One of his and Paul Simon’s best songs, I think, is The Boxer, because of its lilting beauty. Never mind the haunting lyrics, which songwriter Simon has said were about dealing with harsh critics: “Going home, where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me, leading me, going home.”
The Boxer is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, and for that reason I never change the dial when it plays on the radio.
One night recently, in fact, my wife told me supper was ready as soon as I dragged home from work. She had the television on a music channel, however, and as I started to go change clothes, I heard the opening guitar of The Boxer. I plopped down on the coffee table and sat through the entire song.
I had heard it countless times before, but each time is just as good as the last. Supper could wait.
A lot of songs are like that. Great lyrics and music combine to treat the ears. Not just a good beat, not just words that have something say, not just a pleasant voice – but some combination that works magic.
An example of such a song was heard in a Super Bowl commercial. I’m not sure what the ad was trying to say – grizzly bears like yogurt? – but a Bob Dylan love song, I Want You, played in the background.
“How can it be Dylan?” my wife scoffed. “I can understand his words.”
“It’s an old song,” I explained.
Jackson Browne’s Lawless Avenues rates high on my list of beautiful songs. Although it is about kids growing up in street gangs, it is a bilingual joy to hear.
Come Dancing is unlike The Kinks’ typical rock. It reminisces about the singer’s sister going dancing on Saturday nights at the “palais” (dance hall): “The day they knocked down the palais, my sister stood and cried. The day they knocked down the palais, part of my childhood died, just died.”
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been covered by everyone, but I can listen to Rufus Wainwright’s version over and over.
The 50-year-old Beatles still sound good, and Hey Jude is just one of many songs that sticks in my head.
John Prine’s songs are either knee-slappers or tear-jerkers, and some are so pretty they hurt. In Far From Me, he knows his love is unrequited the instant he asks the woman out: “Well, a question ain’t really a question, if you know the answer, too.”
American Pie is a wonderful song, but even it is topped by another song on Don McLean’s album. Vincent tells of Van Gogh and Starry Night, his best-known painting: “Now I think I know, what you tried to say to me, how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set them free.”
Now, it’s your turn. What beautiful songs do you recommend? Tell us all about them.