We all like songs. But there are a few that contain lyrics I love so much that I’m borderline jealous of the songwriter. They’re clever and witty and smooth, to the point that I wish I would’ve come up with them. Here’s my list of the top seven songs I wish I’d written, solely based on their lyrics.
“Sweet Baby James” – James Taylor
If there’s one song on this planet that I truly wish I had the genius to write, it’s “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor. The perfectly crafted melodic inflections mix perfectly with the masterful rhymes. In my opinion, “Sweet Baby James” contains one of the best quatrains known to music—“Now the first of December was covered with snow / so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston / The Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting / With 10 miles behind me and 10,000 more to go.” You expect a typical alternating rhyme, but the end of each line slides carefully into next one, morphing and evolving with the varying meter to carry the rhyme out to bring closure to the whole stanza.
“I Will” – The Beatles
“I Will,” one of the most simply composed songs I’ve ever heard, packs a ton of lyrical excellence into one and a half minutes. The classic love song has no chorus—just four verses—and can put a worried mind at ease in an instant. The final three lines in the last verse are unique because they aren’t end rhymes (what most music consists of). Instead, the rhymes in “Sing it loud so I can hear you / Make it easy to be near you / For the things you do endear you to me,” all fall as the word before “you.”
“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” – Carole King
King employs the simplest of rhymes in “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” and that’s what makes it easy on the ears and easy on the mind. You can almost predict the next end rhyme, and when it comes you’re not surprised at all. It has no chorus, and instead the listener is drawn into a flowing four-verse story. Effortless lyrics like “Tonight you’re mine, completely / You give your soul so sweetly “ bring a sense of resolution and warmth to every single couplet.
“Simple Man” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
A song you only listen to on the worst and darkest of nights, “Simple Man” never fails to force some wisdom through your ears. The offset guitar goes perfectly with the borderline-cliche lyrics. The entire song is so radically simple and powerfully clear—it pulls at my heartstrings every time.
“If I Ain’t Got You” – Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys’ earlier music never disappoints, but something about “If I Ain’t Got You” has always resonated with me. The rhyme scheme is inconsistent, and in some places, nonexistent. But the lyrics have depth and meaning—the lines “Some people think that the physical things define what’s within / And I’ve been there before, and that life’s a bore / So full of the superficial” are unexpectedly poignant when placed with Keys’ simple yet skillful piano.
“Wonderful Tonight” – Eric Clapton
A song that I’ve always loved but just recently became a favorite, “Wonderful Tonight” contains fantastic lyrics that rival those of some of the best love songs ever written. Like several other songs on this list, it contains no chorus, which keeps the song continually evolving. It’s the perfect sample of a simple, straightforward AABB scheme, with lyrics like “It’s late in the evening, she’s wondering what clothes to wear / She puts on her makeup and brushes her long blonde hair / And then she asks me, do I look all right? / And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight.” I think deep down, everyone wants to be someone’s “Wonderful Tonight”—which is a good enough reason for why this song will never go out of style.
“You’ve Got a Friend” – Carole King and James Taylor
A longtime classic in my book, “You’ve Got a Friend” is a well-crafted song on many levels. An old YouTube video of Carole King and James Taylor singing the song together truly encompasses how it makes me feel, though. She’s singing it onstage, about him, and he comes out to surprise her during the bridge. They finish the song together on the piano, as the love in their friendship radiates off the stage. The smooth chorus, as it flows into the bridge, evokes warm memories of the people who are always there for me, and the ones who depend on me in return. “Now, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend / When people can be so cold? / They’ll hurt you, yes, and desert you / And take your soul if you let them, oh, but don’t you let them…”
Featured Image by Sony Music Entertainment