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Friday, 22 February 2013

John Prine and other favourite lyrics.

John Prine in 2012 (
I have written on previous occasions about the difference between lyrics and poetry. The primary difference, I suppose, is that lyrics are written to be sung and are often hung on to a melody and therefore become a part of some other entity whereas poetry usually stands alone.
But I do think that certain song lyrics raise themselves above the norm and can work as poetic verse alone. The obvious candidates are Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen but sometimes a song's lyrics can be deceptively simple. All this pre-amble is leading to this, the opening verse and chorus of Jon Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness:
You come home late and you come home early.
You come on big when you're feeling small.
You come home straight and you come home curly.
Sometimes you don't come home at all.

So what in the world's come over you?
What in heaven's name have you done?
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness.
You're out there running just to be on the run.
Perhaps read the words a few times then listen here.
I especially like the internal rhyming that matches the first and third lines. Simple lyrics that work like these are very hard to write.

Consider these lyrics too:
Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

That's from Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man of course.

These are from Cole Porter's Every Time You Say Goodbye:
Every time we say goodbye, I die a little,
Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little,
Why the Gods above me, who must be in the know.
Think so little of me, they allow you to go.
When you're near, there's such an air of spring about it,
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it,
There's no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor,
Every time we say goodbye.

I could go on and on and maybe there will be a part two of this post but I'd love to hear about your favourite song lyrics if you feel that they can stand alone.....


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

John Prime appears around here almost every year at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which is not held in Philadelphia but at an old farm about 20 miles away. I did get to see him quite a few years ago.

Folk music lends itself to be poetic. They tell stories in beautiful ways. I wonder which comes first, the music or the words.

My most favorite is Vincent by Don McLane.

bazza said...

Hi Arleen. I have never seen him live but I have seen Don McLean a few times in England - I'm a big fan of his work! You're right about folk music tending to be poetic but there are instances of 'pop' music too which has outstanding lyrical/poetic content.

David said...

Hi bazza,
Interesting post. I suppose Dylan has always been regarded as a great lyric writer, and has been compared, at one stage I believe, very favourably with John Keats. "Better than Keats", went the phrase, as I remember it.
Personally, I've become something of a fan of the Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave's lyrics. I think the lyrics in songs like "The Mercy Seat", which was covered by another of my faves, Johnny Cash, would stand alone as poetry. The song is written from the perspective of someone on death row, awaiting execution on "the mercy seat". I particularly like the part where the character describes the things he sees and how they have become somehow imbued with significance - "a ragged cup, a twisted mop, the face of Jesus in my soup, a hook-bone rising from my food, and all things either good or ungood". If you haven't heard this song, bazza, check it out, it's great!
Very Best Wishes,

bazza said...

Hello David. Blimey, Nick Cave - I didn't even think of him. There are so many wonderful lyric and song writers out there!
I hadn't heard The Mercy Seat for years but I just played it and was impressed with it's power (and words!). Thanks for reminding me.

All Consuming said...

Well blows me down Olive, I had no idea that Alabama3 didn't write 'The Sound of Lonliness'! It's a favourite of mine, and I shall head off and listen to the original now. Some fine examples you got there too. They are rated differently, but the older I've got the more I see lyrics as poetry, and I think the best of them don't need music at all, they just acompanied by it. Nice post :)

bazza said...

Hi AC. I know the Alabama 3 version and it's quite different. Most covers of this song are a bit too 'country' style for my taste buts theirs is OK.
PS: I'm glad you decided to use a more realistic picture of yourself!

klahanie said...

Fascinating stuff, bazza old boy. And after the comments of your esteemed fans, here's some stand alone lyrics from that deeply philosophical song, "The Rodeo Song" sung by Gary Lee :

Well it's 40 below and I aint got a truck
and I dont give a f**k cause I'm off to the rodeo
And it's allemande left and allemande right
Come on ya f***in' dummy get your right step right
Get off the stage ya god damn fool, y'know (you know).."

bazza said...

Hi Gary. Blimey O'Reiley! (As my Irish Mother-in-law used to say). This made me laugh out loud but I had never heard of Gary Lee. I am not surprised to find that he is a Canuck! Having just listened to the song on You Tube I now understand that he hails from Armpit, Alberta. Ha ha :)

Anonymous said...

From the illustrious pen of the rather fabulous Sir Tom Eagerly:
Well Bazza, Gary's poem is not in my 1861 First Edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury. Perhaps I might recite it to Lady Eagerly tonight to get her opinion.
As for The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, ones flabber is truely gasted.
Cheers, old boy!!

bazza said...

Sir Tom: Perhaps Lady Eagerly should be spared The Rodeo Song. I fear for your safety!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Sorry to arrive so late for a comment.
I listened to many of his songs. Even as a younger man, he seemed to be "an old soul."
The one you specifically chose touched my heart... lyrics and music. Thanks for the wonderful choice. Also listened to a "younger" version he did. Lately I feel those lyrics at heart, but this too shall pass.
Take care.

bazza said...

Hi Dixie. It's a sunny Sunday morning in the London suburbs; I think Spring is on the way at last!
No need for apologies! It's always good to hear from you. I like your take on John Prine but I can't tell if you were already familiar with his work. There is some sadness in your comment but, as you say. this too shall pass.

S Simmonds said...

Saddle In The Rain (1975) was the only one that appeared on my radar in my youth. I really loved it. More recently, I noticed that Bette Midler and Joan Baez (I believe) had covered his songs. I remember Hello In There, which was rather... sad...

bazza said...

Hi Stephen, nice to hear from you. I hope you and Rosalie are well.
John Prine does 'heart-wrenching' and 'sad' very well. Probably none better than Sam Stone.
I like Hello in There a lot too.