Words and Music

On the way home from seeing Ottmar Liebert at the Orange County Fair Sunday night, I asked Muri if she enjoyed it.  Yes, she answered, But can I ask you something without you getting mad?  Didn’t all of his songs sound the same?   Not to me, I answered.  You don’t listen to the details of the music so you don’t hear the differences.  If you listened to me talk the way you listen to instrumental music, everything I say would sound the same.  Hmm.  But she knew what I meant and we had a laugh about it, which is good.  In my arrogant forties, her comment would, in fact, have annoyed me.   Older Eyes have showed me that not everyone who likes music loves music … and not everyone likes music.  Particularly instrumental music.  I probably listen to more instrumental music than music with lyrics, which is surprising given my love of Words and Music.  Listening … really listening … to instrumental music seems to affect me in a more visceral way than songs with words.

On the other hand, I love the sound of a beautiful human voice … or even an interesting human voice that can phrase a lyric in an interesting way.  Whitney Houston was an example of the former and Frank Sinatra, in his later years, the latter.   There are certainly plenty of songs with ordinary … dorky … or even bad … lyrics that I love anyway but I especially love a song with a lyric well-turned.   Singer-songwriters seem to have a particular gift for turning out poetic lyrics.  I could probably come up with a week of posts on the lyrics of Joni Mitchell or Jackson Browne.   In perhaps my favorite song, Sky Blue and Black*, Jackson Browne describes how his lost love affects everything he does with these lyrics:

You’re the color of the sky,
Reflected in each store-front window pane,
You’re the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain.

Joni Mitchell’s Urge for Going*, about winter and the loss of love, begins:

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold,
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row.
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go.

A favorite lyric of mine is from the Gordon Jenkins song, This is All I Ask*, an ode to getting old made famous by Frank Sinatra on his September of my Years album:

Beautiful girls, walk a little slower when you walk by me
Lingering sunsets, stay a little longer with the lonely sea
Children everywhere, when you shoot at bad men, shoot at me
Take me to that strange, enchanted land grown-ups seldom understand.

Maybe that’s why I listen to more instrumental music than vocal … I have a taste for sad lyrics … and more often not, I need to be uplifted.   I’ll leave you with one more song with lyrics I love, Billy Joel’s Lullaby to his daughter.  This one’s for my daughter, Amy … with tears every time:

What are your favorite lyrics?

* All songs are linked to videos, in case you’re interested.
* Alll**88

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3 Comments on “Words and Music”


  1. Billy Joel’s “Goodnight My Angel” was the lullaby I used to sing to my little sister. She demanded it every night until she was six and started to understand what it meant. Then it scared her, as the idea of death scares lots of kids. But it’s the ringtone on her phone when I call her.

    I don’t know if I have favorite lyrics, but lately there’s an Indigo Girls song that’s been haunting me (appropriately enough, since it’s called “Ghost”). I won’t write it out here, but you can Google the words. Almost all of the song is sticking with me right now. I’ve always liked the Indigo Girls’ poetic lyrics and close harmonies. Lots of their stuff seems to speak to me as if I had written it myself.

    Oh, and one other thing. I have always thought Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days” contains a great dichotomy. He goes from “My ass was draggin’ from a passin’ gypsy wagon/your heart like a diamond shone…” to “Tonight this fool’s halfway to heaven and just a mile out of hell/and I feel like I’m comin’ home” in the span of two verses. The first is clearly crass. The second, I feel, is one of the best lyrics in all of rock music.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Unfortunately, a general dislike of most of what I hear on the popular radio has led me to a state where I don’t keep up with newer artists, so I haven’t a clue who the Indigo Girls are. But I went and listened a bit and read the lyrics to Ghost. And I thought I liked sad songs. Did you happen to watch the video of Lullaby? It’s interesting because Joel breaks down before the last verse and has to take a break then come back and finish.


      • The Indigo Girls have been around for about 20 years, but they’ve never gotten a lot of radio play. I think you’d like them. I don’t listen to the radio either. Gets on my nerves. My sisters think I’m a loser.


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