I am, to coin a phrase, all about the wordplay. While I love beautiful music, music with a beat, and music with a purpose, what I love most of all is music that makes me repeat its lyrics over and over. I love music with visual words, that tear at my heart a little bit and remind me to feel things. Here are four songs that do just that.
1. Florence and the Machine, “Shake It Out”
I am done with my graceless heart/so tonight I’m going to cut it out and then restart
The first time I heard this song, I was in a not great place. I’d just gotten through three years of law school and the bar exam and couldn’t get an interview. I couldn’t even get someone to talk to me. I knew I didn’t want to be an attorney, but couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents, whose basement I was living in, that I was $100,000 in debt to a career I had no intention of following through on. I was miserable and anxious and spiraling downward, quickly. I probably should have seen a professional, but I was too scared to even admit that I needed that.
I listened to this song on repeat, and the line above is what made me brave. Brave enough to cut ties with what I told myself and everyone else I wanted and to just take a new path, and damn the consequences. I love all the imagery in the lyrics, and to this day, I find the whole song energizing and life affirming.
Because I’m a sap.
2. Deb Talan, “The Gladdest Thing”
I will be the gladdest thing under the sun/I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one/I will look at cliffs and clouds with quiet eyes/watch the wind blow down the grass and the grass rise
This one always makes me feel at peace. Again, the lyrics are incredibly visual and really seem to be about staying above the conflict and anger of the world below, but also accepting that you’re part of that world and need desperately to belong to it. A great one when I just need a moment to breathe, clear my head, and accept that there are things about myself and others I cannot change.
3. Bruce Springsteen, “Downbound Train”
Now I work down at the carwash/Where all it ever does is rain
I love Springsteen. I do. Not the strongest voice, I think, but story-based songs are my jam, and this is one of them. Again, the visual of “working at the carwash” but the visuals are tied into the story with a sort of poetry. While the plot is that his girlfriend left him, “bought a ticket on the central line,” the repeating question, “Don’t you feel like you’re a rider on a downbound train?” lets the listener know that the train isn’t a transport, it’s a feeling of emptiness. The whole story is sad and upsetting, and makes me feel empty in the pit of my stomach.
4. The Weepies, “I Was Made For Sunny Days”
Found a book you gave me/When we were first in bloom/And I thought that you might save me/From the dark side of the moon/Instead we both went walking/Through the shadows and the gloom/And we never did stop talking/And you still light up the room
I can hear you saying that Number 4 sounds suspiciously familiar to Number 2, and congratulations to you for figuring it out. The Weepies is a collaboration between Deb Talan and her now-husband, Steve Tannen. Their music is extremely pared down to just their two voices and a handful of instruments. This allows you to really focus on their whimsical lyrics that seem to describe their own love story, from the time they started playing together, to when they fell in love, to having their two sons. The album this song came from came out after my first big heartbreak, and right after I had started dating someone new, so it has special meaning for me personally.
Do you connect with song lyrics? Which ones get you every time?