Best lyrics in rock/pop music

Consider this a companion to the worst lyrics thread.

I’ll start:

Steely Dan:

*I’m so excited I can barely cope
I’m sizzling like an isotope *

Bob Dylan:
I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed
Got a hopped up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard

Beck’s Sexx Laws: one of my favorite wierdest songs, where it looks like the lyrics just don’t work until you listen to it…
I want to defy
The logic of all sex laws
Let the handcuffs slip off your wrists
I’ll let you be my chaperone
At the halfway home
I’m a full-grown man
But I’m not afraid to cry*

Leonard Cohen.

Walter Becker from the song “Lucky Henry”:

Dusted down in shanty town behind a sky of red
Hoist upon some frozen dawn exploding in my head
Fast asleep in trouble deep or wide awake and burning
Stuck inside some stranger’s hide whose karma keeps returning

Where you trail that holy grail of darkness and despair
Way cross town, now up now down, as though you’d really care
On the bus across from us seen once in silhouette
The old man’s face you couldn’t place that now you can’t forget

I’ve always loved one line in Neil Young’s Powderfinger:

Big John’s been drinkin’ since the river took Mary Lou

In that one line - less than ten words - there’s a whole picture painted. I can visualise everything about Big John.

Maybe that’s just me.

Chuck Berry doesn’t often get the credit he deserves as a lyricist. But his lyrics are clever, inventive, evocative, and he was a master at fitting syllables to the rhythm of the song.

For example:

If you listen to the song, every stress in those lines falls exactly where it should. The alliteration of “coffee colored cadillac” is perfect. And the phrase “southern diplomat” wonderfully evokes a blowhard shouting politician on a soapbox. Huey Long, perhaps?

And then anything by Ray Davies.

Love that one too, Scougs.

From the same song:

Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.
Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

I don’t know if it’s particularly powerful because of the way Eddie Vedder sings it, but this line from “Black” - a breakup song - has always struck me as an amazing piece of writing:

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a sun
In somebody else’s sky
But why, why, why can’t it be mine?

Sting, All This Time:

The teachers told us, the Romans built this place
They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire
Garrison town,
They lived and they died, they prayed to their gods
But the stone gods did not make a sound
And their empire crumbled, 'til all that was left
Were the stones the workmen found

Paul McCartney: “She was just seventeen - you know what I mean”

Robert Palmer (I assume): “She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went”

Pete Townshend: “Hope I die before I get old”

Sting again:
Mephistopheles is not your name;
I know what you’re up to just the same.

Hey there mighty brontosaurus,
Do you have a lesson for us?

Just using that name in a song gives him major props.

John Prine, The Sins of Memphisto:

Adam and Eve and Lucy and Ricky
Bit the big apple and got a little sticky
Esmeralda and the Hunchback of Notre Dame
They humped each other like they had no shame
They paused as they posed for a Polaroid photo
She whispered in his ear
“Exactly Odo Quasimodo”

“And I found a place where it’s dark and it’s rotted
It’s a cool, sweet kinda-place where the copters won’t spot it”

“Locked In The Trunk Of A Car” by The Tragically Hip

I guess Sting is an acquired taste - he was mentioned numerous times in the “worst lyrics” thread. But ol’ Gordon is a songsmith in my eyes.

From “All This Time”:

Saw the sad shire horses walking home, in the sodium light.

“Invisible Sun”:

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life
Looking down the barrel of an Armalite

I’d nominate virtually anything written by Chris Difford. Especially “Cool for Cats.”

Andy Partridge from XTC also has skills:

“The Mayor of Simpleton”:

Well I don’t know how to tell the weight of the sun
And crossword puzzles, well I just shun
But I may be the mayor of Simpleton, but I know one thing
And that’s I love you.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights”:

Kid, stay and snip your cord off, talk and let your mind loose
Can’t all think like Chekov, but you’ll be O.K.
Kid, is this your first time here? Some can’t stand the beauty
So they cut off one ear, but you’ll be O.K.

Warren Zevon: “I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s. His hair was perfect.”

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

Gordon Lightfoot
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Smith/Morrisey - pretty much anything
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions:

I can’t figure out how to make that make literal sense, but damn, is it evocative (and dirty)!

If you will allow Cole Porter to be nominated, as a writer of ‘popular’ music, then he wins all lyric-writing contests hands down. However, perhaps he’s too old and ‘swing era’ to be included.

A few personal favourites:

“It’s the damage that we do and never know
It’s the words that we don’t say that scare me so”
- Elvis, ‘Accidents Will Happen’

“What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way.
What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you.”
- Chris Isaak, ‘Wicked Game’

“Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free.
They would not listen; they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will.”
- Don McLean, ‘Vincent’

“Sergeant O’Leary is walkin’ the beat
At night he becomes a bartender
He works at Mister Cacciatores down on Sullivan Street
Across from the medical center
And he’s tradin’ in his Chevy for a
You oughta know by now
And if he can’t drive with a broken back
At least he can polish the fenders”
- Billy Joel, ‘Movin’ Out’

“I break into a cold sweat
Reaching for the phone
I let it ring twice
Before I chicken out and decide you’re not at home
Does everyone stare the way I do?
I only stare this way at you”
- Sting. ‘Does Everyone Stare?’

And all of the lyrics to ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd.

I have been a John Mellencamp fan ever since 1978 when in Born Reckless, as a teenage Lothario trying to explain himself to his girl, he sang:

Well what I really want to say is…
I guess I don’t know, what it is I really wanna say

It’s hard to make a song scan, make sense and get a laugh.

I still think it’s the best exposition of teen confusion ever.