Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.
Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.
Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”
Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.
Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.
The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter
Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”
Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.
I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.
But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.
Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?