Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Lyric : Part 3 - Getting Started, Feeling Pain, Sleeping The Day Away, And Being Forsaken (Almost Human)

This is the final part of my mini-series on my personal favourite song lyrics. As I have put this list together over the last few weeks I have become more and more aware of the glaring omissions. You will all, no doubt, have your own list of songs that should have been included - all I ask you to do is to spend the rest of the day humming them to yourself.

I Can't Get Started - Ira Gershwin
The world of blogging is full of synchronicity, and therefore it was with no particular surprise that I read the first comment to the first part of this series from my good friend Martin Hodges who said that he had been unable to get the tune and lyrics of "I Can't Get Started" out of his mind. This brilliant Gershwin song was always going to be in my top ten lyrics. I have had to search a little for a suitable YouTube clip because I was anxious to ensure that whoever sang it included the oft missed out verse about selling short in 1929. A wonderful example of fine lyric writing and high economics coming together.

"In 1929 I sold short
In England I'm presented at court
But you've got me downhearted, cause I can't get
started with you

You're so supreme, lyrics I write of you
Scheme, just for a sight of you
Dream, both day and night of you
And what good does it do?"

Just Like A Woman - Bob Dylan
You just have to include Dylan because he has been poet and songwriter to a generation - my generation. As with so many other songwriters, you are spoiled for choice : but what a glorious way of being spoiled. Here is his rich and sultry "Just Like A Woman"

"Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl".

Small Day Tomorrow -  Fran Landesman
There is something so wonderful and relaxed about this fine lyric from one of my favourite lyricists, Fran Landesman. She is not as well known as many other of those writers of the "Great American Songbook", but she also wrote the wonderful words to "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most". If you don't know the song, don't worry. Sit back and let Irene Kral send you to sleep in the nicest possible way.

"I don’t have to go to bed
I got a small day tomorrow
A small day tomorrow
I don’t have to use my head
I’ve got a small day tomorrow

I can sleep the day away
And it won’t cost too much sorrow
So tonight this cat will play
He got a small day tomorrow

Now all those big wheels
With all their big deals
They’re going to need their sleep
But I’m a drop out
Who’d rather cop out
Than run with all the sheep"

Suzanne - Leonard Cohen
Leonard has to be on the list because, as far as I am concerned, there has been no finer songwriter in the last 100 years. I haven't even attempted to pick out the best of his work to illustrate his entry in this list : the task would be near impossible as there exists such a magnificent body of work. So I have chosen the best video clip I could find which comes from his recent world-wide series of concerts. Luckily, the clip features one of his classic songs, Suzanne. If "I Can't Get Started" was a fine example of lyric writing and economics coming together, here we have the confluence of lyric writing and religious philosophy. 

"And Jesus was a sailor 
When he walked upon the water 
And he spent a long time watching 
From his lonely wooden tower 
And when he knew for certain 
Only drowning men could see him 
He said "All men will be sailors then 
Until the sea shall free them" 
But he himself was broken 
Long before the sky would open 
Forsaken, almost human 
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone 
And you want to travel with him 
And you want to travel blind 
And you think maybe you'll trust him 
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind".


  1. I must have missed chapters 1 and 2 (will go back and read them) and I am with you on Ira Gershwin, but what about the incredible musical poet, Johnny Mercer?

  2. You can tell we're roughly the same generation! Love Dylan and Leonard Cohen. (He looks like such an old man now though..ooh! but the voice is still unmistakeable.)

  3. I'm a huge Leonard Cohen fan, but I'm sure you already know. His lyrics are genius. I think I must go pop in one of his albums now...

  4. "And she feeds you tea and oranges" has always stuck in my mind, for some reason. I just can't imagine them together.

    "Field Commander Cohen" is one of my top ten albums of all time.


  5. Thanks, Alan, for the wonderful Anita O'Day. I've got a copy of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, somewhere. She looks and sounds sensational on it.

  6. Leonard is the man. Best songwriter ever, IMO. Then Dylan. I think Leonard Cohen's "Ten New Songs," from about ten years ago now, is perfect. Not a clunker in the bunch. Pure poetry. It's fun to remember how music has shaped our lives.

  7. "Suzanne" was my introduction to Leonard Cohen, and it's been a joy ever since. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Only one I heard of is Dylan of course
    Awww to be young with no remorse..haha
    Enjoyed listening to them though
    Always learn or hear something new at your show
    Thanks for that
    For that cat and Pat

  9. I am a Dylan fan..I think you like the music you listened to as a teen and a young adult. In my case my husband was a Dylan fan and it just kinda rubbed off on me..although Desolation Row is 12 minutes long..and sometimes gets tedious.
    Cohens "Hallelujah" is a of my favorites. Nice selections Alan:)

  10. Just finished listening to "Suzanne". WOW, I had never seen this video before. Took me back some years ago...........

  11. Great choices. I'm a huge Gershwin fan. It's so difficult to think of my favorite lyrics, sometimes it's just the way the singer vocalizes them that makes them special. For my money, anything Ella Fitzgerald sings is perfect.

  12. Yeh I think Cohen gets my vote although I adore Hallelujah. I think like so many songwriters, bothDylan and Cohen would do better to let others sing their work. Hehehe. Just sayin'

  13. omg....i really fell behind on nfn

    so much to catch up on

    the gentle twitter project (i just don't grok twitter at all)

    and part 1 and your list in part 3, so most anxious to see who else is included.

  14. oh excellent, dylan and cohen def make tops lists...really not familiar with Ira...will check it out...

  15. There's something about 'Suzanne' which gets right under my skin; maybe because it reminds me of those brilliant years at Uni when the world was an open book of possibilities!


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