Since i’ve been writing lyrics (ooo, wait. I get to use the fancy shmancy term “libretto”. Course it’s basically the same, but libretto is so much more classy.
“I’m writing lyrics.”… “Yeah whatever you jobless, drugged out hippy”
“I’m working on the libretto.”… “Oh, excuse me Sir!”)
Anyway i thought i’d go through my absolute favorite lyricists. I gotta warn you, they’re all old guys. It’s not that there aren’t great lyricists out there today but no one does it for me like these guys. Hip hop has produced some of the best rhyming wonders of the past 20 years, but hip hop is particular in it’s lyrics… it lacks… it’s very real, very direct. It doesn’t play with poetic concepts. Take for instance this, one of my favorite “stanzas” (okay, verse) of all time:
Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain
so I hang upon my altar and I hoist my axe again.
And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began
when Jesus was the honeymoon and Cain was just the man.
And we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin
that the wilderness is gathering all its children back again.
DAMN that is an awesome verse. See, hip hop, which is about the troubles of reality or presenting oneself, doesn’t work on this level. Not knocking the incredibly rich genre, i’m just making a point as to why i’m not including Jay Z, 2Pac or some of the other most proficient rhymers of the recent past.
Anyway, here we go:
1. Bob Dylan.
Of course. Because he IS the master of lyrics. This song demonstrates exactly why. (note, you cannot find original dylan songs on youtube. Hence i’m putting up this incredibly accurate and kick ass cover by Cat Power.)
2. Leonard Cohen
I already demonstrated Mr. Cohen’s awesomeness in the above stanza, but here’s a drop dead amazing lyrical song:
3. Roger Waters
You know, i often forget completely about Pink Floyd. Why? Because i never listen to them. Why? Because i used to love them.
Make sense? Look, during my adolescence and into say the beginning of my 20s (peak years from 15-18) i bloody adORED Pink Floyd. When we talk about teenage musical influences, which are the early and most powerful in one’s life since one is being exposed to a lot of musical concepts for the first time, Pink Floyd is far and wide the winner of my heart. And that’s why i never listen to them anymore.
I’ve heard it. Reheard it. Memorized and rememorized. I can sing every song on every album word for word. Hell, i can sing every guitar solo too. If the TV is on in the background of the album, i can recite that also. So years go by without my listening to them at all and i forget about them and the fact that, for instance, Roger Waters is an incredible lyricist. Even if the only album he ever made was The Final Cut, he’d still be on this list.
(oh, and this video, which someone edited using footage from Band Of Brothers kicks ass)
4. Bruce Springsteen
I get really, really tired to having to defend this guy when i mention his immense awesomeness and someone says “Oh yeah, Born In The USA”.
Basically Bruce Springsteen elicits 2 responses: either you only know him through Born In The USA (a. not his best work but STILL b. a much more cynical song and album than people only passingly familiar with it realize), or you have delved into albums like Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Nebraska. Hell, Tom Joad is fantastic lyrically too.
Maybe it’s because i was raised in the American Northeast and Mr. Springsteen describes it perfectly, but folks, Born To Run is one of the best albums ever made and a lyrical masterpiece.
5. Tom Waits
Of all these musicians i probably love Tom the best. This was not always true, each of these guys had their day, but Tom is at my top for so many reasons. In any case, he kicks ass at lyrics, in his very own way. Here’s a great live choice: