Just like your favorite famous quotes, lyrics can inspire us, teach us new perspectives, or evoke a strong feeling/reaction. However, writing a strong lyric isn’t an easy task, like a Youtube to mp3 conversion.
Musicians have to consider their rhyme scheme, melody, song story, structure, and other significant variables. But when the music serves the lyrics and an artist delivers a truth bomb, the result can be unforgettable.
Life-changing, even. In celebration of those moments where music speaks to our inmost thoughts, here are 20 of the greatest lyrics of all time. In the interest of diversity, we’re not repeating any artists twice. Let’s begin.
#5 – Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach, as I want you to be – Nirvana, Come As You Are
There aren’t many songwriters as visceral as Kurt Cobain. His humble persona would have you believe that his songwriting was careless and last-minute, but don’t believe him. With every couplet, Cobain immerses you deeper and deeper into his murky world, and his words remain especially haunting considering his tragic fate.
#4 – She tied you to a kitchen chair, She broke your throne, and she cut your hair, And from your lips, she drew the Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
Cohen’s most famous track took him 4 years and 2 notepads worth to write. When you’ve got that much material on your hands, it’s no surprise that the final cut was straight genius. The song idiosyncratically merges sex and religion in such a potent manner, that it’s spawned thousands upon thousands of covers and renditions. Of course, Jeff Buckley was a key figurehead in popularising the song. The second verse is especially vivid to me.
#3 – When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror, You know I won’t be next to you, you know I won’t be near, I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear, As someone who has had you on his mind – Bob Dylan, Mama You Been On My Mind
Just about any of troubadour Bob Dylan’s lyrics could have made this list. He stands apart from most songwriters for a few reasons, but one is his ironic bite. There’s never just one emotion attached to his quips – they’re drowning in a myriad of complex feelings. For example with this imaginative line, Dylan expressed sorrow, humor, closure, anxiousness, curiosity all in unforgettable fashion.
#2 – Oh I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet – Joni Mitchell, Case Of You
Painter and poet Joni Mitchell is always undeniably honest in her lyricism, always facing the uncomfortable truths instead of fleeing from them. Her metaphor on A Case Of You is deeply relatable for those in dying relationships struggling to keep the spark alive, but it’s just one of many lines from Mitchell’s catalog that displays astounding emotional intelligence.
#1 – Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down – Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
Paul Simon’s greatest contribution to the American songbook came at the end of his recording career with Garfunkel. By this point, Garfunkel’s voice and Simon’s songwriting were at their zenith, and Bridge Over Troubled Water cemented the pair as one of the most important folk/pop acts of the 20th century. Never have I heard such a beautifully aching promise.