How important are song lyrics?
How you answer that question is probably dependent on what you look to get out of music. Do you simply listen to it as a means of getting your foot tapping, your head nodding and the urge to sing along and dance? Or do you also look to songs to give you some meaning, some substance, and nourishment for the intellect and soul?
Recently, the great lyricist Pete Seeger sadly passed away, and to commemorate this we held a Lit Soc session on song lyrics, and more specifically our favourite examples.Pete Seeger himself is renowned for being the first (and last?) of the great protest singers, and musicians as diverse as Billy Bragg and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello queued up to pay tribute to the great man, with the latter describing him as ‘…absolutely the best that humans can aspire to be. A courageous, kind, fearless soul.’
Why is Seeger held in such high regard? Well, it’s largely for the simple, powerful, beauty of his politicised lyrics. As Ms Huntley pointed out when discussing one of his many classics, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, he was unafraid to take on political controversies, in the case of this song the Vietnam War, in an unflinching manner. But whilst some would use anger to get their message across (such as London punk band The Clash, whose fierce Know Your Rights was Mrs Horwood’s choice), Seeger sang of change through peace, with the motto inscribed on his banjo – ‘This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender’ – perhaps best summarising what he was all about.
So what were everyone’s favourite song lyrics? I’m afraid I haven’t the space to cover everyone’s choices in the same detail. I will say that all had compelling reasons for choosing the songs they did, so if one of the video links included below strikes a chord with you, do catch up with the person in question and ask them why they love the lyric so much. Proof, indeed, that the best song lyrics can inspire us as much as the best poetry, prose and plays.
Ms Huntley – Pete Seeger: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Peter Gabriel: Book of Love
Mrs Horwood – The Clash: Know Your Rights
Miss Bland – Foy Vance: Indiscriminate Act of Kindness
Johnny Nash: I Can See Clearly Now
Miss Hansell – Counting Crows: Goodnight Elisabeth
The Beatles: I Am The Walrus
Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights
Miss Gladwyn – Dire Straits: Romeo and Juliet
Elizabeth Burrell – Pink: Dear Mr President
Mrs Spooner – Leonard Cohen: Suzanne
Miss Sunda – Joni Mitchell: My Old Man
Mrs Rendle-Short – Joni Mitchell: Tin Angel
Miss Gilchrist – White Lies: Death
Mr Humphreys – Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad
Nirvana: Scentless Apprentice
Tom Waits: Tango Till They’re Sore