To mark 50 years since Woodstock this
August, I asked our members to share their favourite song lyrics, old and new.
For me, it had to be a snippet from The Jam’s A Town Called Malice – one of my favourite songs, and this lyric always stands out to me for how it conjures such touching images from the everyday.
Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry It’s enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious In a town called malice.
Jill Hopper’s favourite lyrics are by Morrissey, from The Smiths’ You Handsome Devil:
There’s more to life than books you know But not much more.
‘I laughed when I first heard them
because I’d never heard anyone voice my feelings so exactly before. And they
often spring into my mind – my creed, in a song.’ – Jill Hopper
From Andy Hayes:
‘The lyrics that always spring to mind are from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al:
There were angels in the architecture Spinning in infinity’
Thinking about bands who played Woodstock, I’ve always loved Pete Townshend’s lyrics. Here’s a gem from The Who’s A Legal Matter:
I bet you thought you had me nailed But I freed my head from your garden rails
And more from Substitute
I’m a substitute for another guy I look pretty tall but my heels are high The simple things you see are all complicated I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah
I like a yeah’
And Francesca Baker:
‘I love lyrics by Jarvis Cocker. His attention to kitchen sink detail is superb. Take F.E.E.L.I.N.G C.A.L.L.E.D L.O.V.E:
The room is cold And has been like this for several months If I close my eyes, I can visualise everything in it Right down Right down to the broken handle On the third drawer down of the dressing table
Martin Lee resisted the urge to quote Dylan and Cohen, opting instead for…
‘Marc Bolan of T. Rex was the person
that showed me that you could just have pure fun with words – they didn’t have
to make sense to make sense, if that makes sense. Or not. So the first lyric
that did that for me was Metal Guru:
Metal Guru has it been, just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream I’II be clean you know pollution machine, oh yeah.
In more recent years, a single line of
a song that I simply love, and less influenced by drugs I suspect, is from Head
Home by American band Midlake:
Bring me a day of honest work, and a
roof that never leaks, and I’ll be satisfied.
For what it’s worth, this is the only
song I know of that overtly references Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, which
gives it added distinction.’
From Sandy Wilkie:
‘I’d have to go with lyrics from the
title track to this Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout) album.
The lyrics are built from real
conversations heard randomly on short wave radio. So they appear to be a
coherent piece but they have been sourced disparately at a time when Paddy had
eyesight issues and all he could do was sit in a darkened room and listen to
the airwaves. They remind me that random, serendipity can create wonderful
lyrics and writing.
It’s a 22min track, needs to be heard in full to appreciate its expansive beauty. But I have selected the following excerpt:
The plane comes down behind enemy lines And you don’t speak the language A girl takes pity on you She is Mother Theresa walking among the poor And her eyes have attained night vision In an orchard, drenched in blue light She changes your bandages and soothes you All day her voice is balm Then she lowers you into the sunset Hers is the wing span of the quotidian angel So her feet are sore from the walk To the well of human kindness But she gives you a name, and you grow into it Whether a tramp of the low road or a prince Riding through Wagnerian opera You learn some, if not all, of the language And these are the footsteps you follow The tracks of impossible love.’
Unlike Martin, John Simmons couldn’t resist Leonard Cohen. And I don’t blame him for choosing this excerpt from Anthem:
There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
Richard Broadbent asked if he could ‘be greedy and nominate three’:
I am not your rolling wheels. I am the highway. I am not your carpet ride. I am the sky. I am not your blowing wind. I am the lightning. I am not your autumn moon. I am the night. – Audioslave, I am the highway.
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. – Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
And I’ll dance with you in Vienna I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise The hyacinth wild on my shoulder My mouth on the dew of your thighs And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook With the photographs there, and the moss And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty My cheap violin and my cross And you’ll carry me down on your dancing To the pools that you lift on your wrist Oh my love, oh my love Take this waltz, take this waltz It’s yours now, it’s all that there is. – Leonard Cohen, Little Viennese Waltz.
I asked her to meet me outside the town hall I had in my pocket a ring I’d base-layered up, with the temperature being Way below average for spring But she’d read the timetable like I’d read her mind And when she was late to arrive My outstretched arms were at quarter to three And hers were at five forty-five
‘Look at the concrete
imagery in there! Actually, I’ll let this tale of love’s woes speak
for itself. Listen to the song to get the wonderful visual comi-tragedy of the
final verse. Those who share my marginal taste in music might enjoy the album
this Biscuit track is from, Urge for Offal, which also contains the
superb British holiday anthem Westward Ho!’ – Tim Rich
Julia Webb-Harvey adores David Bowie’s Wild is the Wind:
‘Bowie’s breathy voice mirrors the feeling of the air moving around two people, and intensifying. The whole narrative builds in the song, like a wild wind, to a lover’s kiss… when the song and the music break. It is lyrical and music genius.
With your kiss My life begins You’re spring to me All things To me Don’t you know you’re Life itself’
And Alex Fenton shared his musings on a lyric from Oasis’ Little by Little:
True perfection has to be imperfect
‘Please don’t judge me for choosing an
Yes, it’s overplayed, and yes, it
makes the scientifically-minded cringe with its obviously flawed logic. But
it’s always resonated with me, even 15 years after hearing it for the first
Can anything organic be truly perfect?
Evolution (a supposedly perfect system) is itself a serial mistake-maker – genetic
mutations playing a game of trial and error in a seemingly random, and horribly
In a world where we agonise endlessly
over the tiniest details and consistencies, we’ve forgotten that everything
humanity has ever done has been imperfect. I don’t mean in a ‘F*ck it, that’ll
do’ kind of way, more in a ‘At some point I have to stop looking at this and
get back to my life’ way.
It reminds me of the famous quote ‘films
are never finished they’re just released.’ The same can be said of any song,
book, TOV guidelines…etc
It’s almost because the creator
could have gone on tinkering endlessly that makes the greatest works so
brilliant. It’s in their flaws that we see our own, and it’s this human quality
that makes us want to connect with the piece. I imagine something coldly perfect
would be uninteresting for our primal ‘lizard brains’.
This has made me stop thinking in
terms of perfection, and consider instead whether something works or not. I
reckon humanity could solve many more problems much faster if it did the same. Just
as the great is the enemy of the good, maybe perfection is the enemy of
perfectly good solutions.
Is this what Noel was getting at when
he wrote this? Whatever the case, it’s 6 words that have made me write 250-odd
pondering them, so that’s got to mean something.
I’m not saying this is my favourite
lyric, but it’s the one I’ve chosen today. I could have carried on scrolling
through my Spotify ‘recently played’ ’til October, but I think Mr Gallagher’s
words will do just fine for now.’
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