There's a series underway here at Songville about Writing Great Lyrics. But defining and identifying great lyrics is a subjective process. So ... we need to hear from you.

What is the one lyric you would hold up as great writing? What line makes you fist-pump or cry or gasp in astonishment? What lyric do you use as your email signature file or incessantly quote to your friends?

Please share it in the comments section below. Not only will your input help us all to think about what makes great writing work, you could also win stuff! On October 8, we'll draw randomly from the names of all who have commented, and we'll mail the winner their choice of any one CD or book from FeedtheLake.com.

So tell us ... what does a great lyric sound like? Include the lyric itself (anything from a single line to a stanza), the name of the song, the composer, and the name of the artist who recorded it (if different from the composer.) And feel free to argue or agree with each other about the merit of each lyric.

(Every time you comment, you get another entry in the draw. We know this is shameless bribery. But hey, the ends justify the means. This is a conversation worth having.)

{Update: The winner was announced here. Keep up the conversation!}
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Barbra said...

One of my faves is TobyMac "it comes down to the moment when faith eclipses fear" since so many of my struggles in life are from fear. Thinking of how faith and God's grace helps me to overcome my fears and fulfill His plan for me.

Brendt said...

IIRC, Rich Mullins wrote the verses for "Sometimes by Step" after Beaker had written the chorus.

And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond your reach
Oh God, You are my God ....

In this world, you will have trouble. But fear not, for I have overcome the world!

Lynne said...

"find the Lord before you need him" is one of my all-time favorites. I don't know the composer, but it's in Randy Travis' "Don't ever sell your saddle" (another good line - see, good can come from country...).

Jennifer said...

Gosh, there's so many... I seem to go back to those songs where I go, "Aww, crap... I wish I had written that!"

I had one of those moments the first time I heard "Change Your Mind" by Sister Hazel. The last line of the chorus is "If you wanna be somebody else, change your mind." It's a song about being cool with who you are. I love it. Not a Christian song, per se, but I think it's a very faith-centred theme to settle in to who God made you instead of always wanting to be someone else.


Justine said...

I hope this does not embarrass our host blogger, but my favorite lyric of all time is . . .

We are battered and torn from the day we are born
In a world that has blinded and bound us.
Is it any surprise we don't open our eyes
To the truth that's disguised all around us?
Like the secrets we keep we don't know we're keeping
From before there was time, before there were lies
Can we find you again this far from the garden?
Do we dare even try?

Written and sung by Carolyn Arends

OK, I've listened to this song well nigh one thousand times, perhaps many more than that, and I'm still crying right now, just from typing out the lyric.

Off to get Kleenex . . .

Brendt said...

If Justine wins the drawing, we're all gonna yell "FIX!!" ;-)

Justine said...

I know . . . I paused before posting that lyric here (who wants to be known as The Songville Suck-up?). But, "Do We Dare" almost made me drive off the road the first time I heard it, so it was the one I had to go with for the "favourite all-time lyric."

Of course, you can never go wrong with a Rich Mullins lyric. One of his most beautiful lyrics, in my opinion, is the chorus "Verge of a Miracle" (the whole song, actually, but I'm trying to restrain myself):

You're on the verge of a miracle
Standing there
Oh, you're on the verge of a miracle
Just waiting to be believed in
Open your eyes and see
You're on the verge of a miracle

I love the trademark Mullins quirky earnestness -- writing a song about that moment just before faith.

Brendt said...

I don't have much room to talk, since I quoted Rich, given how much Carolyn admires him.

She didn't even get upset when I missed her set because I was talking to him.

Inevdi11 said...

I think it depends on if the criteria is a single line or verse or an entire song.
These two fit for me on both levels.

“I shouldn't have to tell you who I am, ‘cause who I am should be speaking for itself. ‘Cause if I am, who I want to be, then who you see won’t even be me.” – Warren Barfield 'Mistaken'

“This world has nothing for me, and this world has everything, all that I could want and nothing that I need” – Caedmon’s Call (Aaron Tate) 'This World'

Justine said...

You know, inevdi11, I was wondering, after I'd posted, if I had posted too much. Carolyn did say a line -- and I gave a verse (or a bridge -- I'm not adept at the technical terms)! And then I came back and gave a chorus!

So, here I have whittled down to a couplet, a duo of the sublime, if you will, written and sung by Jennifer Knapp ("Undo Me"):

I am wanting, needing, guilty and greedy/Unrighteous, unholy, undo me, undo me

I listen to that line and I say, "Yep. Yep. Yep. And yep. Yep. Yep. Please, Lord, yes!"

And, don't think, Brendt, that I do not realize that every comment I make is getting me one more chance at the sweet, sweet prize. Whoo-hoo!

Carolyn Arends said...

Hey All -- loving hearing your favorite lyrics! (And Brendt, the guy who taught me TTFN in 1995, just taught me IIRC. Thanks, Man.)

Some of you have brought up an important point of clarification -- am I looking for a single line or is a larger lyric OK? I think the most helpful target is anything from a single line to a stanza. I'll add that into the blog post.

And, of course, quoting from a Carolyn Arends song earns you 1,000,042 extra draw entries. Did I forget to mention that? (JK!)

Keep talking,

Brendt said...

Oh, no! I'm teaching Carolyn four-letter words? ;-)

More on the why's/wherefore's: A lyric that resonates with me, that I can identify personally with -- that's the kind of thing that gets to me.

And then there's the variation of (1) if it resonates with me where I am right now, or (2) always does. That Rich lyric that I quoted is an "always does". In contrast, one that has been a bit shorter-term is from Andrew Peterson's "Three Days Before Autumn":

I know when I'm lonely/That I ain't alone

Granted, I've loved that song since I first heard it and cried my eyes out. But that one line doesn't say "this is a song about Rich" and its meaning to me lately has nothing to do with Rich.

I also dig paradoxes. Classic example is (suck-up alert) Carolyn's "Reaching":

Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar/And both were out of reach

Maybe that's really just another "resonate" thing, though. I wrote on another blog yesterday:

"Seems that the older I get, the more paradoxes I see, and (paradoxically) the more they make sense. ;-)"

webchyk said...

i've used lyrics for my .sig. here are a couple:

i asked to see what was hidden
i saw the depth and the scope
of disappointment and longing
i saw my sin and my hope

ashley cleveland

i am tired of playing defense
and i don't even have hockey skates

kathleen edwards

yellowrose said...

There's a wideness in God's mercy/
I cannot find in my own.
"The Love of God," Rich Mullins
You're expecting the next line of the hymn, and you get a mirror turned on you. That line gets me every single time.

Next is the entire chorus from "Heart of the Matter" by Don Henley, ending with:
I guess it's about forgiveness, forgiveness/
When you don't love me anymore.

In both lyrics, the truth is the focus.

iowaboy277 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me, and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again

Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road," from the 1975 album Born to Run. This lyric, the opening verse to the opening song to the best rock album of all time, has it all -- brilliant poetry, vivid imagery, raw emotion, and even a nod to the great Roy Orbison. I'm not sure that songwriting gets any better than that.

But this comes awfully close:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

I don't want to turn this into a rant against modern worship, but there's a verse to be studied, modeled, and reached for -- though probably never again attained. Why don't we sing about our own sin-sick souls any more? My heart is not only prone to wander, but desperately in need of being sealed "for thy courts above." Thankfully, there's a remedy:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.

Amen, Robert Robinson. Come Thou Fount.

Brendt said...

Mark: I don't want to turn this into a rant against modern worship, but there's a verse to be studied, modeled, and reached for...

I think the way that you put it precludes this turning into a rant. In other words, well-put.

Why don't we sing about our own sin-sick souls any more?

Take heart. There is some modern stuff like this. It just doesn't get radio play. Maybe because talking about sin isn't deemed "safe for the whole family". :-(

Check out the stuff coming out of Sovereign Grace Music. It's chock full of deep stuff, but still has a modern feel. My favorite album is In A Little While.

Also, Indelible Grace has some cool stuff. Old hymns set to new tunes.

Sorry, Carolyn. I know this is a bit far-afield, but I appreciated Mark's non-judgmental spirit and wanted to say so.

C. said...

I have a few. The top two are:

1. "Did You wrestle with your dog and lick his nose?" Rich Mullins, Boy Like Me

2. "Her hair was tossed like Spanish moss" Pierce Pattis, THIS AIN'T LOVE

Both give such a visual image to me and make me smile whenever I hear them!

12-stringer said...

iowaboy277 beat me to "Reaching", but one of my all-time favorite lines is from Carolyn's "This Is The Stuff":

...Writing my name for the very first time
With a pencil that was bigger than me...

Actually, the entire song is full of dripping-with-tasty-juices word-imagery like that, but I feel that even limiting it to just that snippet pretty well exemplifies what a terrific wordsmith Carolyn is.

12-stringer said...

Besides Carolyn and Rich, another songwriter not to be missed is David Francey - a sampling from his song "Broken Glass":

...When you hear a sound like broken glass
That's my heart every time that girl walks past
When you hear a sound like the rush of wind
It's just me catching my breath again...

or Billy Crockett, "Thankful Boys and Girls":

Let us be thankful boys and girls
for eyes and ears and toes
and puppies with wet noses
let us be thankful boys and girls
for lessons we have learned
and love we have not earned...

Daniel said...

I really like Carolyn Arends Love is always there and the line, "There's no such thing as a God-forsaken town, 'cause there are always second chances' as very encouraging but for a vivid word picture I go with Rhonda Gunn's Higher Faith and the line "Like a river runnin' deep im me, carries me upon the sea of grace into a higher faith".

Stephen said...

I still think Carolyn's What I Wouldn't Give is a hoot. Sad lyrics to a happy, bouncy tune. Makes me think of my lost Jane.

What I wouldn't give to be younger and wiser.
What I wouldn't give to be yours once more.
What I wouldnt' give to be less of a miser
And give you what I wouldn't give before.

RobbP@Vt.-Md. said...

The first time my choir sang an anthemic arrangement of Charles Wesley's hymn "And Can it Be" in church, I barely made it through the words:

Amazing love, how can it be?
That Thou my God, shouldst die for me?

Ever since that Sunday morning several years ago, the hymn has been my favorite. It still moves me.

As for a CA song, there are many I love, but "I Can Hear You" is probably my favorite: "Funny how you speak to me / In such mysterious ways." The whole song revolves around that line, and the music is a perfect play for the lyrics.

Mark said...

Hmmmm. So many lyrics, so little time.

Let's step away to melancholy, on Broadway, from "I'm Not That Girl" in Wicked (Stephen Schwarz):

Ev'ry so often we long to steal
To the land of what-might-have-been
But that doesn't soften the ache we feel
When reality sets back in


Don't wish, don't start
Wishing only wounds the heart
I wasn't born for the rose and the pearl
There's a girl I know
He loves her so . . .
I'm not that girl

Jennifer said...

I don't know if this is my ALL-TIME favorite, but my current favorite lyric to ponder is from a Point of Grace song called "Heal the Wound." The song starts off reviewing past mistakes (wounds) and wishing they could be erased. Then the chorus begins:

Heal the wound but leave the scar,
A reminder of how merciful You are.
I am broken, torn apart.
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar.

I think it's such a beautiful picture of how God uses the memories of how bad we were to remind us how far He's brought us.

Carolyn Arends said...

Wow -- I'm loving all the great input here. For everyone so far, what makes the lyric stand out is an intersection between the lyric and the listener's life ... especially on a spiritual level. It's so cool how a song can connect that way.

I think the principle of taking something complex/profound and distilling it down into a simple line is really illustrated in these examples.

Keep it coming!

Brendt said...

Is it just me or did Carolyn just take our complex comments and distill them down into a simple line? ;-)

Mark said...

Okay, another one, but this time from CA herself. The song it was from was comforting to me when we almost lost my father-in-law in October 2007 during a heart operation.

If I had only know that you'd be leaving here so soon . . .

From Love You Out Loud, a song which our family lived until Bill's passing a little over two weeks ago.

webchyk said...

won't you take me to
won't you take to


Ryan said...

Obviously I enjoy Carolyn's lyrics (too many examples to mention) as well as Rich Mullins. As for secular music, I'll go with Peaceful Easy Feeling -

'Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won't let me down
'Cause I'm already standing on the ground

Laura said...

I agree that there are too many good lyrics to just post one! Joni Mitchell is a favourite songwriter of mine. I love these lyrics from "A Case of You":

I remember that time you told me, you said,
"Love is touching souls"
Surely you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time

She captures so well the truth that we absorb pieces of the ones we love.

As for a CA lyric, "Reaching," as others have mentioned, is really meaningful to me, but I also love these lines from "It Has to Be You":

'Cause I don't know one other love
That would go to such lengths to break through
So I know -- it has to be you

Immensely encouraging words!

Mark said...

Steve Goodman, a great song-writer and fellow Chicagoan, wrote these lyrics that ring true, even today (especially today), for North-Siders everywhere:

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Mark.D said...

FYI, I'm one of the two people named Mark who are posting, and have changed my tag to "Mark.D".

Lyrics can also help you to get by, when life has you down. My parents instilled in me a love for the music of Al Jolson, the greatest entertainer of his day.

First published in 1921, with music by Louis Silvers and lyrics by B. G. De Sylva.

Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it's raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn't raining rain, you know, (It's raining violets,)
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list'ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list'ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

Mark.D said...

I don't want to "hog the blog", but there's just too much out there. And I know I've taken this post from it's somewhat sacred-music bent to a much more secular one, but if there's one thing I like, it's music. And this song certainly lifts my spirits whenever I hear it - which is what is was designed to do as written in 1939 by Harold Alren and E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg for the Marx Brothers movie At The Circus. You know its name . . . and here's a verse:

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
When her muscles start relaxin',
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of them all.
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
With a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day, you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!

Laura said...

Today's great Neil Finn quote brought to mind another favorite:

I'd rather have the mystery
and the madness, and the rains
'cause hell's the only place
You can be free of all love's pain

from All the Miles by Sandra McCracken

(Besides being an excellent singer-songwriter in her own right, Sandra is also a contributor to the aforementioned Indelible Grace projects, which I also highly recommend.)

April said...

There are so many. I think one set that really shook the foundation of my relationship with God was Andrew Peterson's from his Love and Thunder Album. The lyrics are from his song "Just As I Am": "For all of my life,I've held on to this fear, these thisles and vines ensnare and entwine what flowers appeared it's the fear that I'd fall one too many times, it's a fear that His love is no better than mine. But He tells me that Just as I am and just as I was and just as I will be he loves me he does...." There are more. I just know that that set of lyrics expresses a continuing personal war of surrender and vulnerability in my heart to relate to God. It's one thing to think ABOUT God, but that song, those lyrics place me in a position to have to face up and deal with Him as a living breathing (pneuma)Person who really wants to get in there and be intimate and one on one personal with me. That lyric names one of my top ten greatest fears and obstacles to opening up, trusting God more, believing that when the King draws me into His chambers and I stand before Him with nothing else between us that He will love me with a love better than my own, better than anyone else who has suceeded or failed in their attempts to love me well or wound me well. That's a tough battle, and Peterson's lyrics are hope to me.

Valerie said...

Don't know that this is my all-time favorite, but it certainly sticks with me:

You are the treasured custodian, cleaning the moon for me, scouring the sky so the stars will shine bright (Lisa Loeb)

Valerie said...

OK, I now see that others have gone the route of quoting CA (wasn't sure if that was kissing up or not), so I guess I should also mention this favorite of mine:

Like a tireless suitor, heaven pursues your heart (Carolyn Arends)

Mark.D said...

Okay, last one. Again, from Broadway, orginally, this song also contained the chord structure that Miles Davis absolutely loved!

My Funny Valentine, from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart . . .

My funny Valentine
Sweet, comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart.

Your looks are laughable
Yet, you're my favorite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay, little Valentine, stay!
Each day is Valentine's Day

I've omitted the introduction to the song to conserve space . . .

Anonymous said...

I know I'm too late to enter the contest, but Mark D.'s comment with a musical lyric brought to mind the entire Stephen Sondheim musical: Into the Woods.

Clever, well-written, maybe not so spiritual, but definitely worth a Google search.


Davo said...

I don't pretend to know what you want
but I offer love

-- N. Finn

Brendt said...

Well, this is WAAAAAAAAAY after the end of the contest, so you know that the kiss-up isn't mercenary. ;-)

One other things that really rings with me is often moreso over an entire song. When the song paints a very vivid picture in my mind -- "Reaching" is a great example.

phil said...

A favorite has to be Cats In The Cradle by Harry Chapin. The turn at the end still gives me unbelievable goose bumps.
'When he hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me..'

Some powerful stuff!

Brian Sullivan said...

Only a year late! But...

When I was a torn jacket/hanging on the barbed wire/you cut me free and sewed my up/and here I am...
--Bruce Cockburn

I have to pray/it took me far too long/to find out that my weakness is my testimony
--Charlie Peacock

Crossed a line around the changes of the summer/reaching out to call the color of the sky/Passed around a moment clothed in mornings faster than we see//Getting over all the time I had to worry/leaving all the changes far from far behind/we relieve the tension/only to find out the master's name

How could I slight you, how could I turn/How can you take it when I'm blind to your pain/The burning of fingers, the smoldering nerves/
How can you take me back over and over again

Your love/Never can fail/
to pierce me/Hammers and nails
Rhythm of passion/louder than Hell/
Thunder of Heaven/Hammers and nails
--Mark Heard