“I may discount bungy-jump, but I’ll never smoke weed with Willie again.” - Toby Keith
This commentary is for music enthusiasts. Apologies to individuals without musical passion.
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of a song, and ponder the emotional state the writer was experiencing? What caused the incredible pain, joy, love, or loneliness that drove words to form the music? How were they able to say in a song what is so hard to vocalize? I don’t mean the music itself, with great melodies or sizzling guitar solos, but just the words.
May sound like odd questions, but as a music junkie, I think about that a lot.
For example, my thoughts often "go there" when hearing the lonely, beautiful Tom Jones' version of “Green, Green, Grass of Home." What drove writer, Curly Putman to pen a song about a man on death row dreaming about returning to his childhood home the night before his execution? Mr. Putnam did no prison time and died in his home at age 85.
To continue on that theme, how about the haunting loss and longing expressed in the "Unchained Melody," version by the Righteous Brothers? When listening, have you ever felt the hunger of Bobby Hatfield for his loss?
Or the nostalgia of youth as crooned by Roy Clark in “Yesterday, When I Was Young” or “Nobody to Run with Anymore,” by the Allman Brothers. It’s hard not to take yourself back in time when listening.
Another example and I will then get off the maudlin rant - consider the songs with the father-son bond angle. Songs like "My Father's Eye's" by Eric Clapton, "In the Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics, "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens, or possibly the saddest song ever written, "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. "When you comin' home, dad, I don't know when...but we'll get together then, you know we'll have a good time then."
Or, conversely, what was it the writer was trying to say in a particular song that had such great harmony. That would include just about any song written by the group America. Try to figure out the story about "Horse with No Name" - there is none.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful songs ever written might be "Bridge Over Troubled Water," by Simon and Garfunkel. When asked about the song, Paul Simon said, "Where did that come from?" Unbelievably, the final verse of the song with its lush chords was about Paul's wife discovering gray hair. "Sail on silver girl...I will ease your mind?"
There is an obscure Bob Seger song that nobody has ever heard of before, or if they have, don't remember, called “Ship of Fools.” In my mind, it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful, yet absolutely confusing songs that I can never get enough of. This is not the same song as those by the Grateful Dead, the Doors, World Party, Robert Plant or any of the other countless musicians that have written a song with that title. This version was written, sung and recorded by Seger.
Wikipedia’s explanation of the song is that it is a disambiguation. I had to look up the word and found that it is a word that removes ambiguity. Hmmm. So, following it further, the disambiguation from Wikipedia explains it is an allegory that has long been a fixture in Western literature and art. Defer to Plato's "Republic" Book VI. Did you get that? Jeez, Bob, it's just a song.
There are songs you wonder were written just for you. One example is “Faithfully” by Journey. It speaks of the life on the road of a musician while his wife and family are at home. As a life-long truck driver and salesman, I can so relate to about every word in the song. “I get the joy of rediscovering you…”
In that same vein would be “Whipping Post,” by the Allman Brothers. I thought so highly of the words to that song I published a book by that name, plus a blog.
“Roll Me Away,” another Bob Seger song, is a whimsical tune about him getting on a motorcycle and heading west toward the mountains, away from his past, his home, and his troubles. “Next time, we’ll get it right.”
Probably everybody has their own love song, whether it is for a current love, or a lost one. “I Will Always Love You,” by Whitney Houston; “Best of My Love,” by the Eagles; “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder; “Wonderful Tonight’” by Eric Clapton, are all classics. Your list may be entirely different, but the meaning to us are probably the same. We’ll leave break-up songs alone.
Believe it or not, my wife and I were married to a Led Zepplin song, called “Thank You.” One would never believe such beautiful words could have come from a drug-addled Robert Plant, but the love message to the song is amazing. We think so much of it, there is a line from the song that is not only etched in our minds, it will be on our gravestones as well.