When Glenn Fosbraey joined the HWS as our special guest back in January this year, he spoke, as Programme Leader for the Creative Writing Degree at the University of Winchester of his passion for the recognition of the importance of song lyrics within the degree. He has very kindly sent us his top five ‘popular’ music song lyrics.
November Spawned a Monster – Morrissey
I could quite easily have filled all five positions with Morrissey lyrics. The Marmite of music he may be, but none can deny that Morrissey pulls no punches in his lyrics and constantly addresses subjects that other lyricists shy away from. ‘November Spawned a Monster’ is no exception to this. Morrissey sings from the perspective of a young woman frustrated by people’s reactions to her physical disability: “save me from pity, sympathy and people discussing me”; and suggests how she is as much ‘a hostage to kindness’ as she is to ‘the wheels underneath her’. Morrissey also provides the viewpoint of those who wish for equal opportunities for the disabled: ‘oh one fine day LET IT BE SOON/ she won’t be rich or beautiful/ but she’ll be walking your streets in the clothes that she went out and chose for herself’, as well as those of the harmfully narrow-minded: ‘poor twisted child, so ugly, so ugly’. Insightful, impactful, and way ahead of its time, over 25 years after its release, ‘November Spawned a Monster’ remains one of the best commentaries on disability even committed to record.
Kathy’s Song – Simon and Garfunkel
A song about self-doubt and introspection, it includes one of my favourite ever lines:
‘And as I watch the drops of rain/ Weave their weary paths and die/ I know that I am like the rain/ There but for the grace of you go I.’
A love song that manages to reject any kind of cliché. Beautiful.
This is Hell – Elvis Costello
A lyricist that never relies on stock phrases and has an ability to create vivid mind pictures with his songs, Costello blends his talent with words with delightfully sprawling melodies, making him a songwriting force to be reckoned with. ‘This is Hell’ includes my favourite ever Bridge section, where the tone of the song shifts dramatically, almost out of nowhere, from playful to serious, and contains the magnificent line:
‘It’s not the torment of the flames that finally sees your flesh corrupted/ it’s the small humiliations that your memory piles up’.
One line buried in the middle of an album, this perfectly demonstrates Costello’s ability to make the listener engage with his words, and think about them long after the song has finished.
Pulp – Common People
A masterclass on socio-political commentary wrapped up within the narrative of a story, set to an infectiously catchy melody, ‘Common People’ tells the story of a wealthy female student who wishes to be like other students and live the proper student lifestyle, even if that means living in relative poverty. The narrator doesn’t buy into it, however, and points out that however much she may pretend she’s just like the ‘common people’ our protagonist will ‘never understand/ How it feels to live your life/ With no meaning or control/ And with nowhere left to go’, and that even if she does share the lifestyle, if she ‘called (her) dad he could stop it all’.
The Britpop period spawned many throwaway songs, but this certainly isn’t one of them.
Pink Floyd – Brain Damage
I’ve chosen this one not because of its story, or ‘meaning’, but for the sheer aesthetics of the lyrics. The final song on Dark Side of the Moon, Roger Waters really goes to town with his wordplay and imagery with lines such as:
‘Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs’, and ‘The paper holds their folded faces to the floor’.
A stunning end to a stunning album.