Is Heavy Rock Guilty Of The Worst Lyrics Ever? The Defence

a judges gavel judge court

The Accusation: Heavy Rock lyrics are ridiculous and adolescent

In my previous post I set out the case for the prosecution:

This post sets out the defence:

Do you think heavy rock’s lyrics are bad just because these guys were wearing denim and leather? You can’t judge a book by its cover. Those working class, sweary, sweaty leather clad hoodlums might have something to say, and plenty did. Here are a few examples:

Never mind “Stairway”, try this from Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”: “If the sun refused to shine I would still be loving you / When mountains crumble to the sea there will still be you and me”

Hair metal? Try this from Guns n Roses‘ “Sweet Child of Mine: “She’s got eyes of the bluest skies / As if they thought of rain / I hate to look into those eyes / And see an ounce of pain / Her hair reminds me / of a warm safe place / Where as a child I’d hide / And pray for the thunder / And the rain / To quietly pass me by”….

And for those who warn against allowing your drummer to write the lyrics, here’s a perceptive muse on fame in Rush’s Limelight: “Living in a fish eye lens / Caught in the camera eye / I have no heart to lie / I can’t pretend a stranger / Is a long-awaited friend”.

But we should also talk about the examples given of supposedly criminal lyrics. Let’s examine these more closely…

Firstly, the first line of War Pigs – yes, okay it isn’t Shakespeare. But the year was 1970. The Vietnam conflict was still sending US soldiers to their deaths. And what was top of the pop charts? Mungo Jerry‘s “In The Summertime”. Not a bad song, but it’s like Mungo was stuck at a awkward party full of strangers and was forced to make small talk about “where are you going on holiday this year?” and the weather… At least Sabbath had something to say about the world.

I would argue “War Pigs” is as powerful an anti war song as Dylan’s “Masters Of War”. It’s just that it was written by a trainee accountant from Birmingham rather than by Dylan. And it’s far more fun to play, as The Arctic Monkeys have shown by stealing part of the riff in the song “Arabella” on their latest album.

Dio? Well – you might as well criticise Shakespeare for writing more than one historical play (“Henry V? We already saw Henry IV!”) as criticise Dio for repeating his lyrical themes.

But the main reason that the accusation is false is this:

Most rock and pop lyrics are rubbish. Heavy rock is no better, but (significantly) no worse than any other genre. Having wince-inducing lyrics that give the listener stomach ache when heard has never been an impediment to success (see Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”).

Here are some more of popular music’s worst lyrics – has heavy rock ever done anything this bad?

  1. Snap “Rhythm Is A Dancer” (“I’m as serious as cancer / When I say Rhythm is a Dancer).
  2. ABC – That Was Then But This Is Now (“More Sacrifices than an Aztec priest / Standing here straining at that leash / All fall down / Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble / Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble)
  3. Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know? (And fire-y demons all dance when you walk through that door / Don’t say you’re easy on me / you’re about as easy as a nuclear war).
  4. T-Rex – Children Of The Revolution (“I drive a Rolls Royce / Cos it’s good for my voice”).
  5. 2 Unlimited – No Limit (“No no, No no no no, No no no no, No no there’s no limit”).
  6. Victoria Beckham – This Groove (“I want you to come and listen to my body sing / Ya wanna hear my bell ring – biddy-bong-bing”).
  7. Madonna – American Life (“I drive my Mini Cooper / And I’m feeling super-dooper.”)
  8. Black Eyed Peas, “My Humps” (My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely lady lumps.”
  9. Pussycat Dolls “When I Grow Up”: (“I wanna see the world / Drive nice cars / I wanna have boobies”
  10. Coldplay “The Hardest Part” (“And the hardest part was letting go / Not taking part was the hardest part”)

Moving along from pop music for a moment, what about indie?

R.E.M.“Oh life, is bigger / Bigger than you / and you are not me” Surely those articulate indie rockers could have come up with something better than this? “

Oasis “Slowly moving down the hall / faster than a cannonball”…

If we are asking “why is heavy rock less popular in 2013 than it was in 1988?” then lyrics can’t be the answer – otherwise all these other acts would not have been a success. Dodgy lyrics are an inherent part of popular music, and are one of its charms – and strengths. Sure – a great lyric can make a good song great. But a bad song with a great lyric is just poetry set to noise…

In the words of Little Richard: “Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom”…

It’s Time To Vote!

  • Is Rock guilty of poor lyricism? Is the lack of a poet laureate the reason why Def Leppard barely survived the nineties?
  • Or is it the very essence of rock n roll and something to be treasured and celebrated?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think these are crimes against the English language.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think it is a long and noble tradition to spout nonsense whilst playing rock n roll.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!

Record #241: Little Richard – Tutti Frutti


14 responses to “Is Heavy Rock Guilty Of The Worst Lyrics Ever? The Defence”

  1. 80smetalman Avatar

    Definitely NOT GUILTY. My first thought about this comes from the film Airheads.
    Joe Montegna: Today’s music doesn’t have a lot to say.
    Brendan Fraser: You mean Purple Haze says something?

    It’s probably not verbatim but you know what I mean. Spot on with War Pigs, one of the best anti- war songs of all time. Although they’re not heavy rock, I have always liked the political meaning behind some of the songs of Jefferson Starship. One song, “Laying It On The Line” has special meaning for me.
    “Got US boys on foreign soil, spilling their blood to keep the peace.”

    As for general pop, there are probably thousands of examples of bad lyrics.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      It didn’t take long to come up with the list..
      Nice quote – I like that one.


  2. mikeladano Avatar

    “I can’t pretend a stranger / Is a long-awaited friend” is my favourite Rush lyric. I can relate.

    Most definitely NOT guilty, if only for the works of Peart, Cooper, Oliva/O’Neill, Harris, Lynott and (what the hell, I’m going to throw this one in the pot because they USED to be considered metal) Derek William Dick.

    My case is that hard rock contains THE best lyrics in popular music, the end.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Marillion’s (and Mr Dick’s in particular) lyrics might fall into both camps. For every bon mot there’s some pretty painful poetry to get through, especially on Fugazi. 50/50 I’d say, and I like them!


      1. mikeladano Avatar

        Hmmm. Can’t say I agree about Fugazi. The first four are pretty near perfect to me eyes, lyrically included. Fugazi is one that I hold in high esteem, lyrically.


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        It’s certainly in a class of its own. Whilst seeing Marillion at Milton Keynes on the Misplaced Childhood tour was one of the best gigs I ever went to, I still can’t decide if Fish’s lyrics are genius or pseuds corner material.
        An example:
        Caress Ophelia’s hand with breathstroke ambition
        An albatross in the maritime tradition
        Sheathed within the Walkman wear the halo of distortion
        Aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation
        Happy to give him the benefit of the doubt!


    2. 80smetalman Avatar

      I have always loved that line for “Sugar Mice:”
      “If you want my address it’s number one at the end of the bar.
      Where I sit with the broken angels clutching at straws and nursing a star.”


      1. mikeladano Avatar

        Man that song was SO profound to me when I was younger. I still love that line. But I think it’s nursing a scar, isn’t it? At least that’s how I sing it.


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        It’s a nice line. I take it all back.


      3. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        I remember Fish singing about nursing something else in another song, by the way…


      4. 80smetalman Avatar

        You’re probably right, I’ll have to listen to it again.


  3. John S Avatar

    There are bad lyrics everywhere, but hey, it’s only rock’n’roll!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      …and I like it, like it, yes I do.


  4. George Shizas Avatar
    George Shizas

    not all hard rock / metal lyrics are that bad, but the bad lyrics are pretty bad.


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