Here are some stream-of-consciousness thoughts on various familiar pop songs. The “Annie’s Song” moment described below was as weird as it was sublime.
“Annie’s Song” by John Denver – It was a bright early spring day in Georgetown, Washington DC. I was walking toward the boathouse under the Key Bridge and a driver of a parked convertible car was playing the song very loudly, crystal clear from good speakers. Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
“Black” by Pearl Jam – The long outro beginning with Eddie Vedder’s growling vocals “why, why, whyyyy!” is the anguished howl of our dispossessed generation.
“Coward of the County” by Kenny Rogers – It’s not initially obvious, but the lyrics make it pretty clear that Tommy shoots and kills the Gatlin boys in the bar.
“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Kix – From the hairband genre, the anti-suicide power ballad was popular circa 1988. A young man back then called the local rock radio station, saying that he is preparing to kill himself. The DJ talked with him, playing this song over and over until he talked him out of doing it.
“For Cryin’ Out Loud” by Meatloaf – There is a verse in which the speaker lists the good things that his woman had done for him. The line “For giving me a child / When my body is old” represents a rarely expressed theme in rock ballads, the creation of life.
“Love Bites” by Def Leppard – The melody is of the purest expressions of a teenage boy’s all-devouring longing for that one pretty face. I have nice memories that go with the song. A friend still can’t stand hearing it, a survivor of an unusually cruel object of his oneitis.
“November Rain” by Guns N Roses – One of the most reassuring lines in all of rock: “Nothing lasts forever / Even cold November rain.”
“Ol’ 55” by Tom Waits – The original 1973 Tom Waits version is bare-bones, raw, calm. The Eagles cover from the same year features a clear, melodious interpretation by Glen Fry, with Don Henley providing throatier vocals. Sarah McLachlan’s early 1990s cover is a dreamy, tired interpretation and it was my companion during my solo night drives through Kentucky and West Virginia in my early twenties.
“She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers – The song is about an affair. The guitar is a metaphor for the speaker’s mistress.
“So Cruel” by U2 – No other song better describes the bewilderment of a young man who digs himself deeper and deeper into the mire of a physically consummated but emotionally unrequited love.
“Stargazer” by Mother Love Bone – I find the bridge in this song very emotionally moving. It’s probably the crescendo backup vocals behind Andrew Wood’s lead vocal pathos, and the idisyncratic words that hit my buttons.
“Still the Same” by Bob Seger – This is the first song I learned to play on the guitar. My point of pride was learning the intro chords as done in the actual recording, and not a dumbed-down beginner version.
“Winds of Change” by The Scorpions – That feeling you felt in 1991 was a sense of hope because the Cold War is over and Europe is reunified, and a dread of what in retrospect was the sound of sociopaths consolidating their power.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd – Another thing I am proud of as a late-learning guitar player is having mastered those complex intro notes to that song, the strums, picks, and Gilmour’s trademark string-bending. I’ve always held that song on a pedestal, seeing in it a mute articulation of the fact that life will cut short your dreams but you will still push and not rest.
A common theme through some of those songs or my commentary is the teenage boy’s quest for love riding his supernova lust. Rock music is written for the very young, reflecting and helping make sense of their longing, torment, or euphoria.