Updated: Sep 3
Most of the time, lyrics are not the first thing that connects us to the music, which I guess explains why so many people like techno, house, jazz or classical music. Usually, the rhythm and the melody give us goosebumps and electrify our body.
However, a good written song is relatable, tells an amazing story or has profound meaning that sticks in our head and teaches us something.
These are some of those songs that stand out not just with their melodies but with their wise lyrics.
John Lennon - Imagine
You must have expected to see Imagine on this list. A timeless ballad, this song represents humanitarian values and became the official song of international day of peace last year. I am wondering why it took that long! "Imagine all the people, living life in peace", can there be a better vision for the world?
Check out cartoon artist Pablo Stanley's Imagine comics.
Nirvana - Come As You Are
Kurt Cobain has always been against society's labels, ridiculous rules and the whole concept of capitalism and its reflection in society - like the big fish, small fish principle and patriarchy.
Some amazing trivia about this song can be found on SongFacts.
This part always made me question Cobain's suicide as well:
"In this song, Cobain sings over and over, "I don't have a gun." Less than three years after the song was released, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. This was an eerie turn of events, but it's unlikely that Cobain had suicide on his mind when he wrote the lyrics. The gun could be a reference to a time when Cobain's mother got mad at her husband (Kurt's stepfather) and threw his guns in a river. Cobain says he recovered some of them, sold them, and used the money to buy his first guitar when he was 15".
And this one is also interesting: "Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach" were taken from a campaign in Seattle that encouraged heroin users to soak their needles in bleach after injecting to reduce the risk of spreading HIV. The phrase for the campaign was actually "If doused in mud, soak in bleach." The lyrics as used by Cobain could be about tolerating everyone no matter what they look like - black people being the "mud" and white people being the "bleach."
Alice Phoebe Lou - Orbit
You might not have heard this song before, but in my opinion, it makes Alice Phoebe Lou a phenomenal songwriter. When I was doing research for this list, even though there are many good female singer-songwriters, I struggled to find 'wise' lyrics that weren't about relationships (same goes for male singer-songwriters). Yet, read the lyrics to this song and you'll see how meaningful and amazing they are.
My roots dig deep into this world of ours
And I’m grounded, grounded
My reality is what I perceive
What I attract into my orbit
Do you want to be just a machine in this crazy society?
Pick the lock Grab the reigns
Forget there ever were chains
'Cause there never were chains
are my favourite parts. Incredible life lesson in a song right here.
Radiohead - 2+2=5
Radiohead is one of my all time favourite bands, and I love 2+2=5 because it references Orwell's novel 1984 and captures the story perfectly.
"Are you such a dreamer To put the world to rights? I stay home forever Where two and two always makes a five"
"It's the devil's way now There is no way out You can scream and you can shout It is too late now"
The verses clearly draw upon the fact that idealists and dreamers cannot make a change in the world and we are better off staying in our comfort zones, without causing trouble. Though once we do this, day by day it becomes harder to stand up for ourselves.
Much like the poem by Martin Niemöller, the song is a reminder to 'pay attention'.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The song is part of their album Hail to the Thief, ranked 7 out of 9 albums by fellas at Audioxide, read their reasonings here.
Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence & Personal Jesus
It was a difficult choice between Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence so I am mentioning them both on the list but I want to talk about Personal Jesus. First of all, what a name for a song. There are so many themes embedded in the lyrics from religion to loneliness.
"Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who cares Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who's there"
Religion is definitely a helpful tool to ease our loneliness and fears, and get through difficult experiences.
Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit
Last but not least, one of the most successful songs of the genre, White Rabbit also references a well-known novel, actually a children's book: Alice in Wonderland. Lyrics are written by the amazing Grace Slick, and the song is about psychedelic drug use, which has recently been proven to heighten the state of consciousness by Imperial College in London. I think Grace already knew it, she repeats multiple times: "feed your head". On another note, it also symbolises curiosity, experience, exploration and spirituality.
As many of you know, in the story Alice follows the white rabbit down the rabbit hole where she is introduced to a whole new world (kind of like Plato's Allegory of the Cave) because she is curious. Alice goes through some crazy experiences in a fantasy world where a dictator is in power. In the end, she defeats her fears, gains back control and "wakes up" from the dream. This is why the white rabbit symbolism was a great fit in The Matrix (1999) as well.