There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
You can’t call yourself Sixth Form Poet and not choose a Smiths song as your all-time favourite. Luckily, this is the best song ever written, no exceptions. “If a double-decker bus/ Crashes into us/ To die by your side/ Is such a heavenly way to die” – perfect.
Incident At Cronklin Creek – Richmond Fontaine
This is a story about a father and son going on a camping trip and discovering a dead body. The lines “Dad said he’d probably been dead the last couple days/ ‘Cause there was no smell and you could still see life/ Life in his face” get me every time.
Tramp – Otis Redding
If you can listen to Otis spit the words “What you call me?” without putting your hands on your hips and pulling a funny face, you’re a lot cooler than me. But you probably are anyway.
Alison’s Starting To Happen – The Lemonheads
I’m not sure I have a favourite Lemonheads song, but this has one of my favourite ever lines. “She’s the puzzle-piece behind the couch that makes the sky complete.” I just think that’s beautiful.
It Was A Good Day – Ice Cube
Long before he was clowning around in pyjamas in films like Are We Done Yet? Ice Cube was writing lines like “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp/ And it read Ice Cube’s a pimp” – simpler, happier times.
A Certain Romance – Arctic Monkeys
Their debut album was the first I’d heard for ages where all the lyrics were great, but this is my favourite song of the lot. “Don’t get me wrong though, there’s boys in bands/ And kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands/ And just ‘cause he’s had a couple of cans/ He thinks it’s alright to act like a dickhead” – brilliant.
Heart String Blues – Thea Gilmore
This is such a lovely song, and as with all of her stuff, the lyrics are great: “It is shining a light in your eyes/ And checking every one of your new alibis”.
Dress Sexy At My Funeral – Smog
Bill Callahan has to be one of my favourite ever lyricists, and this is extraordinary. “Dress sexy at my funeral, my good wife/ Wink at the minister/ Blow kisses at my grieving brothers” – OK…
F.E.A.R – Ian Brown
Writing a song in which every line consists of four words beginning with the same four letters sounds like a terrible idea, and that’s because it is. This works though, somehow. Great video too.
Deathly – Aimee Mann
This is from the soundtrack to Magnolia, which is one of those films I enjoy reading about more than I enjoy actually watching, but either way Deathly has one of my favourite opening lines: “Now that I’ve met you/ Would you object to/ Never seeing each other again?”
The Prayer – Kid Cudi
I’ve always thought writing a song for someone is the most romantic gesture possible, not that it’s done me any good. “If I should die before I wake/ I pray the lord my soul to take/ But please don’t cry/ Just know that I have made these songs for you” – amazing.
God Was Drunk When He Made Me – Jim White
Not Jim White the Sky Sports presenter, obviously. “When I have my judgement day/ And I lock eyes with my saviour/ This is what I’m gonna tell him/ When he asks about my behaviour/ I’m gonna say God was drunk when he made me.” Yes.
Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning – Morrissey
This is basically a musical version of the Stevie Smith poem Not Waving, But Drowning. I love the line “The shrill cry through darkening air/ Doesn’t she know he’s had such a busy day?” most, probably because it’s followed by the most devastating “Sssh!” in musical history.
Dance Me To The End Of Love – The Civil Wars
I know this is a Leonard Cohen song, but I prefer this version, possibly because Joy Williams is the most beautiful woman in the world. Like all Leonard Cohen songs, every line is great, “Lift me like an olive branch” being my particular favourite.
Your Money – The Indelicates
Another group which fills every song with great lines. This has “Look at me with my clever ideas/ And my bottled-up anger and irrational fears” – but I could have chosen a million others.
Higgs Boson Blues – Nick Cave
Any song that rhymes Hannah Montana with African Savannah is OK by me, but I love everything about this song. The bit where his anger builds and he spits “Can you feel my heartbeat?! Can you feel my heartbeat?!” is just about the perfect Nick Cave moment.
Hungry Heart – Minnie Driver
Purists will say I should choose Bruce Springsteen’s original, but purists are literally the worst people on Earth. Minnie’s version is at least ten times better, and her voice is amazing. Also, Springsteen doesn’t follow me on Twitter, Minnie does. Minnie wins.
Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
This is a Jimmy Webb song and has probably the most romantic line of all-time. “And I need you more than want you/ And I want you for all time.” Perfect.
Here, There And Everywhere – The Beatles
Choosing just one Beatles song is impossible, but this is probably my favourite. A while ago, my then-girlfriend tricked me into dancing lessons. We got thirty seconds into this song before the teacher gave up on me, but never mind. It still perks me up no end.
Gracie – Ben Folds
This is a beautiful song from a daddy to his daughter. “One day you’re gonna want to go/ I hope we taught you everything you need to know.” The moment I heard this, I decided that if I had a daughter, I’d call her Gracie. I haven’t changed my mind.
Waiting For A Superman – The Flaming Lips
TFL are easily the coolest band to share their initials with a London transport organisation, and this is my favourite song of theirs. “Is it overwhelming to use a crane to crush a fly?” No idea, but I love this song anyway.
Through The Night – Ren Harvieu
Ren Harvieu is hands down the best singer in the UK at the moment, no exceptions. If she’s not a household name this time next year, I’m going to set fire to as many households as I can. “Every night you’re creeping through my dreams and I need more/ You had a cool disguise.” All sung in a truly magical voice.
Still D.R.E – Dr Dre ft Snoop Dogg
A great song should convince you that you can dance, even though you can’t, and this does exactly that. Also, claiming you could listen to anybody sing the phone book is nonsense, but Snoop Dogg would make it sound quite good, so there you go.
Cannonball – The Breeders
Where possible, I’ve tried to choose songs based on the lyrics. This will have to be the exception. “I’ll be your whatever you want/ The bong in this reggae song.” No idea, but I love this song.
Boxers – Morrissey
Yes, another Morrissey song. Of his solo records, my favourites are probably Now My Heart Is Full, You Have Killed Me and First Of The Gang To Die, but I’ll choose this because of the line “Hell is the bell that will not ring again.” A great, great line.
Kids – Childish Gambino
It’s no secret that Donald Glover is the greatest living American. Anyone who has Community, 30 Rock and The Muppets on their CV is fine by me, and this is my favourite song of his. “The only thing I put before me is do rey/ If you had told me the truth, we’d be OK.”
Here Comes Your Man – Pixies
Imagine not liking this song. I missed them first time round, so I have no idea how they did charts-wise, but I’ve always assumed this was their biggest hit. And beginning a catchy song with “Outside there’s a box car waiting” is reason enough to include it here.
Letter To Heaven - Dolly Parton
This is everything a Country & Western song should be; depressing, maudlin, tragic… it’s hilarious. It’s about a young girl whose mommy has died. The girl writes a letter to God to say she misses her mom, but when she goes to post the letter, she’s hit by a car and dies. How Dolly sang it with a straight face, I’ll never know.
Busby Berkeley Dreams – The Magnetic Fields
I could choose any one of their songs, but this has my favourite lines, I think. “I haven’t seen you in ages/ But it’s not as bleak as it seems/ We still dance on whirling stages/ In my Busby Berkeley dreams” – sad, but beautiful.
This Is Just A Modern Rock Song – Belle & Sebastian
“I’m not as sad as Dostoevsky/ I’m not as clever as Mark Twain/ I’ll only buy a book for the way it looks/ Then I’ll stick it on the shelf again.” I love all their lyrics, but this is my favourite.
The Bad Touch – Bloodhound Gang
“You and me, baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals/ So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” Pure poetry.
You Missed My Heart – Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek says this song was inspired by a nightmare, which is better than it being autobiographical, I suppose. It begins “I broke into her house, saw her sitting there/ Drinking coke and whiskey in her bra and underwear” and ends with him being shot by guards as he tries to escape from prison. One of the great modern story-tellers.
Can’t Get You Out Of My Head – Kylie Minogue
Imagine being the sort of person who doesn’t like this song. Ridiculous.
Paid In Full – Eric B and Rakim
I love songs full of hope and ambition, and this has a great line in it. “Thinking of a master plan/ ‘Cause there ain’t nothing but sweat in my hand.”
Hobart Paving – Saint Etienne
I used to be madly in love with Sarah Cracknell, still am now I think about it. “The ticket’s in my hand/ The train pulls down the line/ Rain falls like Elvis tears.” Just amazing.
Every Day I Write The Book – Elvis Costello and The Attractions
He’s one of my favourite lyricists. “Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal/ I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.” Brilliant.
Otis – Jay-Z and Kanye West
Otis Redding, Jay-Z and Kanye, all in one song, what more could you ask for? How about lines like “Everything’s for sale/ I got 5 passports, I’m never going to jail/ I made Jesus Walk/ So I’m never going to Hell”? Because it’s all here.
The Ride – Joan As Police Woman
“As long as you follow me/ This is what I’ll do/ I’ve been on the ride before/ It never stops at all.” This song breaks my heart, it’s so sad and painful, and yet strangely full of hope.
Julia – The Young Vanish
I met The Young Vanish through Twitter (@Rubovia), and this is just the most beautiful song. “So I walk into the sea/ Water came around me/ Things I said I’d be/ I left them all behind me.” Honestly, find it and listen to it, it’s incredible.
If She’s Torn – Tindersticks
It’s always a strange moment when one of your favourite bands suddenly pop up in the middle of one of your favourite TV shows, but this was in The Sopranos once. There was always something very cinematic about Tindersticks songs, and this is the best of the lot. “If she’s torn/ Pull another stitch from me.”
Invincible – Musa Okwonga
Musa can do just about everything. He wrote a great book about football and also a poem to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary, performed by Arsene Wenger and Dizzee Rascal among others. However, this is my favourite song of his. “I am the king of all kongs” indeed.
Lived In Bars – Cat Power
If you’ve ever listened to Cat Power sing and didn’t fall in love immediately, I don’t want to know anything about you. This is amazing. “There’s nothing like living in a bottle/ There’s nothing like ending it all for the world.”
Sugar Man – Sixto Rodriguez
I recently worked with someone who played this one song on repeat, which should make me hate it, but it’s great. “Sugar man, you’re the answer that makes all my questions disappear.” Might be about drugs, but don’t let that put you off.
I Am The Resurrection – The Stone Roses
Seriously, this is only a lyricist and an editor away from being the best song ever written.
Depressed Beyond Tablets – Half Man Half Biscuit
Another of the great lyricists. Literally every song has a great line, but this has “Your optimism strikes me like junk mail addressed to the dead,” which is an incredible line.
Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
After my Dad died, I found all his old VHS tapes. It took me years to watch them, but when I did, I found Mazzy Star on Later… With Jools Holland. I’d like to think he fancied Hope Sandoval, but my dad probably recorded it because Johnny Cash was on the same episode. Either way, Mazzy Star sang this and Blue Flower. “Some kind of light into your darkness/ Colours your eyes with what’s not there” now makes me cry like a baby.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is easily the best pop star around at the moment; that much is obvious. The way she says “Like, ever…” in this is perfect. Most of all though, I love the line “And you will hide away and find your peace of mind/ With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.” She’s got everything.
Wilder – Boo Radleys
Martin Carr is one of my favourite songwriters, and this is one of his best. “You have seen the worst of me/ For that I’m truly sorry/ It’s not you, it’s this place/ And not knowing where to turn.” Heartbreaking.
Baby I Got The Death Rattle – Los Campesinos!
LC are great and they have one of the best lyricists around. “We burnt all the skin from the palms of my hands/ With an old zippo lighter and deodorant can/ I went to the palmist and asked her to read/ No heart line, no sun line, no life line, no need.” Just brilliant.
I Want The One I Can’t Have – The Smiths
It just seems right to bookend this with Smiths songs, because they’re the best of the best. My favourite Smiths album changes regularly, but I choose Meat Is Murder more often than not. And this has my favourite lyric of all-time: “If you ever need self-validation/ Just meet me in the alley by the railway station.” 100% the perfect lyric. Thank you.
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