Lyrics

Our full Lyrics search is coming soon! In the meantime, enjoy this selection of Lyric collections by decade.


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A lyric is a set of verses and choruses that make up a complete song, It can also mean a set of words that make up a poem. A lyric usually uses a single speaker or performer who expresses their thoughts, emotions or other messaging. Lyrical poems on the other hand, which are often memorable for their rhythm, are also aesthetically pleasing to the ear and are easily put to music.

The word "lyric" derives originally rom the Greek word “lyre,” which is an instrument that was played while reading a poem. Lyrical poets histoirically demonstrated their specific moods and emotions through words designed to create a feeling. Such moods express a range of emotions including life, love, death, or other experiences of life.

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Runaway Train – Soul Asylum’s Ode to Depression & Addiction

Runaway Train rises to the level of a great song for many reasons. Chief among them is that its poignant, well-crafted lyrics are open to multiple interpretations, sliding on a scale from the ridiculous to the sublime. Nevertheless, the words mean a lot of different things to many people.

Coupled with a mesmerizing rhythm guitar; a strong, if commonplace, back beat drum backing and the plaintive tone of its vocals, Runaway Train seems to have grow in stature and depth over its life. The Grammy Awards recognized it as the year’s best song at the 1994 awards, although the album it is featured on, Grave Dancers Union, was released in 1992. The single was officially released in ’93.

Runaway Train falls in the long tradition of the branch of folk rock that encompasses groups such as The Byrds; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ lighter work; Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding; and even the Allman Brothers’ Can’t You See, which reaches altogether different heights due to Duane Allman’s guitar.

The opening verse poses to us a sad soul who has evidently let slip away a love, who he proceeds to contact at an hour where nothing good ever goes down. We know from the start, he is hurt, desperate:

Call you up in the middle of the night
Like a firefly without a light
You were there like a slow torch burning
I was a key that could use a little turning

He goes on to confess to the listener that he can’t keep promises, a long string of lost opportunities part of his make-up. Somehow, this chapter is worse, though; he tells us, This time I have really led myself astray. Indeed, as we will find out, this habit of bad behavior extends to his choices concerning his mode of travel.

Meanwhile, underneath, in a slow, insistent way, the song’s music builds dramatically, guitars tracked over one another to help punch out the chorus, which is in each succeeding version a variation of:

Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one way track
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I’m neither here nor there

The confessor’s disclosures begin to grow in scope until we become aware of a full-blown depressive episode that drives him to seek distance. Power chords from the lead electric sound far away, mixed almost into oblivion, piling on the notion of helplessness. The plaintiveness in the voice turns into a soulful plea:

Can you help me remember how to smile

Make it somehow all seem worthwhile

As the song closes – well, as it slams shut – he draws himself as one who

Bought a ticket for a runaway train
Like a madman laughin’ at the rain
Little out of touch, little insane
Just easier than dealing with the pain

Some have interpreted the burnin’ in my veins of the final chorus to be a reference to heroin addiction. And, if you’ve had trouble with drugs or been through a heroin intervention, the round peg of the whole song can kinda-sorta-maybe be forced into that square hole of addiction. Others feel the song is about capital-D depression. But it just seems really sad, this unfolding of the story of a person who has sabotaged his entire life and, as the music cues us to understand, rides away on the runaway train he himself bought the ticket for, boarded, and now cannot get off of.

The strumming and sound levels get weaker and weaker until the music fades out completely. Runaway Train is a brilliant explication of a love affair and its destructive aftermath.


This song by Soul Asylum is titled Runaway Train and was named Song of the Year at the 1994 Grammy Awards, making it one of the most notable songs of the 1990s. As noted in the commentary, there is sometimes an association between this song and heroin addiction due to the words within a small portion of the lyrics.

If you have ended up on this song in error and were seeking information about drug addiction or drug interventions, start your search for professional intervention info here.


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Runaround Sue’s Ties to Buddy Holly and the Famous Plane Crash

It was the swaggering, swinging exuberance and old-fashioned excellence emanating from the big cities that lifted Rock-N-Roll out of the hole it had fallen into after a series of devastating losses in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The state of Rock-N-Roll was in a state by the middle of 1961. February of 1959 witnessed the “Day The Music Died,” when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper all went down on that notorious plane in a snowy field in Iowa.

For the want of $35, Dion, who was touring with the others, would not get on the plane. (Nor would Waylon Jennings, then a member of Holly’s backing band.) Dion returned to New York.

The next month, “A Teenager In Love” by Dion & The Belmonts would rocket to #5 on the charts, establishing Dion as a bona fide star. That success was followed by a remake of a dreamy 1930s number, “Where Or When,” which reached #3. But there was trouble in the paradise of the Little Italy of The Bronx, the Belmont section Dion and his back-ups called home. (The group was named for Belmont Avenue there.)

Most significantly, even while the hits were flying high, Dion checked into rehab after a heroin intervention, something hushed up for many years so as not to tarnish his teen idol image. It was an era of less-talented teen idols, quasi-manufactured types, handsome and usually sporting pompadours, who were called up from the reserves to fill the void created by the infamous plane crash and the gaping hole left when Elvis Presley was inducted for military service. Dion was the real deal.

When he left his professional intervention and successful treatment program, Dion was a different man. He and the Belmonts broke up and he set his sights on a solo career. “Runaround Sue” was the first stop on Dion’s express to the top. It was released in September of ’61 and by October it was #1 in the U.S. It gained gold record status (1 million sales) in early 1962.

“Runaround Sue” is sung from the position of a jilted lover giving others (listeners or perhaps even real-life acquaintances) the low down about a cheating lover. Because it is about a real girl and a real experience, the song is delivered with great conviction despite its very polished stylization.

That we know there is a real Sue (forever unidentified, though) enhances the enjoyment. Queerly, Dion’s wife, whose name happens to be Susan, is not the Sue of song fame. Yet, according to Dion in a 2009 interview, “”She goes around telling everybody, ‘Yeah, I’m Runaround Sue.’ I said, ‘Why do you tell people that?’ She says, ‘They remember me.’ She said, ‘If I don’t tell them that, they won’t remember me.'” The former Susan Butterfield and Dion have been married since 1963.

Soulful innocence, pain and a drop of revenge percolate through from the mournful, slow, almost spoken start.

Here’s my story, it’s sad but true
It’s about a girl that I once knew
She took my love then ran around
With every single guy in town

The opening is immediately followed by a powerful vocal jam and sass-filled handclapping executed by the whole group that runs through the whole song, bulldozing all the conventions of Doo Wop. Dion’s voice literally soars over, in, and out of the arrangement. He’s a kid at this point with a seriously distinguished voice. He’s part Jazz, part Sinatra, part street tough, part soul singer and part almost-cheesy nightclub act. All the notes seem effortless and totally natural, like a bird singing in a forest, in this case the urban forest. Although we know he rehearsed obsessively, no matter – he sounds like a natural and it works to his great advantage.

He claims he learned about singing – phrasing and dramatics – from sitting on a fire escape or in hallways listening to Italian immigrant men singing opera on the sidewalk below on hot Bronx summer nights. What he had to learn about love, jealousy and the put-down by an ex he learned all by himself on the street corner.

The Belmonts continue their vocal jam on the ridiculously upbeat song – they all sound so happy giving the word on Sue – backed up by Carlo Mastrangelo’s drumming that deserves unreserved praise for its simplicity and precision.

The lyrics, too, remain simple… simple and heartfelt.

I should have known it from the very start
This girl’d leave me with a broken heart
Now listen people what I’m telling you
A-keep away from-a Runaround Sue

I miss her lips and the smile on her face
The touch of her hand and this girl’s warm embrace
So if you don’t wanna cry like I do
A-keep away from-a Runaround Sue

When he says he misses ol’ Sue, he means it with every fiber. But he can’t resist the indictment that comes with a brilliant music change. Betwixt and between are sufficient ooohs, aaahs, dit-dits and laddle-laddles to fill a cargo ship. For some reason, corny as they are 60 years after the recording, they don’t get old.

Ah, she like to travel around
She’ll love you and she’ll put you down
Now people let me put you wise
Sue goes out with other guys

As the song draws to its close, we get the moral of the story. In case you couldn’t figure it out, it’s: keep away from Runaround Sue.

The sublime beauty of the great Doo Wop classics lies in their honesty, the complete absence of irony or afterthought. “This is what I feel,” they say, “Take it or leave it.” And, even in their darkest moments, there is something in short supply currently: hope. The songs are overflowing with enthusiasm and hope. Tomorrow comes. Maybe the world isn’t an oyster but it is a big steaming pile of calamari in marinara and there’s a cute girl at the next table.


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Profiling Caravan by Van Morrison, A 1970 Rock Great

Kot: Did you enjoy The Last Waltz? (the Band’s farewell concert in 1976, in which Clapton, Bob Dylan and a host of greats performed.)
Clapton: I did, yeah. A fantastic event. I loved it.
Kot: Was the music up to snuff?
Clapton: For me, Muddy [Waters] and Van [Morrison] steal the show. Van doing Caravan with the leg kicks. Some of the greatest live music you’ll ever see.
– Interview with Eric Clapton, by Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, July, 2007

The impact of Van Morrison’s Moondance album continues apace even decades after its release. Although the title track and Into The Mystic seem to be both fan favorites and pet songs of the critics, it is Caravan, which truly will rock your gypsy soul.

Caravan seamlessly blends all of the main elements of rock’s synthesis of other kinds of music. It is bluesy, folky, jazzy, soulful, lyrically complex and complete; and produced flawlessly. There is a slow rocking feel to Caravan; saxophone bits that recall the best of Motown and Doo-Wop; a vaguely honky-tonk piano; a bouncy, bubbly base line; and a sweet, friendly acoustic guitar.

Morrison’s voice had just entered its peak period (which lasted decades). He blues-shouts, bends sound. He coaxes and massages words and phrases as if he were a living trombone. Much of his phrasing in Caravan is among the most inventive in all Rock history.

Caravan includes images and impressions from different parts of Morrison’s life, especially observations of gypsy life. Known as Travelers in Ireland, they inspire the tune’s broad motif. “Emma Rose” is a very popular first-middle-name combo in Morrison’s native country. And his time in Woodstock, New York, informs the “turn up your radio” images, as well as his soul-stirring tribute to his then-wife, Janet Planet.

Switch on your electric light
Then we can get down to what is really wrong
I long to hold you tight so maybe I can feel you
Sweet lady of the night, I will reveal you.
Turn it up, little bit higher…

America has had many dystopian moments scattered about in many places. The region around the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains in New York, 75 to 100 miles north of New York City, is one of the few utopian-washed regions of the United States, one that exists not solely in reality, but also in memory, due in significant part to the legendary festival named Woodstock, which was staged some 30 miles away in Bethel.

Some of the 60s’ greatest music was either written, produced or sparked by the mellow landscape that is one part hillbilly, one part old New England and one part urban sophistication. The Band’s Music From Big Pink and their eponymous classic, The Band, grew from Catskill roots. On a third album, Stage Fright, in a song called Time To Kill, they cite the Catskills as a place for a rollicking good time in the summer (which it can be).

Bob Dylan’s album, John Wesley Harding also has the smoky, cozy feel of Woodstock, where Dylan went to rest after his 1966 melt-down and motorcycle accident, even if the work is austere and surreal. It is dripping with Americana. Dylan’s manager for the first part of his career, Albert Grossman, built Bearsville Sound Studios in the region. It has catered to some of the greatest rock and pop musicians of all time.

Of course, Van Morrison also quite consciously draws on the region’s lore throughout a handful of his albums – His Band And Street Choir and most pointedly in Tupelo Honey, which features a song called Old Woodstock. The Catskills have a long, deep history of folk music and northern mountain music that was swamped by modernism, tourism, and the decline of agriculture in the area. (For a glimpse into that lost world, visit this website as a jumping off point: http://bobluskcatskills.blogspot.com/ )

In the end, perhaps that is the significance of Caravan. Contact with other luminaries such as Dylan and the cohorts in The Band, plus all the legendary lost music aroused Morrison to write lines such as:

And the caravan is painted red and white
That means everybody’s staying overnight
Barefoot gypsy player round the campfire
sing and play
And a woman tells us of her [fortune-telling] ways

The cherry on top: Caravan has given us one of the most-recognized song endings in Rock history, one of the most famous in the book of Pop, period: It’s too late to stop it now.


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Introducing Rock & Roll Fans to Can’t You See by Marshall Tucker Band

Although Marshall Tucker lacked the musical virtuosity of either The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, they recorded a handful of gold nuggets that helped propel them into the front ranks of the Southern Rock movement of the late 1960s and early 70s. (In fact, some would say this gives Marshall Tucker short shrift: They have four platinum and two gold albums under their tooled leather belts.)
The group could veer from rocking-chair Bluegrass as in “Amy,” or ramble out west with a cowboy song like “Desert Skies,” a slow, existential number. They banged out a head-bopping crowd pleaser in “Heard It In A Love Song.” Rarely, though, did they rock deep and steady. “Can’t You See,” then, represents a bit of a blip for them.
It’s a song defined by orneriness and fear wrapped together and in the vocal tone alone we can hear just why the love affair sketched out in the lyrics has failed. This is a drinking man’s song, a man who’s run up against a woman every bit as tough as he is.
Writer Toy Caldwell’s raw, powerfully despondent voice speaks directly to the soul. You can hear the Spartanburg, South Carolina, Blue Ridge countryside in every note, the aimlessness of small town America a half century ago. You can also hear the wounded Vietnam vet come home to rebuild a life shattered by war, a man not completely healed by the normalcy of civilian life.
Before Caldwell’s vocals slide in, there is a lonely, lovely acoustic guitar intro played by George McCorkle abetted by a distant-sounding flute solo by Jerry Eubanks. The two instruments are then joined by Toy’s own facile, bluesy, lead guitar.
Although the opening is unusual in Southern Rock – the flute alone tells us that – on first hearing “Can’t You See” you would never think it would unfold into one of the most revered Country Rock songs of all time.

Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, Lord
I don’t care where it goes
Gonna climb a mountain
The highest mountain
Jump off, nobody gonna know

We are slowly treated to a routine “mean old woman” motif… but the universally touching “Can’t you see, can’t you see,” lines hurl the song across the steamy, confusing southern night. Emptiness, despair, a broke down train… everyone’s ridden one, at least in his or her head.

I’m gonna buy a ticket, now
As far as I can
Ain’t a-never comin’ back
Ride me a southbound
All the way to Georgia, now
Till the train, it run out of track

While the “end of the line” has a symbolic and metaphysical significance, a note should be made about the history of the railroad in the South.

Rail lines were often not completed as through ways, but rather stopped short from a dozen to a hundred yards from another line that would take you on your journey after transferring. Additionally, as can easily be imagined, the Civil War wreaked havoc with southern railroads, and in the period when Caldwell was coming of age, 100 years after war’s end, the damage had not been fully repaired.

An enthralling series of guitar and piano jams break up verses from chorus, the work projecting a sense of expansion, miles and miles of it, across the Georgia night. Caldwell is not Duane Allman, but in “Can’t You See,” he’s chasing the Skydog down the road and catching up fast.

As the song winds to its majestic close, Toy Caldwell makes his guitar “talk” answering his own vocals and those of the counter-harmony chorus singers. The jamming of instruments and voices represents one of the high points of not just Southern Rock, but of all Rock.


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Blogging About Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison

On a good day, it makes you tap your toes and smile broadly. On great days it returns the wings of an eagle to ride as in times gone by. On quieter days, it brings a tear to your eye for all the things that were and might have been.

Among standard, pedestrian ratings of “the greatest songs” or “greatest singles in history,” “Brown Eyed Girl” can’t seem to find a steady place. It bounces around from top 40 to top 300 on the various rosters of best songs. It’s odd and ultimately stupid. The irascible Morrison himself says that he has recorded hundreds of better songs. Well, artists rarely make good critics so far inside their own work do they go.

Popularity should not be a noose with which to hang a song. Too many over-puffed critics – who know in their hearts it’s a bona fide Mt. Everest kind of song – resent its perkiness, its positivity and popularity. (If it ain’t brooding, it can’t be great.) Every one of them should relax, stop exhibiting the self-importance of the pundit and just call “Brown Eyed Girl” what it is: the perfect Rock-N-Roll record.

Moreover, it can’t be worn out.

So strong is it that putting “Brown Eyed Girl” on the shelf for a week or two and taking it down for a listen is like seeing your old devoted dog coming over a hill wagging its tail. It’s like biting into the greatest comfort food dish you can remember from when you were a kid. It’s like seeing your best friend who you thought was dead – or ought to be dead – at your front door.

We might listen to the wisdom of the radio DJs’ playlists, which, in 2012 placed the tune at #5 among the most-played on-air songs of that year. That’s forty-five years after the initial release.

It’s been covered by every band this side of Lady Gaga. The recorded cover versions are literally too many to enumerate. One of the more interesting, sloppy with a purpose covers is performed live by Van and Bruce Springsteen; it collars the basement party joy of the work. A song that is deeply and repeatedly enjoyed by teenagers and septuagenarians simply can’t be set aside as just another pop song.

First, there is the lead guitar lick and fill-ins that New York session genius Hugh McCracken laid down. McCracken played with countless other giants: John Lennon, B.B. King, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan, to name just a few. He declined an invitation to become a steady member of Wings.

Another of the guitarists on “Brown Eyed Girl” owns similarly shimmering credentials, having played first on Brill Building demos to show off the fine attributes of composers like Carol King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector. He later moved into the guitarist role on smash hit songs: “Sherry” by The Four Seasons; “Chapel Of Love” by The Dixie Cups and most notably, “Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence.”

Morrison’s vocals are crystalline, clear as those summer days far away that he sings of. He shouts, he contemplates, he comes bearing the gift of song to the girl he memorializes. His phrasing displays an incredible awareness of the narrative of the song, changing mood as befits the lyric’s story progression.

To wind the song down, he executes a truly wonderful vocal jam with his back-up singers, romping around from Blues shouting to scat singing. The back-ups are provided by The Sweet Inspirations who performed on, among other tunes, Aretha’s “Chain Of Fools” and Dionne Warwick’s walking-wounded masterpiece, “Don’t Make Me Over.”

These are facts of a sort. What lies at the heart of “Brown Eyed Girl,” though, is a sweet seductive tune that is part Reggae, part Skiffle, part Rock-N-Roll. There are a number of hooks – the guitar riff, the sha-la-la-la-la-la-la chorusing. The sneaky solo bass line that steps in for a split second is not to be overlooked.

And deep, deep in the heart lies Van Morrison’s insistence on reaching for poetry within the Irish/Anglo/American tradition. You can hear the sentiment of William Butler Yeats’ “The Wild Swans At Coole”:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head…

But strolling around as well is old, white and wizened Walt Whitman and his Leaves Of Grass, the extended poem that spoke of sensuality and nature as being one with sex.

“Brown Eyed Girl” is filled with allusions to nature: There’s rain, the hollow, misty morning fog, sunlight laughing, a rainbow’s wall, the waterfall, the green grass behind the stadium. All are plaited tightly together with love and lovemaking.

The final verse is a wistful rumination on a chance meeting with the old girlfriend, the kind of meeting you hope for but dread. Everyone wants to keep his or her memories pristine. The singer/songwriter has moved on and is lost. The former young lover has changed dramatically and Van’s comment to her reflects what must have been his well-preserved wonder at their childhood sweetheart days. If this set of lines and the unrelentingly upbeat music that masks the loss do not tug at your emotions, you better retune your heartstrings:

So hard to find my way
Now that I’m all on my own.
I saw you just the other day,
My, how you have grown!
Cast my memory back there, Lord,
Sometime I’m overcome thinking about
Making love in the green grass
Behind the stadium
With you, my brown-eyed girl,
You, my brown-eyed girl.

Few performers are capable of knocking out the perfect song. The talent, words, music, musicians, voice, the sweet moment, all the folds of the universe have to arise and align without a snag. Then your song gets played ten or twelve million times on the radio and God knows how many more times on home stereos, car systems and iPads.

A thanks to crusty Van who once was young for letting us live in the eternal sha la la la la la la la la moment. And that’s why we’re here in the first place.