Great Songs-Bad Lyrics

The idea of a great song with bad lyrics trips a circuit in my brain that makes me want to run in circles chanting “not possible.”  When writing custom songs, the lyrics are the most important part of the equation, and I doubt I’d still be in business if I didn’t give them the utmost attention. But what applies to custom songs doesn’t apply to the real world. There have been enormously successful songs that have had horrible lyrics-but successful doesn’t always equal great.  Still, there are some amazing songs out there that contain questionable lyrics.  They are rare, but I’ve come up with three songs that I would vouch for in a court of music nerds, as being great despite their lyrical shortcomings.

Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated like a Rubber Ball)-Was (Not Was)

Bad Lyrics

My daddy took a look
On the day that I was born
And said he looks like corn
And his feet are made of clay
And then he walked away

And when I began to crawl
He knocked my head against the wall
And said you’re much to small
And you don’t get no ice cream
Not even if you scream

Don’t you know that I was knocked down
made small
Treated like a rubber ball


Goofy. These lyrics are just plain goofy. They don’t fit the vibe of the song at all. I get the part about the rubber ball. Rubber balls get thrown around, it would hurt to be a rubber ball. But you look like corn? That’s just silly, and was probably included because it completed an internal rhyme scheme.  Feet of Clay is a little known saying that means there is a defect of character, but it still sounds awkward here, and the part about ice cream is just plain out of place. Were they trying to be funny? Did they just not care? Is there some inside joke or larger concept that I’m not getting?


Was (Not Was) specialize in producing off-kilter but incredibly catchy songs. They’ve done everything from danceable powerhouses like Walk the Dinosaur, to skronky surrealist rants such as Dad I’m in Jail. They cross the line into absurdity with such authority that questioning the result seems more like a fault of the listener than the band. On Knocked Down, vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson delivers the lyrics with absolute conviction, and every other element of the song is spot on.  The lyrics to this song are ridiculous, but when you have the talent contained in Was (Not Was), it’s hard to go wrong. This song straight up rocks.

What a Crying Shame-The Mavericks

Bad Lyrics

Wasn’t I good to you
Didn’t I show it
And if I ever hurt you
I didn’t know it

If you think I don’t care
Then you’re mistaken
My love was always there
But now my heart’s breakin’
Oh baby, oh what a crying shame
To let it all slip away
And call it yesterday
Oh baby my life would be so blue
My heart would break in two
Oh what a crying shame



What A Crying Shame is a daisy chain of cookie cutter phrases that look like they were taken from a middle school love note. The phrase crying shame has been used in the titles of at least six other songs, and has been a part of countless choruses and verses. The rest of the lyrics are predictable to say the least. Cliché all the way.


Luckily, lots of other stars are shining down on this song. It has a soaring melody delivered in vocalist Raul Malo‘s signature, heart-rending croon. The music to the song is simple, repetitive, and full of crisp, familiar, beautiful sounds. As a whole, the song is hypnotic. When I hear it, I can close my eyes and see colors that don’t exist in the real world.

Strange-Galaxie 500

Bad Lyrics

I went alone down to the drugstore
I went in back and took a Coke
I stood in line and ate my Twinkies
I stood in line, I had to wait


The verse in Strange is a lamentation of the mundane that doesn’t even rhyme. It is repeated twice, as is the chorus, and that’s all there is to this song.


If you could psychoanalyze rock and roll, you might be able to find some episode in its childhood that brought it to the point in 1989 when the above lyrics appealed to so many people. Or maybe all of us that love this song should be psychoanalyzed? It would be easy to say that Galaxie 500 were successful because their overall sound was so amazing. But part of their appeal were the oddly simple lyrics. As a guy who is not above name dropping, I will tell you that Dean Wareham, who wrote this song, told me that he didn’t like writing lyrics. I would guess that means that he didn’t put a lot of time into them. So why does it work? Lie down on the couch. Tell me about your mother. In other words, I don’t know. But it does work. Really well.


A word about my criteria

Other people have attempted to identify great songs with bad lyrics, but it often collapses into a collection of songs like Da Doo Ron Ron by the Crystals or De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da by The Police, which contain nonsense syllables. In nearly every case, I find these doos and das completely appropriate and effective. Beyond that, there are a number of great songs that contain one bad line, maybe two. I tried to find songs in which a larger portion of the song was infested with cringeworthy words. It wasn’t that easy. That’s why there are only three.




Worst Lyrics of the New Millennium

Being both creative and articulate seems like a given for a songwriter, but as you’ll see, it’s not always the case. Bad lyrics come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly aren’t specific to the new millennium, but here are a collection of lines from contemporary pop songs that are confusing, inaccurate, or just plain shallow!


“And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70”

Ed Sheeran from the song “Thinking Out Loud”

Does this mean that Ed Sheeran is going to dump his lover on her 70th birthday? “See ya granny, the last 50 years were mediocre at best.” In a pop song love can be endless, and go on forever, so it’s odd that Mr. Sheeran would give his love an end date. I guess to him the idea of being 70 is such a distant thing that it might as well be forever. Maybe by the time he’s 70, he’ll have written some decent lyrics.

Ed Sheeran as Chuckie
First you turn 70, then you DIE!

“Hey brother, do you still believe in one another”

Avicii from the song “Hey Brother”

Hey brother, are you a chimera? A host? Is there another organism whose cells dwell within your body? Because if not, I’m not sure who the other or others in this “one another” are supposed to include. One can believe in concepts like love, freedom, capitalism etc. One another is just not a thing you can believe in if you’re one person. If there are two of you, then it works, but the line should be “do we still believe in one another”. This song is so full of crap lyrics that it warrants its own post.

Swedish DJ Aviici accepts award
Avicii, creator of crap lyrics

“I’m only one call away, I’ll be there to save the day, Superman got nothing on me”

Charlie Puth from the song “One Call Away”

Can you fly? Can you see through walls? Do bullets bounce off of you? Can you bend railroad ties? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then Superman indeed has something on you. He has something on all of us. He’s Superman. If given the choice between Charlie Puth and Superman in any situation that requires someone to “save the day” I think I know who most (all) people would choose.

Charlie Puth looking at his phone
Superman or this guy?

“She wants to dance like Uma Thurman, bury me till I confess”

Fallout Boy from the song “Uma Thurman” 

How would you bury someone until they confess? Would you put them in a hole, throw dirt on them, wait ten minutes, dig them up and then say, “Spill it or you’re going back in”?  As someone who’s done more than his share of hole digging, I can tell you that this is a very labor-intensive form of torture. Perhaps they will bury said person in a coffin with an intercom system? This line is a reference to a scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 in which Uma Thurman is buried alive, but the confession part is where they lose me, especially when you consider that the confession they’re referring to is “ And I can’t get you out of my head.” The whole song is a collection of biblical references and overblown drama about having an intense crush on a woman. A woman in a movie. I guess you shouldn’t expect more from a song in which the strongest and most prominent feature is a sample from the Munsters theme.

Fallout Boy dressed as video game characters
Fallout Boy, they have mad crushes

“Come along if you feel like a room without a roof”

Pharrell Williams from the song “Happy”

Incomplete? Broken? Unable to perform my primary function? These are the things that come to mind when I hear about a room without a roof. Admittedly, after some thought, Pharrell’s intended meaning is somewhat clear. But still, I find it distracting. Come along if you feel like a car without a wheel.

“‘Cause if you like the way you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself”

Justin Bieber from the song “Love Yourself”

Article after article and book after book have been encouraging people to value themselves and focus on their strengths via the phrase “Love Yourself” for years. Therefore, I was confused by the angry “screw you” vibe that I got from this song, which is meant to be punitive, sending Bieber’s lover (Selena supposedly) to a romantic timeout, where she can pout and be deprived of his love. It’s a confusing paradox, and not surprisingly was co-written by Ed “I know you love Shrek” Sheeran. 


“I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British”

One Direction from the song “Over Again”

This line was concocted in order to fit a rhyme scheme, and even in that context, it doesn’t work that well (“British” is supposed to rhyme with “spirit”). To be fair, I guess if we can call rain that falls in April an “April shower” then calling rain that falls in England “showers that are British” isn’t completely out of the question, but it’s clunky and completely foreign to the way we talk.  Even if you’re referring to people, would you say, “I have an accent like the people that are British”? Nope. You wouldn’t. I also don’t understand why the rain that falls over England is more comparable to tears than the rain that falls over, say, West Virginia, but who knows.

Onesie Direction

“I would be the smartest man, If I was invisible”

Clay Aiken from the song “Invisible”

If you were invisible, you could cheat very easily, so maybe it would help you get better grades. Other than that, it’s hard to really understand how being undetectable to the eye would have any impact on your intelligence. It would really help you if you were a stalker, which Aiken also addresses via an earlier line: “If I was invisible, I could just watch you in your room”. It’s a creepy line for sure, but at least it makes sense.

If he were invisible, he’d be smarter

Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad

Carly Rae Jepsen from the song “Call Me Maybe”

Add time travel to Carly Rae Jepsen’s list of talents, and then put a big x through “writes comprehensible lyrics.” The ridiculous nature of this line is the most obvious of any on the list, so much so that I don’t even want to explain it. If you don’t see the problem with it, then you’ve got very big problems yourself. But here’s the thing, despite its lyrical flaws (of which there are many), Call Me Maybe is classic bubblegum, and the absolute best song of its kind thus far in the 21st century. It features a walloping hook that is uplifting and unforgettable (don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about), plus a memorable and easy to sing chorus. I cringe to think that it was originally written as a folk song, but after a  makeover by producer Josh Ramsay, it became a puppy love anthem. Where many pop songs aim for a teenage audience, Call Me Maybe had mass appeal amongst younger kids, which makes sense because it kind of sounds like a third grader wrote the lyrics. And I should know, I’ve written lots of songs with third graders.

Carly Rae Jepsen would give pennies  and dimes for a kiss.

All of the lyrics on this page attempt to express something and do it poorly. They offer shoddy wordplay along with a “C’mon you know what I mean” attitude and presumption. It is true that you can understand what these lines are attempting to say if you allow a little give and take, but it’s also lazy writing. These lyrics are created by professional songwriters and pop stars who have vast resources and are rewarded handsomely for their work. I understand that their underlying goal is to make money, but I think it’s reasonable to expect professionals to produce work that is clear and to some degree intelligent, instead of relying on listeners compromising their intelligence.

Let’s Talk Lyrics – Times Square, Poison Season 1 by Destroyer

Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog.  If you write lyrics we’d love to see them. Or if not, we’d love to write them for you!

Indie rock is rarely literal. The lyrics to songs often consist of a patchwork of phrases loosely associated with an overall theme. It is usually possible to listen to a song and gather an overall meaning, but it takes some interpretation on the part of the listener. The end goal, in my opinion, is that the songs and specifically the lyrics are thought-provoking – that they bring forward an image of some sort, make you question or consider something in a different way, that they make you want to interpret them. So, for this installment of Let’s Talk Lyrics, I’ve chosen the song Times Square, Poison Season 1 by Destroyer, the Vancouver based project of songwriter Dan Bejar. It’s a wonderful song full of interesting language and I will dare to offer the thoughts, images and questions that the words conjure up for me.

Within the context of Destroyer’s latest album, Poison Season, the song Times Square appears in three different forms. I will focus on the version that opens the album, Times Square, Poison Season 1. Which opens with the following:

Jesus is beside himself
Jacob’s in a state of decimation

A good opening line should grab your attention, and in this one, the Son of God is confused. Possibly because of the state of his surroundings, which I can’t help but picture as Times Square in its sinful heyday of the 1970s. Pairing Jesus with this idiom (beside himself) humanizes him, it brings him into our world, out of the thees and thous of the bible and on to the streets of New York. The next portion of the line about Jacob brings up more questions than it does images. Why Jacob? What does “decimation” really mean? Taken at face value I picture a hirsute man in robes who is in deep despair about something. Perhaps thinking about the trials of his son Joseph while gazing into the faces of the runaways who have come to the city.

The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all
Just forces of nature in love with a weather station

The writing on the wall is another biblical reference, meaning that a disaster of some sort looms in the near future. Here we find out that there is no impending doom after all, and that the forces of nature are in love with the weather station, which makes sense.
A weather station exists to study forces of nature, so it would stand to reason that a hurricane or sunset could love it.

Artists and repertoire
Hand in hand through the grey doorway at dawn

Artists and repertoire refers to a department in a record company that finds new talent. Here though, it seems that the two things 1. Artists, 2. Repertoire, are separate entities walking hand in hand, thus a creator escorting his/her body of work, through a mysterious grey doorway at a hazy time of day. Perhaps the whole line eludes to a changing record industry?

The writing on the wall said, “Jesus saves”

Maybe that’s why Jesus finds himself here. To save something or someone. The city itself? The record industry? Something entirely unrelated?

The writing on the wall mentions Honey playing a game with the waves

I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an actual piece of graffiti, just strange enough to be beautiful even though its meaning isn’t clear. I can’t help but thinking that Honey is a person, and to imagine that the waves are sound waves, or radio waves. Again, perhaps a reference to the currently evolving music industry?

You can follow a rose wherever it grows

This is my favorite line of the song. Mainly for its use of “grows” instead of “goes”. You expect the latter, but the former makes more sense. One can watch this lone rose, somehow alive in Times Square, and follow its slow growth process.

Yeah, you can fall in love with Times Square
Times Square

As a person who grew up in the rural south in the pre-internet days, I can tell you that Times Square represented a mysterious place to me, based largely on this movie. Most of the things we heard about it were bad. Similarly, the new digital music landscape might seem strange and unusual to those of us who grew up with vinyl and CDs. But maybe we can grow to love it. Who knows?

So, am I saying that Times Square by Destroyer is a metaphor that uses 1970s New York to represent the evolution of the music industry? NO! What I am saying is that these lyrics were compelling enough for me to think about, wonder about, and to draw probable conclusions. The non-linear nature of Indie Rock lyrics should inspire one to think and wonder about their meaning, and this song does that beautifully. If I were to level any criticism at Indie rock songwriters and fans, it would be that there is a huge lack of discussion as to the meanings of  lyrics.  No one talks about them.  I think the hipsters (and aging hipsters such as myself) are too self conscious to offer any interpretation as it might be different than what the songwriter intended, or that they might have missed something or have been way off.  I also think that some indie lyricists don’t have much of an intention and just cobble together cool sounding stuff because they know no one will ever ask them about it. Not the case with Dan Bejar.  This is a beautiful song with fantastic lyrics.

Let’s Talk Lyrics-Bad Blood by Taylor Swift

 Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog.  This time around,Taylor Swift, that spotify hating daughter of a millionaire, will be our subject  and we’ll be looking at the lyrics from the song “Bad Blood”(album version) from her latest collection 1989.  But, before we get started on our analysis of the Bad Blood Lyrics, I’d just like to say that if you write lyrics  we’d love to see them. Or if not, we’d love to write them for you! ! Now without further adieu let’s delve into those Bad Blood lyrics!
Taylor Swift Bad Blood Lyrics
Taylor Swift Bad Blood
The majority of Bad Blood’s lyrics consist of this chorus which starts the song and repeats five times throughout the song’s tenure:
‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look what you’ve done
‘Cause, baby, now we got bad blood
The first half of this chorus gives us a series of rhymes that rely on the  vowel sound “uh”, but feature different consonant ending sounds, the result being a pattern of imperfect rhymes (except for the repeated word “blood”).   Perfect rhymes are more the norm, and most listeners expect the ending sounds to be the same, therefore it could be said that the “close enough for rock and roll” imperfect rhyme scheme is somewhat juvenile and plays into Taylor Swift’s image of being a perpetual teenager. Personally I find it kind of interesting. I like the way it forms a pattern, I like hearing the vowel sound then hearing a different ending sound three times in a row.  I actually wish the pattern had continued by ending with a different line/word that had yet another consonant sound at the end, “enough” for example. Regardless of what you think of the rhyme scheme, it’s clear that whoever is speaking in this song is pretty upset.
Now we got problems
And I don’t think we can solve them
You made a really deep cut
And, baby, now we got bad blood
 “Now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ’em.” is the meat of this song in my opinion.  It’s the first time that I can think of in which “problems” and “solve ’em” have been paired in a rhyme scheme.  It’s kind of cool, original, and, honestly  the best thing about this song.
The lines that follow it give us another imperfect rhyming pair which further the violently tragic message of the song through cliche phrases.
Next, we have the first verse:

Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted
Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted
Did you have to hit me, where I’m weak? Baby, I couldn’t breathe
And rub it in so deep, salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me

Some nice bubble gum drama happening here.  Some fun rhymes (trusted and rusted) but in the context of the song, the rhythm is really more important than the meaning, which is easily dealt with by repeating the same words on the first three lines (did you have to…) then coming up with a simple two syllable word to top it off,  and then changing the words on the fourth line.  I have to say that I find the second line (Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted) kind of intriguing.

Next we have the pre-chorus warm up:

Oh, it’s so sad to think about the good times, you and I

Here is the point at which I’m going to be openly critical.  Finish your thought Taylor.  It’s sad to think about the good times you and I WHAT? The good times you and I had, remember, fought for, could have had? Just choose some banal expression and don’t leave us hanging!

After the chorus repeats, we have verse number 2:
Did you think we’d be fine? Still got scars on my back from your knife
So don’t think it’s in the past, these kinda wounds they last and they last.
Now did you think it all through? All these things will catch up to you
And time can heal but this won’t, so if you’re coming my way, just don’t
More imperfect rhymes, more cliches, more teen drama.  Then more thinking about the good times you and I….and then the chorus again, and finally we get to the last verse/bridge:

Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes
You say sorry just for show
If you live like that, you live with ghosts (ghosts)

Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes (hey)
You say sorry just for show (hey)
If you live like that, you live with ghosts (hey)
If you love like that blood runs cold
I like the “band aids don’t fix bullet holes” line, and I get how saying sorry just for show can be equated to living with ghosts.  It’s a fairly unique way to convey what the song is saying, which makes me kind of wish that it didn’t collapse into the “blood runs cold” line, which is unoriginal and doesn’t do much to further the narrative.
Then, to end the song where we get a double dose of the chorus. Hey
In looking at numerous contemporary pop songs it seems that much of the art in writing a hit is to figure out when the meaning of the lyric is important versus when the words are merely a vehicle to keep a rhythmic scheme going, or a vessel in which to present a melody.  It’s a formidable task which usually takes an entire team to accomplish (odds for success increase when one or more members are Swedish).  In this case the team consisted of Swift and also writers Max Martin and Johan Karl “Shellback” Schuster.  Congratulations to them all on their latest hit and their practiced use of pop psychology to make millions.
Interestingly, finding the album version of this song is now fairly difficult due to the media presence of the new version featuring Kendrick Lamar.  However, it’s very easy to find cover versions.

Let’s Talk Lyrics: Cold Beer With Your Name On It

Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog.

You can say what you will about New Country, but it is a genre that values lyrics.  The words are to a country song what a beat is to a techno song, it’s core.    So,  this time around I will be looking at Josh Thompson’s country hit “Cold Beer With Your Name On It”, which was written by Brent Anderson and Clint Daniels.  In general, I’m not the target audience for new country, nor am I really a fan, but as a songwriter I have to give the devil his due.  These are clever lyrics.  Let’s jump right in:

I hear you’re out there now and you’re doing alright

A new lease on life in Hollywood

Riding around with the ragtop down

Bet the west coast sun looks good on you
The country girl going to the big city and leaving her good ole boy lover behind is a common theme in country music.  The fact that this cowgirl chose Hollywood  tells us that she’s ambitious, and probably trying to make it big as an actress or a model which would also lead us to believe that  she’s quite a looker.  The good old boy is me.  And you.  Or at least the country listening equivalent of you and I.
Wasn’t very long ago we were sitting
On a lost dirt road by the railroad tracks
A lost road and a railroad track are a match made in heaven.  They are both icons of  country music that exist side by side in real life and provide the ideal setting for a rural romance.

If you ever think about that
And wonder where I’m at and wanna come back

Grammatical errors are a staple in modern Nashville.  They are included intentionally  so that the  the words will be written in the way that the target audience allegedly speaks, which is ripe with colloquialisms that are grammatically incorrect and would compel stuffy librarians in bifocals to shudder as they sip their tea, which is just fine with the audience and probably the writers too.

I’m sitting’ on a tailgate in the middle of a stargaze
Wishing you were in my arms
Chillin’ right here, baby if you want it
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it

I am impressed that the writers didn’t merely come up with a rhyme for the word “arm” here.  It would have been the obvious thing to do, and probably easier.  Instead, they turn things around with a pair of lines both ending with “it”, which some would consider lazy, but it beats rhyming with “arm” in my opinion.  It also gives them a chance to introduce the song’s title and catch phrase early on.  Also of note here, the word “chillin’ ” which seems a bit out of place, but times are changing.  Some people in the country talk like that.  Some of them are under 50.

Back 40 on a Friday night
Me and you dancing in the firelight

I know hipsters that have co-opted fire pits in the same way that they have adopted moustaches and knitting, and I have enjoyed these fires.   I hope though, that it still happens out in the sticks the way that this song describes it.  If you’ve never danced in the light of a bonfire, you should.

Girl you gotta admit it sounds pretty good, don’t it?
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it

Yeah, it sounds good.  It would sound better to me without yet another intentional grammatical error (don’t it), but I’m not the target audience and the more I find it annoying, the better.

Pop the top, kick back like we used to do
Sipping all night long to your favorite tunes
If you ever get tired of the concrete life,
Those honking horns, them flashing lights

Got a jar of shine if you need it,
Under the seat, you know where I keep it

Here we have a glorification of the fun one can have drinking in the country contrasted with a condemnation of the alleged hassles of urban living. Again we have  the double “it” rhymes, and again I’m ok with it (no pun intended).  The use of the word “shine” here gives us more insight into this good old boy.  He’s also a rebel.  He drinks and drives, he buys illegal, homemade liquor.  Bet you won’t find that on the sunset strip!

Hey girl turn off your cell phone,
Put your blue jeans on, get back home

Slamming technology never hurts when you’re trying to appeal to a down home crowd.  Trade in your cell phone for blue jeans!  Especially if you’re a hot cowgirl!

Next we repeat the chorus, no need to repeat myself.  Then finally we have:

Cooler loaded down, picture perfect view
All that’s missing now is… you

I like the way the first line finds common phrases that are rhythmically identical.  Then there’s the melancholy reminder of the girl that inspired this song.  And then the chorus kicks in again and ends the song.

In all  the country songs I’ve heard recently, the lyrics are usually  a fabric  woven of  common phrases with the goal of effectively preaching to a choir that  praises simplicity, loyalty, and all things rural.   Every day sayings are employed, twisted, modified, and in some cases even created.   For me, new country challenges the notion of what a cliche actually is, and at what point it (or they) become a cop-out  in terms of lyric writing.


I doubt that I’ll begin sporting a cowboy hat any time soon, but I do appreciate the craft that is put into these and other lyrics in modern country music.