Here’s a little quiz for those of you who think you listen to lyrics. I’ve taken a few key lyrics from songs that, unless you’ve been living in a highly shielded nuclear survival shelter for the past 30 years, you should be quite familiar with.
Note: I originally posted this in 2008 and have updated with an answer key at the end for you non-know-it-alls…including my own researched notes in some cases.
Besides an occasionally misleading hint in the text, the only other hint is that these are arranged alphabetically from my iPod — but note that my iPod alphabetizes by first name.
To get the full lyrics, just jot a note to me at email@example.com with the phrase, “OK, I’m not the musical know-it-all I thought I was.”
And now, the lyrics. I’m giving you the first one as a warm up… I just like the line.
Kicked in his door at 5 am
“I’ve come for my bike” I told the repo man.
(1992, “Come A Long Way” – Michelle Shocked, born Karen Michelle Johnston. Her stage name is a play on words intended to resemble the phrase “shell shocked” dating back to the one she gave when arrested in 1984 at a protest called “The War Chest Tour” during the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. The song is an upbeat tour of the L.A. music scene, in the manner of The Day the Music Died.)
Ok, your turn…
1) She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
2) Seasons cryin’ no despair
Alligator lizards in the air
3) And when the morning of the warning’s passed,
the gassed and flaccid kids are flung across the stars
The psychodramas and the traumas gone
The songs are left unsung and hung upon the scars
(1968 – Trust me, you’ve heard this tune, described by one enthusiastic fan as “a dump truck of lyrics delivered in a for-the-most-part unintelligible stream,” a thousand times. The lyrics really are far out…as they say; see link in notes below)
4) Tin roof, rusted!
5) Hope’s dashed to the floor like shattered teenage dreams.
Boys living next door are never what they seem.
A walk in the park can become a bad dream
(1984, hint: British girl group; the song title refers to a famous American screen icon)
6) All the old paintings on the tombs
They do the sand dance don’t you know
If they move too quick
They’re falling down like a domino
(1986, hint: another girl group)
7) Lady take me
high upon a hillside
High up where the stallion meets the sun
(1973, hint: This icon of bombast, a staple of every ’70s college chick’s musical inventory, is based on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28.)
8) Will my kids be proud or think their old man’s really a square?
When they’re out having fun yeah, will I still wanna have my share?
Will I love my wife for the rest of my life?
9) Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn’t go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared saying “Don’t be afraid”
(1976 – hint: there’s a very cool SNL parody skit of the tune)
10) Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it’s worth.
11) She was a black-haired beauty
With big dark eyes
And points all her own
Sitting way up high
(1976 – yep, just what you think they are)
12) I’m stranded in the jungle
Taking all the heat they was giving
The night is dark but the sidewalk’s bright
And lined with the light of the living
13) The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
(1975, hint: originally titled “Wings for Wheels.” The artist, one of the most famous rockers of all time, played backup guitar on a Roy Orbison tribute video.)
14) I’ll shine up the old brown shoes, put on a brand-new shirt.
I’ll get home early from work if you say that you love me.
(1978. Hint: they’re cheap)
15) I’ve got to keep my image
While I’m standing on the floor
If I drop upon my knees
It’s just to keep her on my nose
(1968, hint: lyrics mostly misheard by this large-scale once-revolutionary Illinois band, based on the Winwood/Miller original; nevertheless, it’s one of the all-time great rocking songs)
16) He drinks a whisky drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs
That remind him of the good times
17) I don’t stop until I know she’s sas-ified
And I can always tell when she gets sas-ified
‘Cause when she gets sas-fied she start calling my name
(1986, hint: artist’s prior claim to pop fame was the unfortunate “Patches,” though he had made a legitimate name for himself as a bluesman.)
(18) Now over at the temple
Oh! They really pack ’em in
The in crowd say it’s cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a whiff
Of that crazy Casbah jive
(1982 …wayyyy too easy)
(19) Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?
20) Why drink the water from my hand?
Contagious as you think I am
Why follow me to higher ground?
Lost as you swear I am.
(1994, hint: I moved up the 2nd couplet from later in the song to help you out)
21) The clothes she wears, her sexy ways,
make an old man wish for younger days
(1977 — you’re gonna kick yourself for not knowing this)
22) Albert’s fallen on the sun
Cracked his head wide open
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
23) Peacocks wandered aimlessly
Underneath an orange tree
Why can’t she see me?
(1969 — hard to find a prettier song)
(24) I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It’s in the white of my eyes
25) Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta…Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow-thighed chick just put my spine outta place
(26) Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.
(1970, I guaran-dang-tee you’ve heard this a gazillion times)
(27) Oh, I swear
At this moment you mean everything
You in that dress
My thoughts I confess
Verge on dirty
(1982, hint: The song begins with Celtic-style fiddle played over a drum beat, with the bass guitar and piano providing accompaniment. The band’s name is a reference to the stimulant Dexedrine.)
28) My love-a
I was wrong-a
To lo-ove two
A-hoopa, a-hoopa, hoopa
(1957 — doo wop, dig it)
29) And a crowd of young boys they’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They dont give a damn about any trumpet-playing band
It ain’t what they call rock and roll
(screen shot from the video)
30) Young punk spilling beer on my shoes,
Fat guy’s talking to me trying to steal my blues.
Thick smoke, see her smiling through.
I never thought so much could happen just shooting pool.
(1991 – making fun of models)
31) I know what you’re doing,
I see it all too clear
I only taste the saline when I kiss away your tears
You really had me going, wishing on a star
But the black holes that surround you are heavier by far
32) I know something about love.
You’ve gotta want it bad
If that guy’s got into your blood, go out and get him
33) And when I wake up in the morning
To feel the daybreak on my face
There’s a blood that’s flowin’
Through the feeling, with a knife
To open up the sky’s veins…
Some things will never change
(1994, Hint: Phoenix, Ariz./Mill Ave bar band from Brophy Prep)
34) Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes
Run to your mansions
We’ll kick your ass in!
dowsed in mud
soaked in bleach
as I want you to be
36) So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away
(1958 Hint: Show tune written for the 1933 operetta Roberta. You’ve probably heard this more than a thousand times but never actually listened. Quite sad, really.)
37) Justine never knew the rules
Hung down with the freaks and the ghouls
No apologies ever need be made,
I know you better than you fake it
To see that we don’t even care to shake these zipper blues
38) Where ya going for tomorrow
Where ya going with that mask I found
And I feel, and I feel
When the dogs begin to smell her
Will she smell alone
(1992 – inspired by a news report of a girl who had been kidnapped and found dead outside of Seattle, possibly a metaphor for a failed obsessive relationship. Or possibly just a drunken rant.)
39) Father, son, and holy ghost
love and death we fear the most
We’ll pour a drink, we’ll raise a toast
to those who know the twins of freedom
(2006 — Ok, you may not have heard this 1,000 times but you should check it out anyway)
40) Take your baby by the hair
Pull her close and there there there
Take your baby by the ears
and play upon her darkest fears
Ok, that’s it. Have at ’em.
Answer key (my notes in blue):
1. “Year of the Cat” – Al Stewart (Stewart told a concert audience that the song was written about a man he knew who was manic-depressive and comitted suicide); 2. “Ventura Highway” – America (“Alligator lizards in the air” is a reference to cloud shapes); 3. “Along Comes Mary” – The Association (I did a separate analysis of these bizarre lyrics) ; 4. “Love Shack” – The B-52s (the song’s inspiration was a cabin near Athens, Georgia, complete with tin roof; singer Kate Pierson lived in the cabin in the 1970s) ; 5. Robert Deniro’s Waiting – Bananarama; 6. Walk Like An Egyptian – Bangles; 7. Could It Be Magic – Barry Manilow (As noted, the song is based on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, Number 20, and Manilow’s singing in the last verse fades into a straight performance of the last few bars of the Prelude. The lyric “Sweet Melissa” is a tribute to singer Melissa Manchester); 8. When I Grow Up (to be a man) – Beach Boys (actually quite a lovely ode to growing up. John Mellencamp has a similar theme in “Cherry Bomb” two decades later. The BB song has a running background chorus counting up the years till it fades out at 32: “It’s kind of sad (thirty thirty-one) / Won’t last forever (thirty-two…); 9. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult (the parody was an SNL skit: “Gotta have more cowbell!); 10. All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan (The song depicts a conversation between two people, a “joker” and a “thief”, about the difficulties of getting by in life; the “watchtower” is from Isaiah 21: 5-9) ; 11. Night Moves – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band; 12. Tenth Avenue Freezeout – Bruce Springsteen; 13. Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen; 14. I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick; 15. I’m a Man – Chicago; 16. “Tubthumping” – Chumbawamba (In the UK, a tubthumper is a politician); 17. “Strokin'” – Clarence Carter; 18. “Rock the Casbah” – The Clash; 19. “Viva la Vida” – Coldplay; 20. “December” – Collective Soul (the song is about the band’s relationship with their former manager Bill Richardson. There was a big lawsuit and court battle shortly after this album); 21. “Brick House” – Commodores; 22. “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)” – Counting Crows (title inspired by the Philip Glass opera); 23. “Guinnevere” – Crosby Stills & Nash (really now, is there a prettier song? No!) ; 24. “China Girl” – David Bowie (co-credited to Iggy Pop); 25. “Suffragette City” – David Bowie (before recording it himself, Bowie offered it to the band Mott the Hoople if they would forego their plan of breaking up; the term “Henry” is used as a slang word for heroin. He’s basically having a conversation with his dealer); 26. “Layla” – Derek & the Dominos (Inspired by Clapton’s then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd); 27. “Come On Eileen” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (the “Eileen” is Maire Fahey, sister of Siobhan Fahey, former singer with Bananarama); 28. “Little Darlin'” – The Diamonds (The Diamonds were a white group that recorded covers of R&B hits that had originally been recorded by black artists); 29. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits (Knopfler wrote it in 1977, after ducking into a deserted pub one rainy night and witnessing a lousy jazz band. Undeterred by the lack of both talent and punters, their lead singer finished the set with a mildly enthusiastic, “Goodnight and thank you. We are the Sultans Of Swing.”); 30. “I Can’t Dance” – Genesis (The video was designed to make fun of the male models in jeans commercials, and each verse refers to the things that the models in these commercials do); 31. “Barely Breathing” – Duncan Sheik (break-up song); 32. “Tell Him” – The Exciters (one of the great girl groups of the 1960s, including one husband); 33. “Backwater” – Meat Puppets (the band’s notorious drug use included cocaine, heroin, and many others); 34. “You Get What You Give” – New Radicals (Marilyn Manson commented that he was “not mad he said he’d kick my ass, I just don’t want to be used in the same sentence as Courtney Love”); 35. “Come As You Are” – Nirvana; 36. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – The Platters (interestingly, the song was covered by the Jerry Garcia Band in 1995); 37. “1979” – The Smashing Pumpkins (Frontman Billy Corgan said the song is about just being bored and him growing up in the suburbs). 38. “Plush” – Stone Temple Pilots (lyrics loosely based on a newspaper article Scott Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of Seattle, a metaphor for a failed relationship. The “dogs” are sex-hungry men who see women as nothing more than objects, like pretty plush dolls); 39. “Love Don’t Owe You Anything” – Strays Don’t Sleep (although this is (was) a Nashville-based band, the tune has nothing to do with the Nashville sound–it’s just a heartbreakingly sweet ballad); 40. “Dance Hall Days” – Wang Chung (The band’s original name Huang Chung literally translates from Chinese as “yellow bell”, but refers to the standardized bass pitch of ancient China. The song begins quite innocently: “take your baby by the hand,” and then the last verse with “take your baby by the wrists, and in her mouth an amethyst,” shows how things that start off simple get complex.)