The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

Quite simply one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written – and one of the strangest too. Full of layers of surreal symbolism, it’s the product of the truly unique imagination of the lyrical genius Van Dyke Parks (with the help of some very illegal substances).

Creating image upon image, the words flowing, perfectly fitting Brian Wilson’s incredible ode to the sea. The song’s lyrics were so unusual that they actually caused friction within the band, with Beach Boy Mike Love complaining that they were nonsensical, and would alienate their fans. The song was shelved for a few years as a result, but thankfully couldn’t be hidden away for too long!

Johnny Cash – I Still Miss Someone

Another simple melody that’s transformed by its painfully heartfelt lyrics, this is one of Johnny Cash’s most famous songs and one of his most covered. There have surely been more lyrics written about love than anything else, and the ones that stay with us are often about lost love.

Here, the lyrics hit home because they are so honest and truthful – everyone who’s ever lost someone can relate. One of Bob Dylan’s own favorites, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Gram Parson, and Stevie Nicks are just some of the artists who have covered this country classic.

The Smiths – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

It’s rare to find a brand that is as critically acclaimed for their lyrics as much as their music – but thanks to Morrissey the magical wordsmith, The Smiths have managed just that. An avid reader, a big poetry fan, and a romantic at heart, Morrissey has written some of the most famous lyrics to emerge from the British music scene in the past 30 years. Their song titles alone contain more poetry than most lyric sheets – Shoplifters of the World Unite, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – they’ve even inspired countless tattoos.

There Is a Light is one of their most-covered songs, with lyrics that were apparently inspired by one of Morrissey’s heroes, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Appealing to teenagers everywhere, the lyrics talk about teenage alienation – a need to run away, experience the first excesses and excitements of life when you no longer feel at home in the family home.

Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

One of Neil’s fellow Canadian musicians, and a good friend of his from the folk scene, Joni Mitchell has written her fair share of famous lyrics. Perhaps the best ones know are the ones she penned for Big Yellow Taxi. Written about her concerns with pollution and the environment, Joni explains: “I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.”

The lines “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” apply to a whole range of circumstances besides the destruction of the earth – helping the song become a universal favorite.

The Muppets – Mah Nà Mah Nà

The Muppets are here to prove that lyrics don’t have to about love, heartache, loss, or be in any way profound to be popular. Mah Nà Mah Nà is one of The Muppets’ most famous ditties, beloved around the world, and it means…absolutely nothing.

Actually, a song written by Piero Umiliani for an Italian movie contains nothing both nonsense words and scat singing. It just goes to show that sometimes successful lyrics simply need to sound good, becoming musical instruments in their own right, rather than holding any special meaning. It’s pretty impossible not to sing along!

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