Having led the Soft Boys, The Egyptians and released a fair few albums under his own name (Chronology, a best of collection is out now), Robyn Hitchcock has penned plenty of fine lyrics himself. However it’s still possible to look on enviously at other songwriters, and here Mr Hitchcock ‘fesses up to a few lyrics he’s been coveting.
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up: Colonnaded ruins domino/ Canvas the town & brush the backdrop/Are you sleeping, Brother John?’
“A glass of wine in the ruins, as the voice of Carl Wilson scampers up and down an MC Escher staircase and brother Brian injects his brain directly into the piano. Van Dyke parks put it into words…”
Syd Barrett – Wolfpack: Short wheeling, fresh spring, gripped with blanched bones, moaned/ magnesium proverbs and sobs
“His mind torn to shreds, Syd Barrett‘s last transmission before he sank into the doldrums of fat Roger. Never has someone’s life bled so vividly into their music.”
Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna: Name me someone that’s not a parasite/ and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him
“It’s the comic lines at a funeral that seem the saddest. This barbed elegy for humans padding our human cage is full of what would now be called laugh-out-loud lines. Fortunately, they weren’t called that back in 1966.”
Roxy Music – Dance Away: You’re dresssed to kill/ And guess who’s dying?
“At his best BF was channeling a lot of pain, but did so with a lightness of touch (a-la Nick Lowe) that made it seem all the sadder, as rage wasn’t part of the story. Slave to love indeed.”
Captain Beefheart – My Human Gets Me Blues: Under your furry crawling brow/ A silver bowl rings up in inches/ You were afraid you’d be the devil’s red wife
“This is recited over erotically galvanised music (as in sending dead frog’s legs into spasm) that clatters over the ear-scape and dives off the acceptable cliff, then plunges into the swamp to join the hippo that keeps thinking it’s Tuesday.”
Julian Cope – Elegant Chaos: If I were France, and you were Germany/ What an alliance that would be
“Now is the time to see how that alliance holds. Julian has romantic moments amid his torrential bursts of psyche-flail and academia. This song ruminates on our tumult from a serene bubble of outsiderliness, with JC in a holding pattern above whatever black hole currently beckons.”
The Beatles – You Never Give Me Your Money: Oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go
“The line that summarises 1969: there was no more 60s left, no more momentum, and no more Beatles. From now on was it was every man for himself on the hungover steppes of the 1970s. It’s all bad, kids – but it can always get worse. Rock on! One of Paul‘s best ever songs.”
John Lennon – Beautiful Boy: Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans
“How horribly true. This line is draped philosphically over the middle of JL‘s love song to his son Sean, the brief burst of mature joy kindled in John‘s music before a fan ended his life. This was a glimpse of what a steadier, calmer John might have brought to the world. As Yoko says at the end of the LennoNYC film: John was an artist. Why would you want to kill an artist?”
Beach Bullies – Beach Bullies: Gravity takes me by the hand, and throws me down the stairs
“From the eponymous song, James A Smith intones this line, and this one only, across a clothesline of Archway Road dub. This says it all, really – I wish I’d said it but – fair play, James A – you said it first!”
Leonard Cohen – Stories Of The Street: You are locked into your suffering/ And your pleasures are the seal
“Leonard sums-up the dilemma facing me-generation flesh-heads, Hefnerites and earthly vampires alike. The essence of addiction is that the only cure for your pain is to continue it. It’s hard to recover when you’re the disease – I think I said that…”
Robyn Hitchcock performs his 1990 album Eye in fill at London‘s St Leonard’s Church this Saturday (26 November) and taking part in an evening of songs and stories with Joe Boyd at the South Bank Centre on 1 December under the name Chinese White Bicycles. Head to Robynhitchcock.com for full details.