I have a different format this go-around. I am going to go ahead and quote each artist I am discussing below. Here goes…
I get asked this question a lot – Are you a lyrics or a music person? If you have clicked on this site before (thank you so much!), you probably could guess I am lyrics person. Lyrics can save a shitty song (musically) for me. It’s just how I feel. I don’t like debating this question, but I’ll answer honestly if you ask. I don’t think one matters more than the other in the grand scheme of things. Whatever drives you to turn the music on…who fucking cares? You turned it on. Now turn it up. That’s what matters.
This question got me thinking about my favorite songwriters. I guess I should really say lyricists. I could get super granular here and break down favorite vocalist, favorite bands, favorite performers…all of these lists would vary in one (or more) way than the other. This “top” list is solely focused on who writes my favorite lyrics and why. If you don’t know any of these artists, do the Google thing.
“…now all these tastes improve through the view that comes with you. Like they handed me my life for the first time it felt worth it. Like I deserved it.” ~Jets to Brazil, Sweet Avenue
Blake Schwarzenbach: For the love of everything, he is my favorite. Why? I almost can’t explain it, but I’ll try so perhaps you’ll go buy a Jawbreaker or Jets to Brazil record. He has a way of describing and writing about love gained, loved lost, awkward crushes (awkward feelings of any sort, really), frustration, happiness…everything you’re going to experience in life, in a way where you feel comforted and ok. His phrasing and form is both delicate and strong. When I compare his songs on paper to other lyricists I think…no one compares. His words crush me. I found his songs at the age of 17, and I have been a fan ever since. I chose his song Sweet Avenue to walk down the aisle to when I got married. Even my divorce can’t change the way I feel about that song. That says everything, right? If I had to give you a handful of “Blake” songs to check out what I’m putting down here, I’d say the following: Sweet Avenue (Jets to Brazil), Accident Prone (Jawbreaker), Chemistry (Jawbreaker), Jet Black (Jawbreaker), In the Summer’s When You Really Know (Jets to Brazil), Empty Picture Frame (Jets to Brazil).
Total side bar – I saw his band forgetters (that was not capitalized on purpose as Blake explained before the show there is no “the” and it’s not a capital “f’) play in 2010. I wasn’t lucky enough to see Jawbreaker or Jets to Brazil when they toured, so this was my only shot to see him perform live. I remember having to pee so bad but wouldn’t give up my prime spot at Subterranean to watch him sing. He’s a total weirdo, but the kind of weird I appreciate.
“You never dreamed you go down on one knee. but now. Who could’ve seen, you’d be so hard to please somehow. You feel like a poor boy, a long way from home. You’re just a poor boy, a long way from home.” ~Tom Petty, Wake Up Time
Tom Petty. He’s my favorite All-American rock lyricists. His songs are written in a way where you think…yes! I was just thinking that! He writes how we emote. He’s direct, he’s playful, he’s a little weird…he’s a badass. My parents had Dylan, I have Petty. Ok…they had him for a little bit before me, but I’m claiming him as mine. If you ask me to describe Americana, he’d be at the top of the list. American Girl? Listen to Her Heart? You Wreck Me? Runnin’ Down a Dream? Wildflowers? Time to Move On? Alright for Now? I mean…I don’t know what life is like without these songs. I don’t even know what a road trip is without his songs. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, chasing dreams, travel, moving on…he does it for me. All the feels, as the kids say these days. By the way, all of those questions were songs I would suggest. I could do a second list, but I feel like I’ve made my point. I love you Tom Petty songs.
“And oh my love remind me, what was it that I said? I can’t help but pull the earth around me, to make my bed.” ~Florence and the Machines, Ship to Wreck
Florence Welch. As a woman, this is my girl. In terms of looking at life and love from my own gender’s perspective, we speak the same language. She explains and questions in similar ways thoughts and words run through my own head. Except when they come out of her, they’re fluid and beautiful and make sense. I’m addicted to her songs and voice. Here are some songs that I can’t seem to stop putting on playlists: What Kind of Man, Delilah, Ship to Wreck, Shake It Out, Dog Days Are Over (this is the one that vocally sucked me in). Listen to her, dammit!
“I never wondered. I never bothered. I never cared what I wanted to be about. I have more truth than lies to me.” ~Hot Water Music, 220 Years
Chuck Ragan + Chris Wollard. While separate humans with their own solo projects and bands, I am grouping them together because they are the writers for my favorite band Hot Water Music. They’re my punk peas and carrots. Their songs go together, and they make me feel full inside. Too much? I know. Gross. But seriously you guys…this is a time when it’s hard for me not to fuss over music and performance to solely focus on the fact that this is a lyrics list. While Blake fueled my sentimental side, Chris and Chuck fueled everything else with their words of being an independent thinker, staying true to yourself, being honest about struggles, and despite whatever life throws at you…be a good person. Don’t give up. While I don’t know what life is like without Tom Petty…I don’t know who I would have become without Chris and Chuck. Here are some songs to look up and see what I mean: It’s Hard to Know, 220 Years, Drag My Body, Manual, Remedy. It’s really hard to not just list their entire catalog.
“I feel far away from you. So what else is new? The moon is closer to the sun than I am to anyone.” ~Nada Surf, 80 Windows
Matthew Caws. Mr. Caws sings, plays guitar and writes songs for Nada Surf. I think I’ve quoted Nada Surf songs a few times in my stories. He just freakin’ nails it every time for me. Sadness, loneliness, love, insecurity…all of it. The lyrics are poems. They’re love letters. They’re notes to the future. When you couple the lyrics and meaning with his angel voice…you get sweet indie rock bliss. Here are some songs to rope you into my decade-long love affair with Nada Surf songs: Blizzard of ’77, 80 Windows, Killian’s Red, Treading Water, Always Love, In the Mirror.
“My finger waves be dazed, they fall like Humpty. Chumpy, I break up with him before he dump me. To have me yes you lucky.” ~Missy Elliott, The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
Missy Elliott. Does this require an explanation, really? I love hip hop. It’s one of the genres of music that, when I put it on, I feel free. For me growing up, there wasn’t a lot to be desired by the male hip hop perspective of women, and, on the flip side, even less to be desired by women’s responses to their sexist lyrics and portrayal of themselves. Until Missy. I like people who tell it like it is, and she does that…but in rhymes I still can’t get over. She commanded respect for herself and all women, she talked about womanhood very matter of fact while at the same time embraced love. She was aggressive but loving. She was materialistic but grounded. I love her. Here are my top picks: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly), Work It, Gossip Folks, Sock It 2 Me, Get Ur Freak On. Good luck not dancing…
Long, long story longer, these are the short list of artists who have touched me the most, lyrically. There are so many more I could list! You should really check these guys out if you’re not already familiar. Even if you don’t like the music, read the words. Something will stick with you.