Songwriters with Something to Say

It seems that most rock-type songwriters either state things that are rather obvious (“The Times, They are a Changin’”, “Blackbird”, etc.) or completely nonsense (“I Am the Walrus”, “Loser”). I can’t think of any who really put much into their work, in terms of multi-layered poetry or true imagery. Can any of you?

Two words: Warren Zevon

Two more: John Prine

Guess we should’ve seen THAT one coming.

Let me add: Paul Westerberg.

Kate Bush
Tori Amos
Sarah Maclachlan

Jackson Browne

Bruce Springsteen

and I second Sarah Maclachan and Warren Zevon.

Elvis Costello
Andy Partridge
Roger Waters
Patti Smith
David Byrne
John Wesley Harding
Neil Young
Paul Westerberg
Louis Perez (Los Lobos)
Sinéad O’Conner
Sinéad Lohan (talking of Sinéads)
Ray Davies
Peter Townshend

… and so on. In other words, there are a lot.

I would also include Lennon, Dylan, McCartney and Beck, who all have written lyrics that are simultaneously sophisticated, lucid, and aesthetically accomplished.

And “I Am the Walrus” is not gibberish … see Ian MacDonald’s excellent exegesis in Revolution in the Head.

Yeah… it’s kind of a false dichotomy there. Lennon did like to free-associate, but he created some great imagery at times and also made social statements. They seem obvious now, I’m sure, but there’s a reason his songs and Dylan’s (for example) caught people’s imaginations.

Indigo Girls
REM
Pink Floyd
Queen
Mark Knopfler
Ian Anderson
Peter Gabriel
Suzanne Vega

Tom Waits
Nick Cave
Neko Case
Elvis Costello
Elliott Smith

Zach De La Rocha - Rage Against The Machine

Thrice (I dunno who writes their lyrics)

NOFX (some songs… many are just funny gibberish like She’s Nubs or We Threw Gasoline on the Fire and Now We Have Stumps for Arms and No Eyebrows)

Annie Lennox
Kirsty MacColl

Frank Zappa.
Flaming Lips (esp recent Yoshimi-era stuff).
Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.
Frank Black (esp Pixies era).

And I’ll second Tom Waits.

I was going to start naming names, but then I thought: nah, too easy. Once I started thinking up names, I’d never stop.

Perhaps the reason the OP is having trouble thinking of any is that (at the risk of overgeneralizing) the songs and songwriters with real depth and complexity to their lyrics aren’t the ones you hear played all over the place on the radio and in stores and bars and so forth, because in situations like that, most people don’t want something they have to pay attention to. They don’t want something that makes them think or touches them deeply while they’re buying Doritos or washing their car. If the songwriter has something to say, what if I’m not in the mood to hear it right now?

Some people don’t pay much attention to lyrics at all; if it has a good beat and they can dance to it (or bang their head to it), they’re satisfied. But those who do pay attention can’t always give a really good song, with a lot in it, the attention it deserves.

So the really substantial songs lyrically tend, perhaps, to be the more obscure ones, the ones you have to seek out and play for yourself.

Richard Thompson

John Hiatt
Robbie Fulks

Neil Peart of Rush writes some good lyrics, if a tad pretentious and intellectual.

Also, Marillion lyrics from the Fish era are pretty poetic.

WTGOTFANWHSFAANE Says more than most of their songs.

Aimee Mann
The Pogues

Are you kidding? Wayne Coyne? Frank Black? Tom Waits?
Well, they didn’t say anything cliched, but I’d put them in the just weird category.