It has to be said, it was a bit easier coming up with good ’80s lyrics than it was to come up with crap ones. I could probably have chosen three or four crackers from many of the artists featured below, but space permits only one.
Maybe it’s not surprising that it was a great decade for lyricists when it was surely one of the most ‘literary’ musical decades to date – it would have to be with people like Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Paddy McAloon, Andy Partridge, Green Gartside, Tracey Thorn, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and Springsteen around.
So here’s just a sprinkling of my favourites from the ’80s. Let me know yours.
‘I love you/You pay my rent‘.
PET SHOP BOYS: ‘Rent’
An ’80s manifesto?
‘If you ever feel the time/To drop me a loving line/Maybe you should just think twice/I don’t wait around on your advice’.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: ‘Each And Every One’
How’s that for a statement to kick off a recording career?
‘I believe in love/I’ll believe in anything/That’s gonna get me what I want/And get me off my knees’.
LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS: ‘Forest Fire’
Less famous than Lloyd’s rhyming of ‘Mailer’ and ‘tailor’, but gains a lot from his passionate singing of the lines.
‘I want you/It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for/It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for’.
ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘I Want You’
Anyone who’s ever been in love (or lust) knows exactly what Mr MacManus means.
‘Hey Mikey/Whatever happened to the f***in’ “Duke Of Earl”?’
RANDY NEWMAN: ‘Mikey’s’
A few years before ‘Money For Nothing’, our protagonist is a bit ‘disillusioned’ with the state of modern music…
‘If you had that house, car, bottle, jar/Your lovers would look like movie stars’.
JONI MITCHELL: ‘The Reoccurring Dream’
Nails the rabid ’80s advertising industry pretty succinctly.
‘Lost my shape/Trying to act casual/Can’t stop/I might end up in the hospital’.
TALKING HEADS: ‘Crosseyed And Painless’
One of many brilliant David Byrne first-liners.
‘Once there was an angel/An angel and some friends/Who flew around from song to song/Making up the ends’.
DANNY WILSON: ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’
What a beautiful way of describing the songwriting process.
‘Burn down the disco/Hang the blessed DJ’.
THE SMITHS: ‘Panic’
One of many from Mr Morrissey, but I just love the fact that he could smuggle this into the charts.
‘Now the moon’s gone to hell/And the sun’s riding high/I must bid you farewell/Every man has to die/But it’s written in the starlight/And every line in your palm/We are fools to make war/On our brothers in arms’.
DIRE STRAITS: ‘Brothers In Arms’
Well, it’s a lot better than Culture Club’s ‘War Song’, isn’t it?
‘Out on the road today/I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac/A little voice inside my head said/Don’t look back, you can never look back…’
DON HENLEY: ‘Boys Of Summer’
The ultimate ’80s baby boomer lyric.
‘Hello Johnson/Your mother once gave me a lift back from school/There’s no reason to get so excited/I’d been playing football with the youngsters/Johnson says don’t dramatise/And you can’t even spell salacious’.
PREFAB SPROUT: ‘Horsechimes’
If JD Salinger had been born in County Durham…
‘I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat…’
KING CRIMSON: ‘Indiscipline’
Adrian Belew almost outdoes Byrne in the ‘neurosis’ department.
‘Come back Mum and Dad/You’re growing apart/You know that I’m growing up sad/I need some attention/I shoot into the light’.
PETER GABRIEL: ‘Family Snapshot’
The flashback of a political assassin, daring the listener to sympathise, followed by his final, catastrophic action.
‘People say that I’m no good/Painting pictures and carving wood/Be a rich man if I could/But the only job I do well is here on the farm/And it’s breaking my back’.
XTC: ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’
What to say to the parents when they tell you to get a ‘real’ job…
‘So long, child/It’s awful dark’.
DAVID BOWIE: ‘When The Wind Blows’
Dickensian dread from the Dame.
‘I could have been someone/Well, so could anyone’.
THE POGUES/KIRSTY MACCOLL: ‘Fairytale Of New York’
The ultimate put-down. Kirsty is much missed.