Friday, July 31, 2009

Favorite songs for their lyrics, Part II

This is the second edition of my post on lyrics.

Landed, Ben Folds (2005)-Ben Folds doesn’t try to make his songs universal. He writes very specific stories. He said once in a concert I attended that he admired Stevie Wonder because Wonder didn’t just write sad love songs about heart break: He wrote about all facets of life including the good and the bad. Songs like “Stephen’s Last Night in Town,” “Song for the Dumped,” and “Zak and Sara” show there’s nothing too mundane in life to be covered for a song. Folds doesn’t feel the need to write about himself either: He writes about a man who’s been fired after putting in 25 years of good work at a company in Fred Jones Pt. II, a man who became an evangelist after an acid experience in a party in “Not the Same”, and an ex-hippie who’s no longer part of the revolution in “Ascent of Stan.” By comparison, every other songwriter is a narcissist. Folds doesn’t feel like his own ordeals are as important as the rest of the world. In “Landed,” Ben Folds writes somewhat of an anti-relationship song. It’s about a guy who’s in an unhealthy relationship, gets out of it and regains his sanity in the process. The opening line: “We hit the bottom, I thought it was my fault, and in a way I guess it was.” Have you ever heard a narrator in a song possess such a lack of confidence? As the listener, you can tell that it wasn’t his fault, but the narrator has been forced into believing it was. The pronouncement at the climactic bridge when the narrator has landed is “I’ve come alone.” Upon further research, I found that this was based on a specific story of Ben’s friend. Go figure.

Hard Candy, Counting Crows (2002)-The symbolism and imagery in this song is so great. For one thing, the connection between your mother, your love, and your daughter is explored here (that is, if “girl upon a pedestal” relates to a daughter), how you miss your mother’s love as you age and see her in your wife/lover, and how you also compare that love to what you expect of your daughter. In the end, there’s an acknowledgement that this is an unhealthy cycle, because you’re waiting for your daughter to fall. The song touches up on the power of nostalgia with a certain ironic detachment that all of his regrets, his hopes, and summer memories are all compressed into a picture of an ordinary girl. I think in my own experiences, when I see a picture of some former love, I find that same irony that it’s now just a picture of an ordinary girl and it used to be much more.

Wake Me Up When September Ends, Greenday (2005)-The song takes a pretty direct approach on the subject of severe depression as depressed people tend to sleep a lot. What's interesting and relatable about the song is that the narrator wishes for something ineffective: He believes that skipping the month of September will cure his pain. That's not how the healing process works, of course. If he slept through the month of September, he would have to deal with the feelings of (in this case, getting over his dead dad) during the month of October. Nevertheless, it's a nice wish. There's a hopeful tone to this depressing state he's in simply because he is in the act of wishing (even if that wish is irrational). Of course, the song is also relatable because unless you absolutely love school (and even then, the transition is kind of hard), September is the worst month of the year and it would be kind of nice to skip it. It's kind of the flipside of a summer anthem in that sense.

Rain King, Counting Crows (1995)-Another Counting Crows song. The line in the chorus "I belong in the service of the queen, I belong anywhere but in between," is the most striking to me. I've listened to Adam Duritz discuss the song and it's not anything close to how I interpreted it, but I interpreted it as a guy deserving this woman's heart and not anything less. "So don't try to feed me because I've been here before and I deserve a little more," he also says. I see it as a song about a guy who's been searching for true love for a while and is still isn't willing to compromise. The narrator is also in a severe state of confusion, disillusionment, or euphora. It's a little hard to tell and that's what makes the song interesting.

Why Georgia, John Mayer (2003)-This is a case of me discovering a song where I was coming from the same exact place the songwriter was coming from. John Mayer was singing about dealing with a quarter-life crisis as a result of a life change. In this case, he was moving to Georgia. Perhaps, moving to Georgia was the solution to his quarter-life crisis, who knows? The pronouncement: "Everybody's just a stranger but that's the danger of going my own way. I guess that's a price I'll have to pay," puts a positive spin on the situation. When I was 20, I had to make a major life change and it was really risky to try to move far away from everything I knew. In the end, I moved away for a while, but came home a little too soon. Still, the song was very relatable to me: Moving away and taking a big risk comes with a few negatives and struggles, even when it's all for the better and a liberating move of independence.

Fallen, Sarah MacLachlin (2003)-Sometimes, channeling your sadness through music and turning it into poetry can be the best thing you can do with it. This song is nothing but sadness, but capturing those emotions so poetically and wish such a serene voice as Sarah gives these dark emotions a redeeming quality. The lesson of this song is that there's beauty in failure to.

Barrytown, Steely Dan (1974)-I didn't even know this was Steely Dan's song. I thought it was Ben Fold's song, but I just recently discovered it was a cover that I downloaded from Napster of so many years ago. The song hit a chord with me. I viewed it as a ballad against conformity: "And don't think that i'm out of line for speaking out for what is right, I'd like to see you do just fine, but look at what you wear, and the way you do your hair. I can tell by what you carry that you come from Barrytown." The song resonated with me at a time when I didn't fit in with my surroundings. I just transferred colleges and would speak out a lot against the culture of the new school only to be ridiculed and misunderstood. Apparently, the song is about a cult in New York.

You're a God, Vertical Horizon (2000)-I got into the massive hit Everything You Want well-before I got into this song, but it's a good song as well. Vertical Horizon doesn't have too many good songs other than those two. Best I Ever Had has been covered a couple times. Anyways, this song is really interesting because the narrator is proclaiming to this woman that she's a God, which is quite a compliment, but at the same time, it's being used as an excuse (i.e. "you're a god and I thought you would know...and I just thought I'd let you go"). There are a lot of complicated loopholes in this relationship or potential relationship and the narrator's reason for writing this song is that he's gotta be honest after being "covered in lies." Did he cheat on her? Did he ever have her in the first place and to what degree? What an interesting song.

Game of Love, Santanna featuring Michelle Branch (2003)-What a great song about love. The line in the chorus "A little bit of this, a little bit of that," is a good metaphor for the game of flirting and love. Successful attraction is just a random mix of ingredients and the incredibly festive music encourages you to just go out there and enjoy searching for that right mix of ingredients. The girl is heartbroken by a kiss that didn't turn into anything more but could you sit there after listening to this song and tell me that she's not having a good time with it?

You're Winter, Sister Hazel (1997)-I played this song a lot during my freshman year to deal with stresses and how I wasn't going to let them take control of me. The tone is melancholy, with the narrator saying "won't be your winter and I won't be anyone's excuse to cry, and we can be forgiven, but I'll still be here." The guy is being treated like crap by someone else and he is refusing to let it get him down. He will still be there for that person when he or she comes to they're senses and realizes how wrong they will be acting. Surely, good resolve for a strong person.

OK, that's 10 more songs. I'll do a third round of this soon.
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Songs I'm considering writing about in the next edition:
1. It's All Been Done, Barenaked Ladies
2. #41, Dave Matthews Band
3. Who Knew, Pink
4. You and I Both, Jason Mraz
5. Grey Street, Dave Matthews Band
6. Name, Goo Goo Dolls
7. Be Like That, Three Doors Down
8. Hand Me Down, Matchbox Twenty
9. Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohn
10. Meet Virginia, Train

1 comment:

james said...

Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.
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