by Rick Bretz
As I write this on a word document, I have always admired people who can string a few memorable words and put them in the correct order. So with that thought, this is my take on the best songs by great lyricists. As with all of my lists, there are many like it but this one is mine.
Simon and Garfunkel-Sounds of Silence-1964
This is a tour-de-force in songwriting. Every line of it is unforgettable and it starts with one of the best lines of all time, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” As the songs reflects, the “words of the prophets are written on the subway walls” but when this was written down it was gold.
The Eagles-Hotel California-1976
Sometimes you just nail it. This song is got everything great lyrics, perfect guitar rifts and defining the thin line between a dream and a nightmare.
McCartney-Lennon/The Beatles-Eleanor Rigby-1966
Of all the great lines in this song, one for me, still stands out, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from, All the lonely people, where do they all belong.” A simple question but not so easily answered.
Jackson Browne, The Pretender-1976
Jackson Browne has delivered many great songs over the years (That Girl Could Sing) but his triumph is “The Pretender” because it covers many themes. One of the best parts, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s a wink of an eye, and when the morning light comes streamin’ in, we’ll get up and do it again, Amen”
Bob Dylan-A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall-1963
This is so good it has been covered by many artists through the years. I prefer Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians version. This one starts right out with some terrific lines, “I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests.” I have to admit it was a toss-up between this and “The Jokerman.”
Tracy Chapman-At This Point in my Life-1995
Most people like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” song from 1988. I like that one also, but I like this one better because it is reflective. I have always liked her voice but these words hit you like a Fast Car. Words like, “Although I’ve mostly walked in the shadows, I’m still searching for the light, Won’t you put your faith in me.”
Bruce Springsteen-Thunder Road-1975
The opening song to the “Born to Run” album hooks you right away and reels you in for a listening ride. This song’s opening lines are just the beginning for Mary to come along for the ride, “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves, Like a vision she dances across the porch, As the radio plays, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, Hey that’s me and I want you only”
Alan Parsons Project-Time-1981
Written by Eric Woolfson along with Alan Parsons, “Time” expresses the true meaning of time passing by and the friends you meet along the way. I think about all of the people I have met in my life and how I would like to see them again. This song can be sad and inspirational in one listening. It’s about making the most of your time, “Time, flowing like a river, Time, beckoning me. Who knows when we shall meet again. If ever, But time, Keeps flowing like a river, To the sea.”
Pink Floyd-Wish You Were Here-1975 and On The Turning Away-1987
The title track from the album of the same name, “Wish You Were Here” laments their missing friend and how circumstances have over taken them. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” may be about Syd Barrett and could just as well be on this list but this song puts their feelings into one phrase. The best lines are in the opening, “So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain. Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?”
“On the Turning Away” is an insightful song about looking away rather than doing something to make the world and society a better place.
Rickie Lee Jones-Last Chance Texaco-1979
I think everything Rickie Lee Jones does is terrific so I may be writing this with a little bias. From her debut self titled album, this song along with Night Train are my favorites from it, although “Chuckie’s in Love” was the hit. This song uses personification to put human characteristics on an automobile. It’s brilliant piece where instrument, voice and words meet to create a great song. “It’s her last chance, Her timing’s all wrong, Her last chance, She can’t idle this long, Her last chance, Turn her over and go, Pullin’ out of the last chance Texaco, The last chance”
Miranda Lambert-The House That Built Me-2009
This one is written by two songwriters but performed by Miranda Lambert and this favorite of mine might have something to do with the way she sings it.
The words can bring back memories, “You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can. I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am. I thought if I could touch this place or feel it. This brokenness inside me might start healing.”
Ice Cube-It Was a Good Day
Frank Sinatra-It Was a Very Good Year
Steve Forbert-I Blinked Once
Mamas and Papas-California Dreamin
Neil Young-Harvest Moon
Christine McVie-Song Bird
Phil Collins-In The Air Tonight