Along about 1970-72, I was in the RM Drug Store waiting for a prescription. They used to have a small record bin up front by the counter. I used to check it every time I was in the store because it was the only place in town that you could buy records.
One day I looked in and found a five dollar copy of Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. My life never was the same after that day. I quit banging my head and started listening to words, and when you do that the words need to make some sense or else why listen to them.
I guess it really does matter what you put in your head. I listen to some of the stuff that lot of kids are listening too nowadays, and I get afraid. But then I remember that back then we had people who said we should be "doing it in the road", "painting it black", and mumbling some silly bullshit about this guy named Louie. And don't even get me started about Inna Gadda Da Vita. So, I guess in a way some things never change.
Great lyrics though are more than being just about making sense, The world needs them to supply beauty and wonder and to help explain things. Here are some that go way beyond just making some sense.
1) John Prine - Everybody Wants to Feel Like You
Everybody needs somebody that they can talk to
Someone to open up their ears And let that trouble through
Now you don't have to sympathize Or care what they may do
But everybody needs somebody that they can talk
A simple truth explained in simple language. Listening is the most undervalued skill that there is. Too many people get it mixed it up with problem solving or talking, not John Prine.
2) Bob Dylan - If You See Her Say Hello
If you get close to her kiss her once for me
Always have respected her for doing what she did and gettin' free
Oh, whatever makes her happy, I won't stand in the way
Though the bitter taste still lingers on from the night I tried to make her stay
Some words just pierce you right through your breast plate and come to a rest right fucking smack in the center your heart and just sit there quivering like an arrow shot by Robin Hood. These words are also like a hammer blow to the middle of the forehead because of how that they remind me of the bitterest night of my life. Sometimes I turn the song off before it even gets started, and some nights I listen to it and marvel at Dylan's archery skills.
3) Al Stewart - Year of the Cat
"She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain"
I went through a period of several years where I didn't listen to anything but Al Stewart. He has several songs of absolute genius that are far more substantial than his one big hit. But I still stand amazed at the beauty of this well crafted descriptive phrasing using both a perfect simile and superb alliteration.
4) Robert Hunter - Ripple
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone
I never was much of a Dead fan when I was young. Probably because they weren't that much into recording compared to the playing live. I recently watched a documentary and heard bassist Phil Lesh talking about the lines "Let it be known there is a fountain, That was not made by the hands of men." That shit is a pretty damn profound way of saying that there is creative force, call it what you will, that mankind has drawn sustenance from throughout our existence on this planet.
Looking up the lyrics, I was pleasantly surprised to find this stunningly beautiful verse that perfectly describes our lonely journeys of self discovery. "Between the dawn and the dark of night" captures the human predicament in a beautifully painted little nutshell.
This is something that Sophocles might have written a long, long time ago, and I imagine that someone writing in the 22nd Century will say something like it too, at least I hope so.
5) Lindsay White - Fancy Shoes
i lost my family, i lost my friends
to falling branches and howling winds
i lost my home to inclement weather
i keep on clicking my heels together
but fancy shoes won't kick my blues away
I did two brilliant things for which my children should be eternally grateful. I placed a bookcase full of books in each of their bedrooms before they came home from the hospital, and I played Bob Dylan around them constantly.
They are both very creative, articulate and love Dylan. My daughter Lindsay has written a lot of my favorite lyrical phrases particularly because of her use of metaphor. This song is based on Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I once saw Lindsay play this song at Borders in Visalia, and a homeless man in the audience started crying when she sang this chorus. I knew just how he felt.