Top 10 Lyrics, Part 2: #5-1

And I’m back with the second half of my list of the Top 10 Best Lyrics!

Last time, I kicked things off with lyrics from songs all over the emotional spectrum, and today won’t be any different. To recap, here’s the songs lyrics were pulled from last week:

  • “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots
  • “The Temptation of Adam” – Josh Ritter
  • “Pluto” – Sleeping At Last
  • “Who Do You Say I Am” – Pas Neos
  • “Leave The Light On” – Chris Smither

Song: “Audience of One”

Artist: Rise Against

Lyrics:

“I brought down the sky for you, but all you did was shrug”

Rise Against is one of those groups that continually please me with the poetry of their lyrics. I could easily put together a list of lyrics I really enjoy just from their songs alone, but this is not that list. In any event, think about this line. In the context of the song, it drives forward the overall narrative. What I really want to discuss, though, is the potency of the line by itself.

Taken out of context, these words are such a damning description of a relationship in which one party has given their everything only to be met by the indifference of the other. Frustration and anger may be there, but sadness remains the primary emotion I feel when I hear this part of the song. I would love a character in a novel to be the subject of this type of description.

Song: “The Sound of Silence”

Artist: Simon & Garfunkel

Lyrics:

“And the people bowed and prayed // to the neon god they made”

“The Sound of Silence” is one of the best written indictments of modern society’s failings in recent history. The entire song is a masterclass of excellent wordplay and imagery (“words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”), but this pair of lines takes the prize.

I love allegory, symbolism, and works in the style of Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. In fact, I wrote an epic poem of my own as a modern take on that style. The phrasing and frustration of these words aligns with that of my own work and others like it from long, long ago. In its own way, I hold this song thematically in the same mental category as works like those I’ve mentioned. These lyrics are the major reason why.

Song: “The River, the Woods”

Artist: Astronautalis

Lyrics:

“A sinking ship is still a ship, no captain spoke the obit
Till the crew is flew, crow’s nest slips silent beneath the ocean.
We set sail without an anchor, we count upon that never stop
An anchor’s just a coffin nail, waiting for that hammer drop”

I found Astronautalis by accident when I was a teenager and didn’t really like it. Then I started truly listening to the lyrics and found brilliance in several of the tracks. While there’s still a lot by this artist that I’m not fond of, this song is amazing. In four lines, he conveys a stunning attitude of defiance and encouragement. These words urge you to keep going, keep striving, keep pushing against the tide. They want you to fight against the desire to stop and stagnate. And likening an anchor to a coffin nail “waiting for that hammer drop” with the rhyme structure?

Gorgeous.

Song: “The Hounds”

Artist: The Protomen

Lyrics:

“What kind of man builds a machine to kill a girl?
No he did not use his hands
Like a smart man, he used a tool,
But just the same,
How can you question who’s to blame?
(Investigators:) What was her name?
It doesn’t matter”

Alright, you’ve probably never heard this song or heard of this band, and for that I am so so sorry. The Protomen are terrific. Go look them up. Right now.

“The Hounds” is one of the best villain songs ever written and terrifically performed. Set in a driving swing beat, it refers to the police coming at the call of the story’s villain who has just killed a man’s wife, framing on that man in the process. This chunk from the second verse, is brilliantly cold and confident, displaying the personality of a person who would do such an evil thing for his own gain. He spins a web of convincing lies and when confronted with a real question (What’s the name of the woman that died?), he brushes it immediately aside as irrelevant. It’s incredible and awesome and brilliant because it’s terrifying.

HONORABLE MENTION:

“When I say he was a monster,
When I set fire to his name,
It does not matter where you hear it from―
Whether truth or lies,
It gets said all the same”

An honorable mention entry from the same track (which is incredible and you should listen to it), this one gets right to the heart of why “fake news” is so dangerous, though it came out years before the term. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, the fact that it is being said and heard carries SO MUCH POWER. This entire song is built on the back of that power and stands as a horrific testament to what a person can do when they utilize the most potent force in existence―language―to serve evil.

Song: “Lift the Curse”

Artist: Astronautalis

Lyrics:

“There ain’t no magic in materials
The magic’s in our words
That we whisper in each other’s ears
To make diamonds out of dirt”

Find me better lyrics to convey the vitality and onus put on us as writers. Bet you can’t. This phrase carries both the incredible privilege and incredible danger of what we do. Through our command of language, we can take the mundane, average, and awful to turn it into something beautiful: literally making something good out of nothing or less. But within that ability also rests the power to destroy by using the gift to lie, cheat, and steal.

Both versions of this gift have made enormous impacts on this world. These lyrics remind me to only use this power for good.

But seriously though.

Well, that’s the list! Hop into the comments below or tell me on Twitter whether I included some of your choices (and if not, tell me what your favorite lyrics are!)

For more Top 10s and thoughts on writing, check out the main page HERE.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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