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CrispinG
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How important to you are the words to a tune? For me, it depends on the type of music. I can listen to any kind of hip hop, regardless of how daft the lyrics are, because I can't identify with most hip hop anyway. I just enjoy it. By contrast, there are bands I can't listen to not because I don't like the music, but because the writing irritates me. The Manics are a good example; a band I loved when I was a bit younger, and whose songs I still find immensely catchy. But I can't listen to it any more because the lyrics are so juvenile and pretentious, and I cringe.

Then there are those rare artists whose lyrics are more important to me than the music itself. Leonard Cohen is chief among these. His songs are beautiful, but what really touches me isn't the music, which is mostly pretty standard folk guitar, it's the poetry of his words. Poetry you just don't find in any other style but folk.

And Jesus was a sailor

When he walked upon the water

And he spent a long time watching

From his lonely wooden tower

And when he knew for certain

Only drowning men could see him

He said "All men will be sailors, then,

Until the sea shall free them."

But he himself was broken

Long before the sky would open

Forsaken, almost human,

He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.

And you want to travel with him

And you want to travel blind

And you think maybe you'll trust him

For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

That's "Suzanne", my favourite Leonard Cohen song. If the writing wasn't as rich as it is, I wouldn't think much of it. But whereas I'll listen to the sound of a singer's voice and the melody with most music, I listen to what Cohen is saying, and that's what I love.

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I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook

A real live lover, could have been a book.

I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock

As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.

I could be

Here and now

I would be, I should be

But how?

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.

I could have been your pillar, could have been your door

I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more.

Could have been your statue, could have been your friend,

A whole long lifetime could have been the end.

I could be yours so true

I would be, I should be through and through

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.

I could have been a whistle, could have been a flute

A real live giver, could have been a boot.

I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock

As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.

I could be even here

I would be, I should be so near

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.

I love Nick Drake

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Where you going riding, boy? \

I'm gonna ride on down to see you / x 2

Where you going riding, boy?

All dressed up and with that look of joy

Where you going riding, boy?

I'm gonna ride on down to see you

Who you gonna ride with, boy? \

I'm gonna bring my sister Lisa / x 2

Who you gonna ride with, boy?

All dressed up and with that look of joy

Who you gonna ride with, boy?

I'm gonna bring my sister Lisa

Because I love my sister Lisa

I love my sister Lisa

I love my sister Lisa most of all

Don't you know that that's sinful, boy \

God is what I make of Him / x 2

I'm long since dead and I live in Hell

She's the only girl that I love well

We were raised together and together we fell

God is what I make of Him

And all I have I give to Him

All I own I owe to Him

All my life I pledge to Him

Will Oldham, the king of fucked up lyrics.

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Two hours

With four left wing kids

I spent time in Nazi Fortress

Much discussion in room C-H-1-O-C-H-11

I did not understand why

I could not accept the fact

that I'd accepted the contract

Much discussion in this institution

Much discussion in boiled beef and carrots

Room C-H-1-O-C-H-2-O-11

It was clear in the window eye

The brick outlined the blue sky

And I had to go round the gay graduates in the toilets

And Good King Harry was there fucking Jimmy Saville

Much discussion in room C-H-1-O-C-H-2-O-11

Much discussion in room C-H-1-O-C-H-2-O-11

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I would agree that the Manics are highly cringe-worthy in every way.

Lyricists I like:

Leonard Cohen (obviously)

Morrissey (obviously)

Jello Biafra

Jeff Magnum / Neutral Milk Hotel (the most touching, beautiful lyrics ever)

Dont generally notice or care for lyrics though unless they are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. That is what books are for. Music to me is more about, well, music and vocals are often better when used more as another instrument.

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I love Nick Drake

I love Nick Drake too, but if you showed me the lyrics to One Of These Things First before I'd seen the music, I'd have thought they were pretty low grade poetry. The song itself, though, I think is a total masterpiece.

I used to love Joni Mitchell's lyrics, and spent a long time listening to Blue (and every other album) when I was a bit younger, but now I find her lyrics fey and slightly ridiculous - not all the time, just occasionally, but it's enough to ruin the music a bit.

Bob Dylan I do think is actually almost as much a poet and as a musician.

Get born, stay warm;

Short pants, romance.

That's fucking brilliant.

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I would agree that the Manics are highly cringe-worthy in every way.

Dont generally notice or care for lyrics though unless they are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. That is what books are for. Music to me is more about, well, music and vocals are often better when used more as another instrument.

I agree that lyrics aren't always important. There's plenty of music that I like where the lyrics are mostly irrelevant.

I don't really agree about the Manics, though. A lot of the earlier stuff is a bit sixth-form but I still like the number of ideas, the variety of reference points and the fact that most of it is infinitely more interesting - IMHO of course - than most of the lyrics of their comtemporaries. That those lyrics are bolted onto catchy MOR-ish rock rather than something more difficult is something else that still makes me smile. I also like the idea that something in a Manics song or sleevenote will encourage somebody to go and pick up a book to find out more. They're educational ;)

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I must admit that I'm really shit at listening to lyrics for any song. I'm usually too busy listening to the instruments, arrangement, melody. So I usually won't know the words to a song unless I've heard it many times. And then I probably will only know the first line of the song and the chorus. Probably incorrectly. ;)

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Predictable coming from me, but I think the lyrics are really important in Irish music. Some of my favourite lyrics come from Irish songs, and I'm often to be found singing them in pubs and ditches across the country.

One of my favourites:

Phil Coulter - The Town I Loved So Well

In my memory I will always see

the town that I have loved so well

Where our school played ball by the gasyard wall

and we laughed through the smoke and the smell

Going home in the rain, running up the dark lane

past the jail and down behind the fountain

Those were happy days in so many, many ways

in the town I loved so well

In the early morning the shirt factory horn

called women from Creggan, the Moor and the Bog

While the men on the dole played a mother's role,

fed the children and then trained the dogs

And when times got tough there was just about enough

But they saw it through without complaining

For deep inside was a burning pride

in the town I loved so well

There was music there in the Derry air

like a language that we all could understand

I remember the day when I earned my first pay

And I played in a small pick-up band

There I spent my youth and to tell you the truth

I was sad to leave it all behind me

For I learned about life and I'd found a wife

in the town I loved so well

But when I returned how my eyes have burned

to see how a town could be brought to its knees

By the armoured cars and the bombed out bars

and the gas that hangs on to every breeze

Now the army's installed by that old gasyard wall

and the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher

With their tanks and their guns, oh my God, what have they done

to the town I loved so well

Now the music's gone but they carry on

For their spirit's been bruised, never broken

They will not forget but their hearts are set

on tomorrow and peace once again

For what's done is done and what's won is won

and what's lost is lost and gone forever

I can only pray for a bright, brand new day

in the town I loved so well

I could post many more, and I will! Maybe.

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I like a lot of Kate Bush's lyrics as well

I still dream of Organon.

I wake up crying.

You're making rain,

And you're just in reach,

When you and sleep escape me.

You're like my yo-yo

That glowed in the dark.

What made it special

Made it dangerous,

So I bury it

And forget.

But every time it rains,

You're here in my head,

Like the sun coming out--

Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen.

And I don't know when,

But just saying it could even make it happen.

On top of the world,

Looking over the edge,

You could see them coming.

You looked too small

In their big, black car,

To be a threat to the men in power.

I hid my yo-yo

In the garden.

I can't hide you

From the government.

Oh, God, Daddy--

I won't forget,

'Cause every time it rains,

You're here in my head,

Like the sun coming out--

Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen.

And I don't know when,

But just saying it could even make it happen.

The sun's coming out.

Your son's coming out.

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