Tame Impala – Elephant – “He pulled the mirrors off his Cadillac, cause he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back”
Based loosely upon the brash, arrogant groups who were certain of their success in the Perth music scene, Elephant was Kevin Parkers first taste of commercial success off the back of his second album Lonerism. While Parker admitted he did eventually grow tired of the song’s swagger, he hasn’t undersold its importance to his life and career, stating that ‘Elephant paid for half my house’. While the true purpose behind the lyrics remain unknown, Parker revealed to NME in the past that the song represents being the bully rather than the loner, however in regards to their name, he goes on to say the nature of the impala is not to run away being scared of everything all the time.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here – “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl”
Like the album that precedes it, ‘Wish You Were Here’ tackles the emotion of going through fame as the band had done off the back of Dark Side Of The Moon. Partly acting as a tribute to friend and band member Syd Barett during his battle with schizophrenia, the lyrics portray Roger Waters dismay to see his friend so lost and disengaged from the world around him. Famed for their attention to detail, the opening tape-delay effect at the start, is purposely made to sound like an AM radio, representing the distance between the listener and the music. The main hook “Wish You Were Here” deals with our mental inability to engage with reality in times of hardship, a poignant sentiment that I believe we can all relate to.
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi – “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”
Largely based upon tackling environmental issues, Big Yellow Taxi is one of the most important songs in history. From a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell claims that she wrote Big Yellow Taxi after visiting the island of Hawaii, seeing the decimation of its landscape from commercialism upon opening her hotel room curtains. The lyric “Put away that DDT, give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees” refers to the insecticide DDT, which was used on crops and had devastating effects on those who consumed it, leading to its ban in 1972 . Its safe to say this song is ingrained in music culture and will forever be a true homage towards fighting climate change.
Bon Iver – Holocene – “And at once I knew, I was not magnificent”
As one of the stand-out tracks on their self titled second album, Holocene is as graceful as it is poignant, with Vernon’s trademark lyricism riddled with elusively ambiguous lines that leave the listener questioning it’s origin and context. The word itself is defined as a place in time after the last glacial period, however Wisconsin Born Vernon stated in an interview that ‘it is also a bar in Portland where I had a dark night of the soul’. He goes on to say that “the title is a metaphor for when you’re not doing well, but it’s also a song about redemption and realising that you’re worth something; that you’re special and not special at the same time”. While this will always be up for interpretation, there is no denying that this song represents creative songwriting at its best.
Pearl Jam – Amongst The Waves – “We used to be a house of cards thats turned into a reservoir, save the tears they were waterfalls and let’s go swim tonight”
As one of my favourite songs of all time, the lyrics in Backspacer for me represent the way relationships ebb and flow in our everyday lives, much like an unexpected tide or wildly unpredictable current. The main hook ‘i’ve got to say it now, better loud than too late’ highlights the volatile and unstable nature of life, that we have to live in the moment; preferably ‘riding high amongst the waves’. The theme of water is something that the band have traversed before, including Oceans,” (1991), “Whale Song” (1999) and “Big Wave” (2006), possibly a homage to Vedder’s love of surfing. Pearl Jam will always have a lasting legacy, as the frontman proclaimed, things go pretty easy, we feel like a gang. We feel like a galvanised group of individuals. As far as waves, I think we’re up there; a statement i’d fully agree with.
Tool – The Pot – “Now you’re weeping shades of cozen indigo, got lemon juice up in your eye, When you pissed all over my black kettle, You must have been high”
For the purpose of comparison, Tool in a sense are like a modern day Genesis, unafraid of releasing 15 minute tracks entwined within a intricately written fable, accompanied by convoluted time signatures. The use of metaphors, most significantly the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ is in relation to the hypocrisy of drug culture in America. Maynard is proclaiming that the fact that everyone, even law enforcement, engage in recreational drug use yet those incarcerated are chosen at random by officials is an unjust and immoral system. The song itself is enjoyably intense to say the least, combing politically charged lyrics with a heavily distorted and powerful instrumentation has become Tools hallmark; their originality is why they are loved by so many around the world.
The Beatles – Across The Universe – “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe”
Featuring as the 3rd track on their 12th and final studio album Let It Be, Across The Universe is another delicious instalment of cosmic pop from one of the greatest bands of all time. In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon disclosed that this is one of his favourite Beatles records, saying ‘It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best’. The attention to detail in the lyricism is a hallmark of both Lennon and Mcartney, with the refrain “Jai Guru Deva Om” at the end of the chorus representing a mantra intended to lull the mind into a higher consciousness. The song came off the back of an argument between Lennon and his then girlfriend Cynthia Powell, firstly intending to write in from an irritated narrative, it turned into something far more enchanting.
Genesis – Suppers Ready – “There’s Winston Churchill dressed in drag he used to be a British flag, plastic bag, what a drag”
As one of the most progressive bands in history, Suppers ready epitomises Genesis’ detachment from the rest of the industry during the 70’s. Devised as a concept piece and divided into seven sections, it tells the story of two lovers who travel to strange worlds, eventually returning to their world only to witness The Apocalypse. At 23 minutes long it is by far their longest piece, however the length shouldn’t overshadow the song itself, a meticulously crafted anthem that exemplifies the uncouth and wonderful writing style from Peter Gabriel. In an interview he stated that the song was “one of the first times that I felt as if I was really singing from my soul, almost like singing for my life. A few years after Gabriel left, Genesis moved on from anthems like this to shorter commercial pop songs, which disgruntled many original fans but led to a growing younger fanbase.
NO FX – The Decline – “Ten thousand voices, a hundred guns a hundred decibels turns to one”
Written at a time of social unrest within one of americas poorest cities, The Decline represents the social decline in society, highlighted by the reference “serotonin’s gone,” a chemical in the body linked to contribute to well being and happiness, tying into the lyric “One more pill to kill the pain,” in which antidepressants adjust the serotonin levels in the body. Though the instrumentation may be billowing and raw, the attention towards lyrical content has been a well thought out process, with each section of the song introducing a different ant-establishment stance than the last; politically charged and ultimately amazing. At 18 minutes long, it too falls into the anthem category, summarised as a magnificently constructed piece of art aimed at airing the issues within the system from those who it’s aliened the most.
Dr Dre ft Eminem & Xzibit – What’s The Difference? – “What’s the difference between me and you? About 5 bank accounts 3 ounces and 2 vehicles”
Contained within Dre’s second studio album 2001, ‘What’s The Difference’ placed as the 7th track within a record that represented the Dr’s return to the forefront of hip hop, working alongside the lyrical ingenuity of Likwit Crew’s Alvin Joiner (Xzibit) and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ Marshall Mathers. Despite this track not featuring as one of the three singles, it’s iconic combination of brass, funk and west-coast nuances made it one of the stand out tracks on the album, which has been heralded by many as his finest bit of work (even more so than The Chronic). During its release, the lyrics received criticism and created controversy because of its use of violent themes, however critics noted that this record did represent his effort to “clean-up his act” which he tried to establish with his 1996 single, “Been There, Done That”.