me

Not to ask for more

For someday our ocean

Will find its shore.

Nick Drake’s song tells of the benefits of experience, where lessons learned in relationships past have “told” him not to try to force something to happen, but instead to let things evolve naturally being the best way to ensure preserving the love he believes he has found. He highly values this new woman in his life, with her being described variously as “a rare, rare find”, “a soul with no footprint” and “a rose with no thorn”. Drake hopes by showing her his vulnerability that she may naturally gravitate to him, as shown by the line “our ocean will find its shore”, while at the same time wanting to avoid trying to be something he is not or being untrue to himself to impress her. He sees in her the same reticence to commitment that he is experiencing and he is hoping that these two “troubled minds” can act as a balm to one another through their mutual understanding.

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd (Album: “The Wall”)

Hello? Hello? Hello?

Is there anybody in there?

Just nod if you can hear me.

Is there anyone at home?

Come on now

I hear you’re feeling down.

Well I can ease your pain

Get you on your feet again.

Relax.

I’ll need some information first.

Just the basic facts,

Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding,

a distant ship smoke on the horizon.

You are only coming through in waves.

Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.

When I was a child I had a fever

My hands felt just like two balloons.

Now I’ve got that feeling once again

I can’t explain you would not understand

This is not how I am.

I have become comfortably numb.

O.K.

Just a little pinprick.

There’ll be no more, Ah!

But you may feel a little sick.

Can you stand up?

I do believe it’s working, good.

That’ll keep you going through the show

Come on it’s time to go.

There is no pain you are receding

A distant ship smoke on the horizon.

You are only coming through in waves.

Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.

When I was a child

I caught a fleeting glimpse

Out of the corner of my eye.

I turned to look but it was gone

I cannot put my finger on it now

The child is grown,

The dream is gone.

I have become comfortably numb.

Pink Floyd’s famous drug anthem is laden with compelling imagery, and compares the drug-fuelled daze of the rock performer with the hallucinatory effects of a childhood febrile illness. The song commences plainly, depicting those medical professionals who are misusing their skills by facilitating the performer in his addiction, just to “keep you going through the show….”. The parallels between a child’s fever and the drug-addled perceptions of the rock star are drawn artfully and brought to a close in the final couplet of the song, where now “the child has grown, the dream has gone”. The price paid for feeling no pain is to feel completely disconnected from reality, and eventually to be unable to grasp the significance of important priorities and simple concepts, leading to a “comfortable” state of anaesthetised compliance.

“Violet Hill” by Coldplay (Album: “Viva La Vida”)

It was a long and dark December

From the rooftops I remember

There was snow, white snow

Clearly I remember

From the windows they were watching

While we froze down below

When the future’s architectured

By a carnival of idiots on show

You’d better lie low

If you love me, won’t you let me know?

Was a long and dark December,

When the banks became cathedrals

And a fox became God

Priests clutched onto bibles

Hollowed out to fit their rifles

And a cross held aloft

Bury me in armour

When I’m dead and hit the ground

A love back home, it unfolds

And if you love me, won’t you let me know?

I don’t want to be a soldier

Who the captain of some sinking ship

Would stow, far below.

So if you love me, why d’you let me go?

I took my love down to Violet Hill

There we sat in snow

All that time she was silent still

Said if you love me, won’t you let me know?

If you love me, won’t you let me know?

Chris Martin’s facility for aural textures and sound landscapes tends to diminish his perceived abilities as a lyricist. This song’s lyric paints a vivid portrait of a wintery urban skyline as a metaphor for the elitism of geopolitics, where the huddled masses of the underclasses freeze in the street while the monarchs and the leaders and the policymakers reside in their comfort, gazing down on them from above, unmoved by their plight and unaffected by their privations. Martin openly questions the wisdom of following the dictates of an oligarchy that does not have their citizens’ interests at heart, whether it be in war, in faith or in matters of finance.  I’m particularly fond of the lines “I took my love down to Violet Hill, there we sat in snow, all that time she was silent still”, a beautifully evocative image of a moment frozen in time, where words are inadequate to convey the emotions felt, and where the lovers are cocooned from the concerns wrought by an unjust world. 

“4 stone 7 pounds” by Manic Street Preachers (from the album “The Holy Bible”)

I eat too much to die

And not enough to stay alive

I’m sitting in the middle waiting

Days since I last pissed

Cheeks sunken and despaired

So gorgeous sunk to six stone

Lose my only remaining home

See my third rib appear

A week later all my flesh disappears

Stretching taut, cling-film on bone

I’m getting better

Karen says I’ve reached my target weight

Kate and Emma and Kristin know it’s fake

Problem is diet’s not a big enough word

I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view

I want to walk in the snow

And not leave a footprint

I want to walk in the snow

And not soil its purity

Stomach collapsed at five

Lift up my skirt my sex is gone

Naked and lovely and 5 stone 2

May I bud and never flower

My vision’s getting blurred

But I can see my ribs and I feel fine

My hands are trembling stalks

And I can feel my breasts are sinking

Mother tries to choke me with roast beef

And sits savouring her sole Ryvita

That’s the way you’re built my father said

But I can change, my cocoon shedding

I want to walk in the snow

And not leave a footprint

I want to walk in the snow

And not soil its purity

Kate and Kristin and Kit Kat

All things I like looking at

Too weak to fuss, too weak to die

Choice is skeletal in everybody’s life

I choose my choice, I starve to frenzy

Hunger soon passes and sickness soon tires

Legs bend, stockinged, I am Twiggy

And I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me

Self-worth scatters, self-esteem’s a bore

I long since moved to a higher plateau

This discipline’s so rare so please applaud

Just look at the fat scum who pamper me so

Yeah 4 stone 7, an epilogue of youth

Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse

I’ve finally come to understand life

Through staring blankly at my navel

The Manic Street Preachers were one of the best, if somewhat unheralded, groups to come out of the UK in the last 20 years, and this inspired lyric certainly paints a “fly on the wall” portrait of the mindset of an anorexia sufferer, filled as it is with insightful commentary, and often coupled with startlingly beautiful imagery. “I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint, I want to walk in the snow and not soil its purity” is especially poetic and illuminating simultaneously, while the bitter irony of the dying woman’s final comment, “Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse, I’ve finally come to understand life………”, could not be more telling or more horrifying in its implicitly delusional quality. 

“Amsterdam”  by Coldplay (Album: “Rush Of Blood To The Head”)

Come on, oh my star is fading

And I swerve out of control

If I, if I’d only waited

I’d not be stuck here in this hole

Come here, oh my star is fading

And I swerve out of control

And I swear, I waited and waited

I’ve got to get out of this hole

But time is on your side, it’s on your side, now

Not pushing you down, and all around

It’s no cause for concern

Come on, oh my star is fading

And I see no chance of release

And I know I’m dead on the surface

But I am screaming underneath

And time is on your side, it’s on your side, now

Not pushing you down, and all around

No it’s no cause for concern

Stuck on the end of this ball and chain

And I’m on my way back down again

Stood on the edge, tied to the noose

Sick to the stomach

You can say what you mean

But it won’t change a thing

I’m sick of the secrets

Stood on the edge, tied to the noose

And you came along and you cut me loose

You came along and you cut me loose

You came along and you cut me loose.

Despair is often a prime source of inspiration in art, and in the song “Amsterdam” Coldplay’s Chris Martin describes vividly the emotional detachment, the unassailable pessimism and the repressed desperation that attends times of severe depression and resignation. The bittersweet irony of the phrase “it’s no cause for concern” contrasts with the final passage, where the narrator is figuratively at least standing on the precipice with a noose around his neck. Redemption comes in the form of an unnamed friend or lover whose support ultimately turned the situation around and started him on the road to recovery.

“Love Is Blindness”  by U2 (Album: “Achtung Baby”)

Love is blindness,

I don’t wanna see

Won’t you wrap the night

Around me?

Oh, my heart

Love is blindness.

I’m in a parked car

On a crowded street,

And I see my love

Made complete.

The thread is ripping

The knot is slipping.

Love is blindness.

Love is clockworks,

And it’s cold steel

Fingers too numb to feel

Squeeze the handle

Blow out the candle

Blindness

Love is blindness

I don’t wanna see

Won’t you wrap the night

Around me?

Oh my love

Blindness

A little death

Without mourning

No call

No Warning

Baby, a dangerous idea…

Almost makes…sense

Love is drowning

In a deep well

All the secrets

And no body else to tell

Take the money

Why don’t you honey

Blindness

Love is blindness,

I’m so sick of it,

I don’t wanna see

Why don’t you just take the night

And wrap it all around me, now?

Oh my love

Blindness

Oh, I’m too numb to feel…

Blow out the candle.

Blindness.

One of U2’s best songs sees Bono in his most concise mode, with a minimum of bombast that sometimes compromises his effectiveness as a lyricist. Strikingly original in the couplet: “I don’t wanna see. Won’t you wrap the night around me?”, which takes the blame for the blindness of love and places it firmly in the hands of the one smitten. This is achieved by asserting that the protagonist is actively inviting the object of his affection to envelop him, thereby surrendering to the “blindness” that he ruefully rails against. The irony of his frustration at his lack of awareness (with “fingers too numb to feel”), and the heartless and mechanical “clockworks” of seduction, contrasting starkly with his intense desire to “blow out the candle” and allow the darkness to envelope him, is readily apparent. Even though he is “drowning in a deep well”, he is like a moth to the flame and cannot resist, eventually surrendering to the self-destruction of a “little death, without the mourning”.

“One” by U2 (Album: “Achtung Baby”)

Is it getting better?

Or do you feel the same?

Will it make it easier on you now?

You got someone to blame

You say

One love

One life

When it’s one need

In the night

One love

We get to share it

Leaves you baby if you

Don’t care for it

Did I disappoint you?

Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?

You act like you never had love

And you want me to go without

Well it’s

Too late

Tonight

To drag the past out into the light

We’re one, but we’re not the same

We get to

Carry each other

Carry each other

One

Have you come here for forgiveness?

Have you come to raise the dead?

Have you come here to play Jesus

To the lepers in your head?

Did I ask too much?

More than a lot

You gave me nothing,

Now it’s all I 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

One love

One blood

One life

You got to do what you should

One life

With each other

Sisters

Brothers

One life

But we’re not the same

We get to

Carry each other

Carry each other

One……….. One…………

This song which forensically dissects the break up of a doomed, one-sided and ultimately unsatisfying relationship, and laced with barely concealed venom and bitter recrimination, has ironically become a playlist favourite for couples to play at their wedding! That gives testament to the subtlety of the lyric and it’s deliberate ambiguity, not to mention the naivety of some of these same young couples. Clearly, Bono is disparaging the woman’s perceptions of love, and suggests that she fails to understand his needs and desires, and her concepts of love being of an idealized unification, when he is not satisfied or looking to subjugate his individuality to her unrealistic expectations. “You ask me to enter, and then you make me crawl, and I can’t keep holding on, to what you’ve got when all you’ve got is hurt” certainly doesn’t sound like the foundations of a lasting relationship, and so the “one love, one blood, one life” mantra is seen to be entirely an ironic one.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 (Album: “Joshua Tree”)

I have climbed highest mountain

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you

Only to be with you

I have run

I have crawled

I have scaled these city walls

These city walls

Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her fingertips

It burned like fire

This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I believe in the kingdom come

Then all the colors will bleed into one

Bleed into one

Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you

Loosed the chains

Carried the cross

Of my shame

Of my shame

You know I believed it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

Love’s eternal search for fulfillment once again is given free reign in this iconic song, full of bold and larger than life imagery to mythologize his quest. Having gone to extraordinary efforts to attain the holy grail of transcendent love, he is left disappointed, knowing that his only certain success may be achieved in the hereafter, “where all the colours bleed into one”. In the meantime, his efforts to seek out heaven on earth may be fruitless, but he carries on his quest regardless.

“Dream Brother” by Jeff Buckley (from the album “Grace”)

There is a child sleeping near his twin

The pictures go wild in a rush of wind

That dark angel he is shuffling in

Watching over them with his black feather wings unfurled

The love you lost with her skin so fair

Is free with the wind in her butterscotch hair

Her green eyes blew goodbyes

With her head in her hands

and your kiss on the lips of another

Dream Brother with your tears scattered round the world.

Don’t be like the one who made me so old

Don’t be like the one who left behind his name

‘Cause they’re waiting for you like I waited for mine

And nobody ever came…

Don’t be like the one who made me so old

Don’t be like the one who left behind his name

‘Cause they’re waiting for you like I waited for mine

And nobody ever came…

Don’t be like the one who made me so old

Don’t be like the one who left behind his name

‘Cause they’re waiting for you like I waited for mine

Nobody ever came

Nobody ever…

I feel afraid and I call your name

I love your voice and your dance insane

I hear your words and I know your pain

With your head in your hands and her kiss on the lips of another

Your eyes to the ground and the world spinning round forever

Asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over

Asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over

Asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over

Ah do you meet the one I love

And smell the one who loves you

Dream brother, dream brother, dream, dream

Dream asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over.

Eerily prescient, lyrically obscure offering from Jeff Buckley that has an appealing air of mystery that is at once compelling and poetically impressionistic. It appears to be a lament for a sibling who never existed, and the absence of a father who deserted him as a child (the similarly talented and prolific musician Tim Buckley), as well as a cautionary tale for a friend who shares the author’s own perceived flaws of inconstancy to the one he loves, and whom he exhorts not to lose the true love of his life (as Buckley has done) through the aimless pursuit of hedonistic, drug-fuelled sensory pleasures. This is but two of many possible readings of this multi-layered and lyrical piece that is a pivotal track in Buckley’s excellent and universally admired album, “Grace”.

“Sweetness Follows”  by REM (Album: “Automatic For The People”)

Readying to bury your father and your mother

What did you think when you lost another?

I used to wonder, why did you bother?

Distanced from one, blind to the other

Listen here my sister and my brother

What would you care if you lost the other?

I always wonder, why did we bother?

Distanced from one, blind to the other

Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under

Live your life filled with joy and wonder

I always knew this altogether thunder

Was lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows

Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under

Live your life filled with joy and thunder

Yeah, yeah we were altogether

Lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows

Oh, but sweetness follows

The futility of regret for a life of single-minded self-centredness, especially when faced with the death of parents and loved ones, with there being no turning back, no time for redress and no possibility to undo the carelessness and disdain one showed them when they were alive and desired you in their lives. Yet, the strength of the song comes in the lyric “…but sweetness follows”, which demonstrates that forgiveness is still possible, that no sin is irredeemable and that one can learn to not become “lost in our little lives”, instead choosing to live a “life filled with joy and wonder”. Elegantly expressed sentiments in a materialistic and increasingly ego-centric world.

 

Honourable Mention:

“Losing My Religion” by REM (Album: “Out Of Time”)

Oh life, it’s bigger

It’s bigger than you

And you are not me.

The lengths that I will go to

The distance in your eyes

Oh no, I’ve said too much

I’ve said enough

That’s me in the corner

That’s me in the spotlight

Losing my religion

Trying to keep up with you

And I don’t know if I can do it

Oh no, I’ve said too much

I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing

I thought that I heard you sing

I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper

Of every waking hour

I’m choosing my confessions

Trying to keep an eye on you

Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool

Oh no, I’ve said too much

I’ve said enough

Consider this

Consider this, the hint of the century

Consider this, the slip

That brought me to my knees, failed

What if all these fantasies come

Flailing around

Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing

I thought that I heard you sing

I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream

That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner

That’s me in the spotlight

Losing my religion

Trying to keep up with you

And I don’t know if I can do it

Oh no, I’ve said too much

I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing

I thought that I heard you sing

I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream

Try, cry, why, try

That was just a dream

Just a dream

Just a dream, dream

“Dimming Of The Day” by Richard and Linda Thompson (Album: “Pour Down Like Silver”)

This old house is falling down around my ears

I’m drowning in the river of my tears

When all my will is gone you hold me sway

I need you at the dimming of the day

You pulled me like the moon pulls on the tide

You know just where I keep my better side

What days have come to keep us far apart

A broken promise or a broken heart

Now all the bonny birds have wheeled away

I need you at the dimming of the day

Come the night you’re only what I want

Come the night you could be my confidant

I see you on the street in company

Why don’t you come and ease your mind with me

I’m living for the night we steal away

I need you at the dimming of the day

I need you at the dimming of the day

“Night Comes In”   by Richard and Linda Thompson (Album: “Pour Down Like Silver”)

Night comes in, like some cool river

How can there be, be another day?

Take my hand, oh real companion

And we’ll dance, dance till we fade away

Oh, the songs pour down like silver

They can only, only break my heart

Drink the wine, the wine of lovers

Lovers tired of being apart

Dancing till my feet don’t touch the ground

I lose my mind in dance forever

Lose my mind in dance forever

Turn my world around

Turn my world around

Oh, this night is like no other

And this room is ringing in my ears

And these friends will never leave me

And these tears are like no other tears

Dancing till my feet don’t touch the ground

I lose my mind in dance forever

Lose my mind in dance forever

Turn my world around

Turn my world around

“Tunnel Of Love” by Dire Straits (Album: “Tunnel Of Love”)

Getting crazy on the waltzers,

But it’s the life that I choose

Sing about the six-blade,

Sing about the switchback

And a torture tattoo

And I been riding on a ghost train

Where the cars they scream and slam

And I don’t know where I’ll be tonight

But I’d always tell you where I am

In a screaming ring of faces

I seen her standing in the light

She had a ticket for the races

Just like me she was a victim of the night

I put a hand upon the lever

Said, “Let it rock and let it roll”

I had the one arm bandit fever

There was an arrow through my heart and my soul

And the big ‘wheel keep on turning,

Neon burning up above

And I’m just high on the world

Come on and take a low ride with me, girl

On the tunnel of love

It’s just the danger

When you’re riding at your own risk

She said, “You are the perfect stranger”

She said, “Baby, let’s keep it like this”

It’s just a cakewalk,

Twisting baby, step right up and say

“Hey mister! Give me two, give me two now”

Coz any two can play

And the big ‘wheel keep on turning,

Neon burning up above

And I’m just high on the world

Come on and take a low ride with me, girl

On the tunnel of love

Well it’s been money for muscle another whirligig

Money for muscle and another girl I dig

Another hustle, just to make it big

In Rockaway, Rockaway

And girl it looks so pretty to me

Just like it always did

Like the Spanish city to me

When we were kids

Oh girl it looks so pretty to me

Just like it always did

Like the Spanish city to me

When we were kids

She took off a silver locket,

She said, “Remember me by this”

She put her hand in my pocket

I got a keepsake and a kiss

And in the roar of the dust and diesel

I stood and watched her walk away

I could have caught up with her easy enough

But something must have made me stay

And the big ‘wheel keep on turning

Neon burning up above

And I’m just high on the world

Come on and take a low ride with me, girl

On the tunnel of love

And now I’m searching through these carousels

And the carnival arcades

Searching everywhere

From steeplechase to palisades

In any shooting gallery

Where promises are made

To Rockaway, Rockaway

From Cullercoats and Whitley Bay

Out to Rockaway

And girl it looks so pretty to me

Like it always did

Like the Spanish city to me

When we were kids

Girl it looks so pretty to me

Like it always did

Like the Spanish city to me

When we were kids……….

“Forget Her” by Jeff Buckley (from the album “Grace”)

While this time’s busy sleeping,

All the noise has died away.

I walk the streets to stop my weeping,

She’ll never change her ways.

Don’t fool yourself, she was heartache from the moment that you met her.

And my heart is frozen still as I try to find the will to forget her, somehow.

She’s somewhere out there now.

Her love is a rose, pale and dying.

Dropping her petals in land unknown

All full of wine, the world before her, was sober with no place to go.

Don’t fool yourself, she was heartache from the moment that you met her.

My heart is frozen still as I try to find the will to forget her, somehow.

She’s somewhere out there now.

Well my tears fall down as I try to forget,

Her love was a joke from the day that we met.

All of the words, all of her men,

all of my pain when I think back to when.

Remember her hair as it shone in the sun,

the smell of the bed when I knew what she’d done.

Tell myself over and over you won’t ever need her again.

But don’t fool yourself,

she was heartache from the moment that you met her.

My heart is frozen still as I try to find the will to forget her, somehow.

She’s out there somewhere now.

Oh She was heartache from the day that I first met her.

My heart is frozen still as I try to find the will to forget you, somehow.

Cause I know you’re somewhere out there right now.

“In God’s Country” by U2 (Album: “Joshua Tree”)

Desert Sky

Dream beneath a desert sky

The rivers run

But soon run dry

We need new dreams tonight

Desert rose

Dreamed I saw a desert rose

Dress torn in ribbons

And in bows

Like a siren she calls (to me)

Sleep comes like a drug… In God’s Country

Sad eyes crooked crosses… In God’s Country

Set me alive

We’ll punch a hole right through the night

Everyday the dreamers die

To see what’s on the other side

She is Liberty

And she comes to rescue me

Hope, faith,

her vanity.

The greatest gift is gold

Sleep comes like a drug… In God’s country

Sad eyes crooked crosses… In God’s country

Naked flame

She stands with a naked flame

I stand with the sons of Cain

Burned by the fire of love

Burned by the fire of love

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