August, 2011

This month our friend and part time Coyote, Brian Colborne, shines a spotlight on the powerful world of lyrics. The connection of emotion to words wrapped in music has been a vehicle for profound human communication for many centuries. The art continues to allow musicians to touch us on a visceral level not possible in most forms of human communication.

Brian has offered us a wonderful sampling that inspires thought and showcases the craft of the musical wordsmith. Enjoy!

The Power of Words

A sampling of wonderful lyrics

 nitially enthused at the opportunity to write something for the Coyote Scat page, I found myself bereft of subject matter. (What to write! what to write!). My musical knowledge is at best, kind of anecdotal – hey, did you know that Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac used to play with a group called Chicken Shack when she was still Christine Perfect? or that Manfred Mann is actually Michael Lubovitz from Orange Grove, Jo’burg? – that sort of thing.

I’ve always been appreciative of well-chosen words or phrases – a good lyric can stir up emotion or create a vision in one’s mind – it’s important, of course, that the music reflects the mood or message of the song – a sensitive lyric and heavy metal accompaniment just doesn’t do anything for me. Lyrics don’t necessarily have to make any sense – sometimes the words just sound or feel good – e.g. ‘The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense, Take what you have gathered from coincidence.’ (Dylan’s It’s All Over Now! Baby Blue). To paraphrase Ronnie Hawkins remarking on a particular Dylan lyric (I forget the song he was referring to), ‘Now, I don’t know what that means, but it sure sounds pretty good!’

I thought it may be interesting to make a list of some personal favourites. At first, I found it difficult to get past Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, but soon found that there are many, many good lyrics to draw from, bearing in mind, of course, that what appeals to me may have absolutely no meaning at all to someone else. Anyway, I’ll begin with a few Paul Simon lyrics, move on to Bob Dylan, and then randomly list some others:

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
Paul Simon: America

Two people were married; the act was
outrageous
The bride was contagious, she burned like
a bride
Paul Simon: Hearts and Bones

They got a wall in China, it’s a thousand
miles long
To keep out the foreigners they made
it strong
And I got a wall around me that you can’t
even see
It took a little time to get next to me
Paul Simon: Something So Right

Time it was, and what a time it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s
left you
Paul Simon: Old Friends

Couple in the next room are bound to win
a prize
They been goin’ at it all night long
Paul Simon: Duncan

Well, she took me to the woods
Sayin’ Here comes somethin’ and it feels
so good
And just like a dog, I was befriended
I was befriended.
Paul Simon: Duncan

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out
a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown
the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands
were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody
listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many
people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in
the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the
alley
Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Flashing for the warriors whose strength
is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on their unarmed
road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in
the night
We gazed upon the chimes of freedom
flashing
Bob Dylan: Chimes of Freedom

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with
one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the
circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep
beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Bob Dylan: Mr. Tambourine Man




There’s beauty in the silver singing river
There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky
But none of these and nothing else can
match the beauty
That I remember in my true love’s eyes
Bob Dylan: Tomorrow is a Long Time

I love you in a place where there’s no space
or time
I love you for in this world you are a friend
of mine
Leon Russell: A Song for You

This is where I want to be,
Here with you so close to me
Until the final flicker of life’s ember
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Quiet Nights of Quiet
Stars (English lyrics by Gene Lees)

Neon signs a-flashin’, taxi cabs and buses
passin’ through the night
A distant moanin’ of a train seems to play a
sad refrain to the night
A rainy night in Georgia, such a rainy night
in Georgia
Tony Joe White: A Rainy Night in Georgia

The Rangers had a homecoming in Harlem
late last night
And the magic rat drove his sleek machine
over the Jersey state line
Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
The rat pulls into town rolls up his pants,
Together they take a stab at romance and
disappear down Flamingo Lane
Bruce Springsteen: Jungleland





Sandy, the fireworks are hailin’ over
Little Eden tonight
Forcin’ a light into all them stony faces left
stranded on this warm July
Down in town the circuit’s filled with switch -
blade lovers, so fast, so shiny, so sharp
As the wizards play down on Pinball Way
on the boardwalk way past dark
And the boys from the casino dance with
their shirts open like Latin lovers along
the shore
Chasin’ all them silly New York girls.
Oh Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
The pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight, for I may never see
you again
Hey, Sandy girl, my, my, baby
Bruce Springsteen: 4th July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all
John Lennon: In My Life

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church
where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that
she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Paul McCartney: Eleanor Rigby

And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel
someplace
And a wound that will never heal
No Prima Donna, the perfume is on
An old shirt that is stained with blood
and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers
The night watchman flame keepers and
goodnight to Matilda too
Tom Waits: Tom Traubert’s Blues

I guess things were always quiet around
Putnam County
Kind of shy and sleepy as it clung to the
skirts of the two-lane
That was stretched out like an asphalt
dance floor
Where all the old-timers would hunker down
in bib-jeans and store-bought boots
To lie about their lives and the places that
they’d been
Tom Waits: Putnam County

How can I be sure
In a world that’s constantly changing?
How can I be sure where I stand with you?
Whenever I, whenever I’m away from you
I wanna die
’Cause you know I wanna stay with you
How do I know?
Maybe you’re trying to use me
Flying too high can confuse me
Touch me, but don’t take me down
Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere
(Young Rascals): How Can I Be Sure?

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now




Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow –
Why then, oh why can’t I?
Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg: Somewhere
Over the Rainbow

They were married in the old church yard
And they promised to be true to each other
No matter how hard their lives might be
But like meteors that fell through
moments parallel
They were soon to cross, and on different
plots of earth they both did fall
Though their lives had really not been hard
at all.
Don McLean: Oh My, What a Shame

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and
can’t forget
Don McLean: Vincent

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence
And nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
Sting: Fragile

I looked out across the river today
I saw a city in the fog and an old
church tower
Where the seagulls play
I saw the sad, shire horses walking home in
the sodium light
Two priests on the ferry
October geese on a cold winter’s night
All this time, the river flowed endlessly to
the sea
Sting: All this Time

And if I built this fortress around your heart
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire
Then let me build a bridge
For I cannot fill the chasm
And let me set the battlements on fire.
Sting: Fortress Around Your Heart

Dance me to your beauty with a
burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m
gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand, or touch
me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Leonard Cohen: DanceMe to the End of Love

Laura is the face in the misty light
Footsteps that you hear down the hall
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall
David Raksin & Johnny Mercer: Laura

Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic of your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Gerry Goffin/Carole King: Will You Still Love
Me Tomorrow?






Now I know, Spanish Harlem are not just
pretty words to say
I thought I knew, but now I know that rose
trees never grow, in New York city
Until you've seen this trash can dream
come true
You stand at the edge, while people run
you through
And I thank the Lord, there’s people out
there like you
I thank the Lord there’s people out there
like you
Bernie Taupin & Elton John: Mona Lisas
& Mad Hatters

She was only a girl
I know that well, but still I could not see
That the hold that she had
Was much stronger than the love she felt
for me
But staying with her and my little bit
of wisdom
Broke down her desires like a light through
a prism
Into yellows and blues, and the tune that
I could not have sung
Michael Nesmith: Joanne

For you, there’ll be no more crying
For you, the sun will be shining
And I feel that when I’m with you
It’s alright, I know it’s right
Christine McVie: Songbird

Like a pearl in sea of liquid jade
His ship comes shining
Like a crystal swan in a sky of suns
His ship comes shining
Bruce Cockburn: All the Diamonds

There was a moon out in space
But a cloud drifted over its face
You kissed me and went on your way
The night we called it a day
Matt Dennis & Tom Adair: The Night
We Called it a Day

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would do a
little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said – ‘Tell me are you a Christian,
child?’
And I said ‘Ma'am I am tonight’
Mark Cohn: Walkin’ in Memphis

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me.
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars!
The morning fog may chill the air –
I don't care!
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco,
Your golden sun will shine for me!
T. David Franklin: I Left My Heart in
San Francisco

It's not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you
Ned Jones & Hoagy Carmichael: The Nearness
of You

It's not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you
Ned Jones & Hoagy Carmichael: The Nearness
of You

They're writing songs of love – but not
for me
A lucky star’s above – but not for me
With love to lead the way I’ve found more
skies of gray
Than any Russian play could guarantee
George & Ira Gershwin: But Not For Me

But come ye back when summer’s in
the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with
snow
’Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy,
I love you so
Fred Wetherly/Londonderry Air: Danny Boy








I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I been a runnin'
ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
but I know
A change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
’Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond
the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
but I know
A change gonna come, oh yes it will
Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come

You know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there,
hello’
John Prine: Hello in There

Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning wheel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it’s face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
Michel Legrand with Alan&Marilyn
Bergman:Windmills of Your Mind

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Joni Mitchell: The Circle Game

Your tears will be trembling, now we’re
somewhere else
One last cup of wine we will pour
And I’ll kiss you one more time, and leave
you on
The rolling river shores of changes.
Phil Ochs: Changes

My troubles are many, they're as deep as
a well
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray
there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there
ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying
will tell,
Only my dying will tell, yeah, only my dying
will tell.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to
carry on, to carry on
Laura Nyro: And When I Die

Smile tho’ your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky –
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through –
for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide ev’ry trace of sadness
Altho’ a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile –What's the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons &
Charlie Chaplin: Smile

Roses are waiting for dewdrops to fall
Climbing your windows and walls
Bells in the steeple are ringing, singing
Listen to them talking ’bout your
love’s return
Gordon Lightfoot: Your Love’s Return


I thought a nice song to end with would be one of Gordon Lightfoot’s early (1964/65) recordings called Peaceful Waters. I think this is one of his most beautiful compositions:

The dead leaves of Autumn
That cling so desperately
Must fly before the cold October wind
Their simple life is ended
Must they be born to die again?
Oh, may the light of freedom shine
For all the world to see
And peace and joy to all mankind
Through all the years to be
For soon the leaves will die
And the long, hard wind will blow
May this world find a resting place
Where peaceful waters flow
Gordon Lightfoot: Peaceful Waters


Brian Colborne

 

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