Lyrics I Still Remember
There are some topics I save up because they’ll be so much fun to write about.
— Paul Graham, Some Heroes
On my list of ‘save up’ topics is song lyrics, specifically, those that have stuck with me through the years.
The test is, if you flashed the album cover in front of my eyes, would I respond instantly with the lyrics?
I still think about these lines, years beyond the day I first heard them.
She’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever.
— Jeff Buckley, ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’
When I think about what grief is, I think about this line.
The line works whether you mean tear as in fluid, or tear as in rip.
Welcome to the good life.
— Kanye West, ‘Good Life’
I first heard this song on the outro to an Entourage episode in 2007. It’s not about the lyric though. It’s about the fact this song coincided with the start of me doing what I really wanted in my life. This song is forever linked to a time my life began to shift for the better.
Me, and my Brother hiking.
Me, and my Brother might find a turtle.
We’ll just have some fun.
— Annuals ‘Brother’
I grew up in a big wooden house, 30 minutes outside a town of 25,000 people.
We lived on 12 acres. 3 was cleared. 9 was rainforest.
We didn’t have a TV until late in my high-school years, so my younger brother and I spent every waking hour outside, playing cricket, basketball, riding bikes, making huts, picking fruit from the orchard, jumping on the trampoline and inventing games to amuse ourselves.
This shared experience is part of what makes my brother also my best mate. This song captures a little of what those childhood memories feel like.
At every occasion, I’ll be ready for a funeral.
— Band of Horses, ‘The Funeral’
This song came out in 2007, but described much of what I was experiencing in my life at that time.
There is a state that exists in which someone can feel exactly as the line describes. Still to this day I jump when the phone rings. My instinct is to assume someone’s calling to tell me someone I love has died.
Over time, this lyric has actually taken on a much more positive meaning for me. In the sense that being ready for a funeral can mean making as much as you can of the moment you’re in.
Coolness is having courage, the courage to do what’s right.
— Panda Bear, ‘Comfy In Nautica’
‘Comfy in Nautica’ came out at a time when being cool about music meant a lot to me. I used to expend a lot of energy trying to stay current, to listen to everything as soon as it came out, to be across every new band and every old band that had influenced them.
But at the same time I was compressing all this energy towards musical coolness, I began to realise that my taste was my taste and I needed to have some faith in it.
It was Powderfinger’s manager Paul Piticco who captured it best for me: “As a band you can’t write a record and be angry if someone doesn’t like it. You can’t change someone’s taste”.
It took me some months to unwind from the coolness coil. But ever since, I’ve been free to love what I love because I love it.
I don’t mean / To seem like I care about material things Like our social status / I just want / Four walls and adobe slabs / For my girls
— Animal Collective ‘My Girls’
If there’s a lyric that defines my transition into actual, rather than legal, adulthood it’s those final lines of ‘My Girls’. I was 26 when this song came out, which marks the start of me letting go of the things I felt I had to deem important and embracing the things that actually were.
Those lines, even though I have no children and don’t yearn for adobe slabs, resonate more strongly with me now than ever.
Tell her that I’m sorry, yeah I love her badly, tell ‘em all I’m sorry,
And kiss the sleepy children for me
You know one of these days, I’ll be making gravy,
I’ll be making plenty, I’m gonna pay ‘em all back.
— Paul Kelly ‘How To Make Gravy’
Like many Australians, I can’t listen to this song without welling up. The specifics of the song’s storyline aren’t the point.
The point is its feeling… of family Christmas, in Australia, with the one uncle who always has to cut the turkey, or make a potato salad in a particular way or give a routinely jokey toast.
It’s that feeling of “pushing the tables baaaack” and the nostalgia that anyone away from home feels for the beautiful mundanity of family gravy recipes which are all at once the most important and insignificant things in life.
Just ‘cos you feel it / Doesn’t mean it’s there
— Radiohead ‘There There’
This line is cognitive behavioural therapy.
One of the biggest transitions between child and adulthood is in understanding the difference between what happened and your reaction to it. Knowing what you’re feeling and deciding whether it’s worth feeling that way is a life skill with outsized returns.
“It’s okay to eat fish /Cause they don’t have any feelings.”
— Nirvana ‘Something In The Way’
Kurt famously recorded this song on ‘Nevermind’ after Butch Vig convinced him to lie flat on his back on a couch and sing it.
I’ve never forgotten this line because of its weirdness. And because I can’t work out if it’s true or not.
I think about it every time I eat fish.
Bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
And blood at the roots
Swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’
From the poplar trees
Of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes
And the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia
Clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell
Of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit
For the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the leaves to drop
A strange and bitter crop
— Nina Simone ‘Blood On The Leaves’
I think this is just straight-up the most powerful poem I’ve ever heard. Made all the more visceral by Nina Simone’s otherworldly voice.
If you read the words, their significance will need no explanation.
And if a double-decker bus
Crashes in to us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well the pleasure, the privilege is mine
— The Smiths ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’
I was super late to The Smiths, only introduced to them by Chris Martin singing the chorus to ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ on a live Coldplay album.
Morrissey’s lyrics are equally overwrought and gut-punch powerful.
You might mistake this song for a joke if it wasn’t for the understated mourning in Johnny Marr’s chords.
This is comedy and tragedy all at once. But it’s also I nice way to think about the ridiculously large love you can have for someone.
and you only hide / because you know i’ll find you
I don’t know what this line means but I wish I’d written it.
But me I’m a single cell
On a serpent’s tongue
There is muddy field
Where a garden was
And I’m glad you got away
But I’m still stuck out here
My clothes are soaking wet
From your brother’s tears
Bright Eyes straddles the line between brilliant and ‘too much’ for me.
But this verse is just a killer. Eight lines, so tight, that take your mind so clearly and powerfully through a series of three unforgettable images and emotional overwhelm of despair.
Old dirt farmer, varsity baseball player
Texas nomad and a fisherman
Kind of a weird one.
Definitely not my favourite song, but one that’s stuck. Hard.
Every time I call my brother, I sing these lines to him as a way of saying hello, replacing the word ‘farmer’ with the word ‘banger’ (his nickname).
I might have sung a variation of these lines more than a 1000 times in my life. I have no more or less explanation than that.
When all the sunlight in your eyes, feels forgotten, is there light at the end of this tunnel?
When my friend Scott died, all of us went to the north coast of NSW for the weekend to spend time together.
I had to drive back to Brisbane alone, and in the wake of that weekend, in the silence of that car, with the sun setting on the day, I played this song over and over, bawling my eyes out.
This is the thing songwriter’s rarely see.
When the emotion of a song completely encompasses your own, you can take whatever you’re feeling and put it inside the song for just a few minutes. As if the song can carry the load for just a moment. Lifting the burden and letting you feel what you would if only you weren’t so utterly crushed by its weight.