Great First Lines 60’s and 70’s



bobdylanbannerlyricsAs I said in my companion piece about great lyrics from the 80’s and 90’s, some song lyrics don’t warrant a second look. I don’t want to name names, but certain groups might have been better off if they had allowed a supercomputer to write their lyrics (a la AC/DC), rather than attempting to do so themselves. I don’t really want to dwell on lyrical failures, and it must be noted that lame lyrics don’t always lead to a bad song. Accordingly, I suppose that great lyrics don’t necessarily lead to a good song. Luckily, these next two songs happen to be good so I don’t have to deal with that right now.

“Visions of Johanna” – Bob Dylan

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Opening Line: Ain’t it just like the night/playing tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet

Any list of great lyrical moments from the 60’s and 70’s probably has to include a Dylan song by necessity. Bob Dylan’s impressionistic, symbolic poetry went far beyond the content of typical folk and pop music and left an influence that can’t be overstated. The whole singer/songwriter archetype owes a great amount to Dylan’s public persona, and his songs have been covered by countless other artists. Part of the reason Dylan tracks remain so ubiquitous in popular culture is their universal lyrical impact. Dylan strayed from specifics much of the time, and his resulting words have a hazy, cryptic quality that can seemingly apply to a number of distinct situations. “Visions of Johanna” may be the best example of his style; mischievous yet somehow allegorical and laden with meaning, Dylan’s lyrics can be endlessly unpacked.

“Thunder Road” – Bruce Spingsteen

Opening Line: The screen door slams; Mary’s dress waves/like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays

If Dylan is cryptic and inscrutable, Bruce Springsteen is just the opposite. The Boss has long painted himself as the ultimate chronicler of the working class, and his story-songs are loaded with authentic and true-to-life details. Whereas Dylan’s lyrical work is a bit more drug-addled and surreal, Springsteen’s scenes unfold like old home movies. We’re looking at hysterical record rather than poetry. In this opening line, Mary is a person, an actual human being who sweats and breathes. It’s not especially clever, because it isn’t trying to be. Dylan’s above couplet has an almost witty tidiness to it. It’s a sort of Oscar Wilde-esque bon mot-turned-lyric. Bruce Springsteen paints life as it is, without any sort of filter or varnish. The result is achingly real and immediately effective.

 

Well, here we have two lyrical masters that operate in totally distinct zones! Who else deserves to be celebrated? Post suggestions in the comments!

Photo credit: By Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz (Bob Dylan) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Pingback: The Greatest Rock Lyric Of All Time | Rocknuts

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