Feb 272012

I am the original skeptic when it comes to the poetic value of rock and roll lyrics. Strip these words of their musical accompaniment, and I submit that 99.999% of them will suck. With music, I’d say a good 50% of them are still pretty embarrassing.

Every now and then, though, rock lyrics deliver. They give us goose bumps, they make us punch our fist in the air, or they make us stop and stare out the window for a moment.

Usually, these words take flight because they achieve perfect symbiosis with the music they accompany — but sometimes, they just escape the pull of gravity because they’re just, you know, really good.

For the last few days, I’ve woken up with the Jam song “Monday” bouncing around in my head — and I always pause when my mental Rock-Ola gets to the line “I will never be embarrassed about love again.”

I don’t know what Paul Weller meant to say — and I don’t even really know what that line means to me. But I love it. I’d like to focus a quick discussion on rock lyrics — but not entire songs or verses, or even couplets. I want to know if there are any rock “one-liners” that deliver the goods for you, like that one line in “Monday” does for me.

As always, I look forward to your responses.



  40 Responses to “One-liners”

  1. From Joe Henry’s This Close To You:
    “….I might just forget it, if love was the habit of some borrowed room…”

  2. mockcarr

    “Well a person can work up a mean, mean thirst after a hard day of nothin’ much at all”, Here Comes A Regular by the Replacements

  3. mockcarr

    “all my lies are always wishes” in Wilco’s Ashes Of American Flags.

  4. “The trouble with your brother
    He’s always sleeping
    With your mother”

    – Pulp, Razzmatazz. Maybe not the kind of one-liner you were looking for, exactly.

  5. mockcarr

    “thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box” – Across The Universe by the Beatles.

  6. 2000 Man

    Man, that’s the thing I like best about rock music besides the noise guitars make. I don’t need a whole song worth of great lyrics, just a good line once in awhile gets the idea across well enough for me. Westerberg is great at this, but I’ll toss out a Dexateens line that always sticks with me for some reason.

    “Till you find yourself alone and happy, it ain’t ever gonna add up to much.”

  7. H. Munster

    “Don’t you know about the bird?” — the Trashmen

  8. tonyola

    While “Across the Universe” is undeniably a great song (especially without the strings/chorus goop), that run-on line has always reminded me somehow of Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly”.

  9. tonyola

    Unfortunately, as a progger, I tend to remember more bad one-liners than good…

    “I need to suck the breasts of time and freeze her milk in ink.”
    “Every day a little sadder, a little madder, someone get me a ladder.”
    “Baby sandwich soaped for comfort, slippery sliding ten feet tall.”
    “To alter via the war that’s seen, as friction spans the spirits wrath ascending to redeem.”

  10. Those are fantastic! Is that first one real?

  11. mockcarr

    “Distortion becomes somehow pure in its wildness” from Pure And Easy by the Who

  12. mockcarr

    “Have I left my home just to whine in this microphone? – Turn A Square by the Shins

  13. tonyola

    Unbelievably, yes. It’s Peter Sinfield, former lyricist for King Crimson, on his 1973 solo album. It’s probably no coincidence that he never got to do a second album.


  14. Man, I stink at lyrics threads! Everything I’m thinking of is part of a key couplet. Does George Thorogood’s classic “Everybody funny, now you funny too” qualify as a one-liner? That one gets me every time.

  15. So many good Replacements line . . .

    Jesus rides beside me . . . he never buys any smokes
    from Can’t Hardly Wait

    Red light, red light, run it!
    from Run It

  16. mockcarr

    yeah I’ve discarded a lot of those, maybe it’s a long sentence it counts?

  17. mockcarr

    For some reason “before I knew I had you, you were gone” from Matthew Sweet’s Hide gets to me. Pretty simple form of regret.

  18. 2000 Man

    “She was just 17; you know what I mean.”

    I used a semi colon so it could be one sentence. It looks really creepy like that. Maybe it’s still really to lines, but it’s still creepy but kind of funny in a Steely Dan way.

  19. “…Baby Blue” by Dylan has a bunch of them, not always depending on a couplet or rhyme:
    “Yonder stands the orphan with his gun”, “Forget the dead you’ve left they will not follow you” and ending with “Strike another match go start anew” is pretty nihilistic for the early 60’s.

  20. misterioso

    “I told you when I came I was a stranger”

  21. bostonhistorian

    “Monday’s coming like a jail on wheels”

    “It’s easier to fall into love than it is to fall back out”

    And those lines Tonyola quotes…wow!

  22. “Then on to Monte Carlo to play Chemin de Fer” in WZevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” rollicks in all possible ways.


  23. cherguevara

    One of my favorite lyricists is Paddy MacAloon of Prefab Sprout.

    “There’s no room in an Einstein world for simple cause and effect.” (Dublin)

  24. hrrundivbakshi

    What, no love for “I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s — and his hair was PERFECT.”


  25. cliff sovinsanity

    “Bring your own lampshade, somewhere there’s a party”
    Swingin’ Party

  26. cliff sovinsanity

    “I met a non-dairy creamer explicitly laid out like a fruitcake, with a wet spot bigger that Great Lake”
    GBV – Hot Freaks

  27. tonyola

    I know these Cramps lyrics (“Under the Wires”) are a couplet and I don’t care…

    “What color panties are you wearing?
    And how long have you been wearing them?”

  28. Well, I’ve had a pina colada and I’ve been to Trader Vic’s. Never been to Monte Carlo and had to look up Chemin de Fer. Plus, in college this douchebag on our floor would sing that line and smooth his hair back on “perfect.” Bad juju.

    But FWIW, I recently read that “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking through the streets of SoHo in the rain,” was voted Greatest Opening Line in some Brit poll.


  29. tonyola

    That could be a contest in itself – the best opening line in rock. I submit Procol Harum’s “Homburg”…

    “Your multilingual business friend has packed her bags and fled…”

  30. tonyola

    Neil Sedaka sang this when he was 22…

    “Tonight’s the night I’ve waited for
    Because you’re not a baby anymore
    You’ve turned into the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen
    Happy birthday sweet sixteen.”

    Or how about a 26-year old Johnny Burnette (or even a 33-year-old Ringo)?

    “You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
    Lips like strawberry wine
    You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine.”

    It must have been a more innocent time. Either that or the creepiness was deliberately overlooked.

  31. The Ramones were never big on deep lyrics but I have always loved this line from “Rock & Roll Radio”

    “We need change and we need it fast – before rock’s part of the past – cause lately it all sounds the same to me.”

  32. Ah, here’s the first half of a couplet that works perfectly for me without its second half, the opening lines of The Clash’s “Garageland”: “Back in the garage with my bullshit detector…”

  33. Didn’t he pinch that line (like, a good 2/5ths of his act) from John Lee Hooker ?

  34. “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth…”

    “Well I heard they castrated Castro – I heard they cut off everything he had…”

    “Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand…”

    “Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?”

    “I guess that I just don’t know…”

    “‘Sweet home Alabama’ – Play that dead band’s song”

    “Roland aimed his Thompson gun – he didn’t say a word
    But he blew Van Owen’s body from there to Johannesburg”
    (Roland, of course, had no head)

    “Well, I went home with a waitress, the way I always do…”

    “I’m going back to New York City – I do believe I’ve had enough”

    “I ain’t got no watch and you keep askin’ me what time it is…”

    “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man.”

  35. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think there’s a better opening line – and maybe even a better line – in all of pop music than “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips”.

    It sums up the entire song (You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling) and perhaps sums up every heartbreak/lost love song ever.

  36. More of a shouted aside than a one-liner, perhaps, but the positive side of my mind’s propensity to think of rock lyrics I don’t actually care for in certain times: Bob Seger’s “Workin’ and practicin’!” from “Night Moves.”

  37. hrrundivbakshi

    (pumps fist, nods head.)

  38. hrrundivbakshi

    Yes! We reach!

  39. mockcarr

    One that stands out for me is – “And another thing, I’ve been wondering lately…” in Hoodoo Gurus’ What’s My Scene. It reminds me of the story that Harpo Marx always started conversation at the dinner table with his kids with “And in conclusion”. Sort of explains his movie character really.

  40. mockcarr

    The Minutemen are really great at this:

    Got a ton of white boy guilt, that’s my problem

    I’m getting tired of living Nixon’s mess

    Our band could be your life

    Some big thunder law forces me to eat shit

    Machines disregard my pronouns

    But the world was wrong and I was forced to march in line

    Is your life worth a painting?

    If we heard mortar shells, we’d cuss more in our songs, and cut down the guitar solos

    I must look like a dork

    Feel like a poker in someone’s fireplace

    A richer understanding of whats’ already understood

    What gift could be a work of art?

    I’m fucking overwhelmed!

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