Saturday, March 5, 2011

One-line Songs

I made a delivery tonight to a guy who described his house as "next to an Old Man's bar."  Immediately my movie-quote-and-song-lyric-driven brain went to "Broadway" by the Goo Goo Dolls:

See the young man sittin' in the old man's bar
Waitin' for his turn to die.

That line is perfect by itself.  I have no clue what the rest of the song is about and vaguely remember the rest of the chorus, but the song could all be jamming out and that one separate lyric, and it would be no less of an awesome song.  Certain lyrics can do that.  Others that come to my mind:

I see them comin' up over the hill,
Abraham, Martin, and John

Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

You can have anything you want -- EXCEPT ALICE -- At Alice's Restaurant

Jason Upton spoke about this on his song "It Ain't Easy" on 1200 Feet Below Sea Level, saying, "I wrote the opening line to this song with [my son] Samuel in my arms, and that line could be a song all by itself.  It goes like this, I am learning/ to be a father/ but I really don't know how."  See what I mean?  Perfect.

Every songwriter should do this at least once in his career (and the more the better) because sometimes you come up with awesome lyrics that just don't go with a regular song.  Referring back to the Goo Goo Dolls song earlier, that one line says it all; it tells a complete story; you could make an entire movie or novel based on that one line.  I think sometimes songwriters try to take those little one-liners from pop culture and make the entire song about it, but it always sounds too forced to me.  Country Music has a bad habit of doing this with bumper sticker sayings, but hey, it makes money and sells records, which I have yet to do.  So who am I to say anything?

I did this once in my songwriting career so far, in a song I wrote in 2003.  The bridge goes:

You alone are worthy of praise
That I am so unworthy to give
You alone deserve all my praise
And I could never have enough to give.

That lyric said everything I was feeling about worship, and it's been a deeply-held sentiment for a long time.  I need to remind myself that all my worship experience should come from the heart of that lyric, from that concept that I'm worshipping a God so holy that not only am I undeserving of His immeasurable grace and love, I'm undeserving of the opportunity to come into His courts, fall before His throne, and thank Him for it.  Sorry for the run-on sentence, folks, but that's the way it is.  I need to thank Him not merely for all He's done for me, but just for the opportunity to be with Him, to come before Him, and for Him to hear me as I give Him thanks and praise.  And then I remember one line that sets it all straight for me:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
What are some other extremely memorable lyrics?  What other songs just really stick out by one particular line?

If you're a songwriter (or poet), what are some of the best lyrics you've written, that stand completely apart from the song and tell the whole story in a line or two?  [Note: this last question is optional...unless your first name is David and your last name is Loti and your name is equal to itself]


  1. Zeke,

    Good post.

    K's Choice ("Live For Real"):

    "I'm not going to live forever
    But as long as I do
    I'd love to live for real"

    [ ]

    Hmmmmm. As far as my own songs:
    Either: Is a robot dentist a dentist for robots or a robot who's a sure would be nice to have someone in this world wishing I were there tonight.



  2. I had a strong feeling you'd pick Robot Dentist.