Song lyrics you don't understand or don't make sense

I posted in this thread that I liked but didn’t understand the lyrics to Livin’ Thing. And that’s been going through my mind of late. Yesterday **Smapti **started a thread about a song (s)he didn’t understand. Then today I heard Neil Young’s Down by the River which has never made since to me. Partial lyrics include:

"Be on my side, I’ll be on your side, baby…
It’s so hard for me staying here all alone
When you could be taking me for a ride.

Yeah, she could drag me over the rainbow, and send me away
Down by the river I shot my baby
Down by the river, dead, oh, shot her dead."

He wants her by his side, can’t be without her, she takes him over the rainbow so he kills her? Anyone understand this?

So I thought I’d start a new thread where you could post songs you don’t understand or that don’t make sense… maybe someone here can explain them.

Well, if this is the thread for explaining lyrics that don’t make sense, am I demanding too much when I ask for an exegesis of the complete works of Captain Beefheart and Beck? :wink:

Most songwriters are singers, or are writing lyrics for singers. What matters is that the words sound good and fit the melody. Telling a story, or making sense, are of secondary importance in the majority of songs.

So if the words don’t make sense and you can’t figure out the story: relax, there isn’t one. They’re just vocal sounds, not meaningful language.

Beefheart is easy to understand. You just fill the bathtub with sheet metal and overfly the sulky on the beach.

I realize this might be true for some songs, especially pop songs, but I gotta believe Mr. Young usually had something in mind.

In the thread “Songs you used to like until you really listened to the lyrics” there’s some discussion of Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime. You can go there if you want to talk about “Have a drink, have a drive” or “If her Daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal/If her Daddy’s poor, just do what you feel.”

My question concerns a set of lyrics that are listed on various websites as:

Speed along the lane
Do a turn or return the twenty-five
When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good and really fine


*Speed along the lane,
Do a ton or a ton and twenty-five.
When the sun goes down,
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by. *

Knowing lyrics websites, both of these might be completely wrong. Anybody know the correct words, and what the hell they mean?

The textbook case is from Steve Miller’s The Joker:

“Some people call me the Space Cowboy.
Some call me the Gangster of Love.
Some people call me Maurice,
'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.”

But she doesn’t want him, or they fought, or life is just too hard.

It’s a similar message to, say, bluegrass band Blue Highway singing,

*She said we had to part, even though she held my heart
And to this day I know she always will
It was such a dreadful sight, but she’s peaceful there tonight
Lying in the ground so cold and still

I couldn’t let her walk away
From everything she promised on our wedding day*

Songs about killing one’s lover, ex-lover, or wouldn’t-be-lover have a long history in country and blues, and are a natural touchstone for a rootsy guy like Neil.

The Blue Highway narrator is pretty unambiguously a murderer-suicide, while Neil’s seems to at least imagine a pact.

You take my hand,
I’ll take your hand
Together we may get away
This much madness
is too much sorrow
It’s impossible
to make it today

Ahem… This link explains your example:

Never been in love, I take it…?

These are the correct lyrics. “a ton” is 100 mph. (So “a ton and 25” is 125.) A “lay-by” is a roadside rest area.

My favorite example of obscure lyrics would have to be Dylan’s “Changing of the Guards”. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song but no one’s been able to interpret it satisfactorally, and Dylan ain’t talking…although he did make some statement to the effect of “it can have a different meaning every time you hear it”.

I prefer to think it’s just a kind of stream-of-consciousness piece, poetic impressionism, if you will. There is a lot of apoctolyptic imagery there, coupled with a dynamic chord progression. Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s no good…
I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending beneath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you.

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angel’s voices whisper to the souls of previous times.*

Dylan has said he hated being called “the poet of his generation” with everyone hanging on every syllable of his protest songs.

And right about then he started writing lyrics like “He spoke to me, I took his flute/No, I wasn’t very cute to him/was I?”
and “An’ he just smoked my eyelids/An’ punched my cigarette.”

Ah, I was right, there was a thread years ago here.
“Dylan does not care much about the meaning of the words he writes. In one interview when asked what some album or song was about he said it was about “rats and balloons”. What he does care about is the sound of the song.”

Anything by Yes.

Like Roundabout

Or Siberian Khatru

Or Gates of Delerium

Damned stuff reads like badly translated version’s of Mao’s Little Red Book.

Nice tunes, though.

The mother lode for this is surely A Whiter Shade of Pale:
She said there is no reason,
And the truth is plain to see
That I wandered through my playing cards,
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast.
And although my eyes were open,
They might just as well have been closed.

Had a coworker* that could pump out nonsense lyrics, and “write” three or four songs a day. He felt a little funny when Dylan started making tons of money off what he was doing for free.

*Anyone remember a hippie went by the name of “Preacher” in 60s Chicago? Did you ask him to write you a song?

<lightbulb goes off> See, that’s why I started this thread. That never occurred to me (also props to Sam A. Robrin).

I read an interview with them once (Rolling Stone?) where they explained it was a riff on all of the psychedelia song writing going on at the time. After the song took off they just kept their mouths shut about it.

There was a sizable faction of intelligentsia who relished works of art they could pretend to understand, thereby lording it over their perceived lessers. A lot of Dylan’s material (and more so that of his imitators) is an attempt to appeal to that crowd, very probably with a smug twinkle in his eye.