51 greatest lyrics of all time

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  • 1. Hallelujah- Leonard Cohen (better with Jeff Buckley cover)
  • 2. Imagine- John Lennon
  • 3. Cortez The Killer- Neil Young
  • 4. Jungleland- Bruce Springsteen
  • 5. Tears In Heaven- Eric Clapton
  • 6. Redemption Song- Bob Marley
  • 7. Baba O’Riley- The Who
  • 8. American Pie- Don Mclean
  • 9. Stairway To Heaven- Led Zeppelin
  • 10. Let It Be- The Beatles
  • 11. Bohemian Rhapsody- Queen
  • 12. One- U2
  • 13. With God On Our Side- Bob Dylan
  • 14. Comfortably Numb- Pink Floyd
  • 15. Knockin On Heaven’s Door- Bob Dylan
  • 16. Achilles Last Stand- Led Zeppelin
  • 17. How to Save A Life- The Fray
  • 18. Behind Blue Eyes- The Who
  • 19. Hotel California- The Eagles
  • 20. Famous Blue Raincoat- Leonard Cohen
  • 21. Last Kiss- Pearl Jam
  • 22. The Scientist- Coldplay
  • 23. Bridge Over Troubled Water- Simon and Garfunkel
  • 24. Blowin In The Wind- Bob Dylan
  • 25. Bankrupt on Selling- Modest Mouse
  • 26. Into My Arms- Nick Cave
  • 27. Time- Pink Floyd
  • 28. Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen
  • 29. Hurricane- Bob Dylan
  • 30. True Love Waits- Radiohead
  • 31. Eleanor Rigby- The Beatles
  • 32. Hurt- Nine Inch Nails (better with Johnny Cash cover)
  • 33. The Times They Are-A Changin- Bob Dylan
  • 34. With Or Without You- U2
  • 35. Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd
  • 36. Buffalo Soldier- Bob Marley
  • 37. Thunder Road- Bruce Springsteen
  • 38. Fear Of The Dark- Iron Maiden
  • 39. A Whiter Shade Of Pale- Procol Harum
  • 40. Somebody To Love- Queen
  • 41. I Know It’s Over- The Smiths
  • 42. In The Darkest Place- Elvis Costello
  • 43. No Surprises- Radiohead
  • 44. Between The Bars- Elliot Smith
  • 45. Only Love Can Break Your Heart- Neil Young
  • 46. Everybody Hurts- R.E.M
  • 47. Someone Like You- Van Morrison
  • 48. Angie- The Rolling Stones
  • 49. Karma Police- Radiohead
  • 50. Strange Fruit- Billie Holiday
  • 51. Forget Her- Jeff Buckley
Author Comments: 

this is my first list. it might be a bit shabby and i've most likely forgotten a few artists and albums, therefore songs may not be on there that should. give me your suggestions.

after writing this i realised that the following songs should be on this list (this will be updated) :
area on list/song/artist
(1-5) tangled up in blue
(5-15) changes- tupac
(10-20) everbody knows- leonard cohen
(15-30) all falls down- kanye west

Personally, I think Bob Dylan should have a much larger presence on your list. Songs like Visions of Johanna and Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands contain what are easily some of the greatest lyrics ever written.

I would also suggest adding Stranger Song and Teachers by Leonard Cohen.

sorry visions of johanna and stranger song dont do it for me ..maybe in the future...as for the other two songs ill check them out...i didnt want to go over the top bob dylan btw

oh teachers is from songs of leonard cohen yer got it ill check it out

In my opinion Dylan's Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands is #1. The greatest character study ever written in a rock song. Immense, detailed, layered, intelligent and thoroughly, emotionally wrenching.

You should also look into adding some more Nick Cave and some Tom Waits. They have multiple songs deserving of this list.

Though I think Springsteen is a very good lyricist I personally feel you vastly overrate Jungleland. Though a very good song, I think it is one of his most clumsy and forced lyrics (mainly the finale).
Thunder Road from the same album is, to me, a much better choice.

And Imagine is nice and simple and memorable but without the timeless melody the lyrics would surely sound even more trivial. I don't see the genius in it, if you're rating it on lyrics alone--any decent poet on an uninspired day could've came up with that lyric.

I actually agree with you completely about Nick Cave, Tom Waits, "Imagine," and the fact that "Thunder Road" is better than "Jungleland" (though I still do love "Jungleland"). Have you make a list in this same vein, AfterHours? I think it'd be very interesting to see it and/or contrast it with your greatest tracks list.

I've thought about making a list, but the problem is that I think lyrics play something like 7th fiddle in my music choices, so I would probably be missing a lot of entries due to the lesser focus I put on them and my opinion that tons of weak albums have outstanding lyrics. I'm much more confident that I've heard a majority of the greatest songs/tracks of all time than with lyrics as they don't necessarily go hand in hand.

I can tell you right away that Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands would almost certainly be #1 and Desolation Row, Gates of Eden, It's Alright Ma & perhaps Mr Tambourine Man would follow closely.

Cohen would certainly have Stranger Song (a lyric tour de force and possibly top 5) and Suzanne would be on there. I haven't heard anymore complete albums by him and I don't think I've heard Hallalujah or Bird on a Wire which are both supposed to be amazing.

Robert Wyatt would definitely appear with Sea Song and Alifib/Alife (which would possibly be #2. It is astonishing in that Wyatt's lyrics are so subjective as to appear to be not of this language. It is astonishing this song was even written. That the courageously personal lyrics were even thought by an actual person.)

Nick Cave: other than his album The Good Son, I am not very familiar with his other song titles (though I've heard many of his other songs), but I imagine there would be choices (at least) off of Murder Ballads, The Boatman's Call, Henry's Dream and others.

Tom Waits is the same story. I no longer own any of his albums so I don't recall the song titles very well. Songs from Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years would likely appear.

Nick Drake would feature.

Van Morrison would certainly feature Beside You, Astral Weeks, Cypress Avenue and Madame George.

Bright Eyes would feature, especially the last track of Lifted..., and perhaps Landlocked Blues.

Hell, Pearl Jam would feature: Thumbing My Way is one of my favorite lyrics. There's quite a few songs from Binaural, No Code and Vitalogy that I would have to review--Vedder is often a superb lyricist.

Tim Buckley would absolutely feature. One of the very greatest lyricists of all time (I'd probably place him #5 behind Dylan, Cohen, Cave, Waits [not necessarily in order]).

Radiohead would definitely feature.

This would be the list where I would have to make ammends to all the bands I've dropped the past few years!

Wrapping me around to the original thought: there is simply too many great lyricists to make a list with confidence, especially since I am a completist when it comes to these sorts of things--but maybe I'll put out a top 10 or 25 to keep it limited. Thanks for making me think!

For my money, Cave's best lyrical work is on Henry's Dream. The imagery in "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" is spellbinding, and "John Finn's Wife" is probably his best story-song.

You're probably right. If somebody said that Cave was the greatest lyricist in rock history I would hardly have an argument against it. At worst he's #3 or 4.

thanks for the commment my views have changed my opinion of this list quite dramatically... with the list i put forth i aimed at lowering the possible influence of any one artist, in particular bob dylan... i agree with the nick cave suggestion and i would strongly recommend that you buy "BOATMAN'S CALL", which is probably my second favourite lyrical album after bob dylan's blood on the tracks... i am a big fan of both cohen and van morrison and definitely would recommend you listen to bird on a wire, though cohen's version of hallelujah is tacky and synthesized and doesn't focus on lyrics, with van morrison i assume i wouldve put sweet thing and someone like you on the list but like i said i don;t want to overload the list with any particular songwriter...as much as i love radiohead, i think their lyrics are too cryptic for their own good i think i may have added karma polic in this list, which i regret now because i dont think i really understand the song on the whole but i just really like the song... id probably be better of putting songs like lucky, fake plastic trees and high and dry in there

I agree with you on Tangled Up In Blue (and most others). It would have been nice to have a sample lyric from each song. Time consuming, I know, but it would add substance to your list.

"and evolving from the sea would not be too much time for me to walk beside you in the sun"

Pixies - The Sad Punk.

great lyric. I love how he connects evolution and extinction with a lost soul's passion for some other member of the human race (or something). I even love the title - "The Sad Punk". I love how it sounds; I love its implications. Especially considering the song came out in 1991, the year that punk supposedly broke. The anti-authoritarian ethics of the movement seem to have subsided, the thrill and the energy seem to have faded away and become extinct. The aura of disconnectedness and suspense of the lyrics imputes an exotic, yearning, awkwardly beautiful rendering of the human condition. It seems almost autobiographical, too. Pixies obviously had punk overtones, but they had gotten out of it almost as soon as they were recognized as being in it. Just two years after Surfer Rosa, the band put out an incredibly dark album of romantic surf-ballads. Frank Black would later go on to write barroom rock 'n' roll with country-western tinges. No, Frank Black was not a punk icon. Maybe he found the whole thing restrictive and wrote "The Sad Punk" out of some sort of desperation????

I have no idea. This is a complete tangent. Nevertheless, I absolutely love the song and the lyrics.

"We can plant a house, or we can build a tree"

-Breed by Nirvana

"Last Kiss" lyrics were written by J. Frank Wilson And The Cavaliers. Pearl Jam only covered it. Please give proper credit.

"No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue" Paint It Black, beautiful lyric!