I’m as guilty as the next person of bopping along to a new song without paying attention to the words beyond knowing which syllables to sound out if I want to sing along (and even then, not always successfully… for years, I thought that Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean was a song about frilly jeans – not joking).
But when I manage to sit down and listen to the words, I often find that the bands for whom I have a lot of time (read: will buy an album without having heard half of it already, will pick them in a clash between two or more bands at a festival, etc.) are the ones that are clearly putting in the hours when it comes to songwriting.
Today, I’d like to look at some love songs that go way beyond “I love you, baby”.
Firstly, Faithless’s We Come One. When performing it live, they sort of transform it into a comment on the positive power of unity in groups of people (e.g. their 2010 performance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury festival – they performed directly before Stevie Wonder and really won over a very mixed crowd). But the actual lyrics of the song speak to a much smaller scale of togetherness; it’s about missing a lover and wanting to be back together. It’s not specified whether the separation is a break-up or merely a temporary physical distance, but the strength of imagery suggests the former.
“All the subtle flavours of my life are become bitter seeds and poison leaves without you. You represent what’s true; I drain the colour from the sky and turn blue without you. These arms lack a purpose, flapping like a hummingbird. I’m nervous cos I’m the left eye; you’re the right. Would it not be madness to fight? We come one.
In you: the song, which rights my wrongs. In you: the fullness of living, the power to begin again (from right now). In you. We come one.
I’m unafraid – never, never scared. Worries washed; pressed air. I am the left eye; you’re the right. Would it not be madness to fight? We come one.”
Admittedly I’ve gotten a bit creative with the grammar there, just to make it flow like it does in the song but also read in sentences. But it almost works as a standalone love letter.
Which brings me on to example two: Metronomy’s Love Letters.
“Love letters, all I see. On every day I read the bits of yellow paper addressed from you to me, and every day a chance (inside a book of stamps) to tell you what I’m up to and say just how I feel. You’ve got me writing love letters – I’m always writing love letters. You’ve got me writing love letters – I’m always writing love letters.
From far across the sea, they fly from you to me, but still I get no sleep. Oh, my love, don’t be mad, ’cause I’ll keep on writing love letters. Yeah, I’ll keep on writing love letters. Yeah, I’ll keep on writing love letters.”
Simple, lovely, heartfelt, real.
Thirdly, let’s look at Elbow. I could have written this whole post about Elbow’s songs alone, I’ll make no secret of my admiration for Guy Garvey’s songwriting. I’ve gone for Elbow’s The Bones Of You.
“So I’m there, charging around with a juggernaut brow, overdraft speeches and deadlines to make. Cramming commitments like cats in a sack; telephone burn and a purposeful gait. When out of a doorway the tentacles stretch of a song that I know and the world moves in slow motion, straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day.
And it’s you, and it’s May, and we’re sleeping through the day, and I’m five years ago, and three thousand miles away.
Do I have time? A man of my calibre? Stood in the street like a sleepwalking teenager? No, and I dealt with this years ago, I took a hammer to every memento. But image on image like beads on a rosary pull through my head as the music takes hold and the sickener hits. I could work til I break, but I love the bones of you – that, I will never escape.
And it’s you, and it’s May, and we’re sleeping through the day, and I’m five years ago, and three thousand miles away. And I can’t move my arm for the feat that you will wake, and I’m five years ago (and three thousand miles away).”
This one’s a bit like a punch to the back of the knee (much like the feeling it describes). It just gets it so right.
There are so many amazingly eloquent artists I’ve not covered, but I’m not going to harp on all day. Maybe I’ll do another post like this another day on a different subject. Inspirational songs, maybe (Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted And Black springs to mind), or songs that are significantly more/less upbeat than their lyrics (e.g. Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks).
Anyone out there got any especially-articulate love song favourites?