The Beauty of One Line Songs


evan dando

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This might be true, I don’t know. Since I am a writer – rather than, say, a photographer or a painter – I am obviously biased to disagree with this statement. I love words. I am fascinated by them. I studied them in school, and I think about them all the time. Words communicate so much, and, when employed skillfully, are truly breathtaking in their range and ability to convey meaning and expression.

And yet, they can sometimes fall short. So much of what happens in our lives isn’t even expressed in words, from the millions of thoughts we have each day to the extensive forms of non-verbal communication that we use to interact with one another. Often when I sit down to try and write something, I am overwhelmed and stymied by the sheer impossibility of conveying exactly what I want to say, as I see it in my head. Most of the time I feel like I am taking a stab in the dark, and if I manage to capture even some part of what I was striving for, I feel lucky. Obviously some of that can be chalked up to my skill level, rather than a lack on the part of the words themselves, but there are intrinsic limitations to language. How can one ever truly express what it feels like to experience the emotions of joy, grief, despair, or hope? Or describe the experience of falling in love, without sounding like a hopeless sap? Or talk about how a particular song at a particular moment can make you feel like everything is perfect, and why that is. Translating feelings into words is in some ways a loser’s game – you’ll never really be able to do it. But we keep trying – because it’s a challenge, and because it’s fun, and because ultimately we want to connect to something larger than ourselves.

As great as words are, though, sometimes brevity is amazing. Today, I would like to talk about a rarity in music – the One Line Song. There are only two that I can think of off the top of my head, and I appreciate both of them for what they manage to convey with only a limited use of words.

The first is the Pixies’ Stormy Weather. Here is the song:

One line, my friends. “It is time for stormy weather”. That’s it, that’s all. As with a lot of Pixies’ music, sound and feel are given more emphasis here than lyrics, but this is concise even for them. He wields the line in such varied ways, though, that it feels like he’s saying something different with each iteration. I think this is a perfect example of how sometimes tone matters way more than the actual words being used. They’re communicating different moods without changing what’s being said.

Song #2 is Evan Dando’s In the Grass All Wine Colored:

Again, only one line: “I’m in the grass all wine colored”. No further description provided, and yet you can totally see it, can’t you? Do you need any more words than these in order to picture the scene in your head? No, you do not.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes one line is worth a thousand pictures.

Are there any other One Line Songs out there? Let me know if you know of any!

6 responses to “The Beauty of One Line Songs

  • whyskeletonwhy

    Does the Flaming Lips ‘Hot Day’ count? “They say it was so hot today grown men were going up to cops and begging them to shoot them”.

    It’s interesting that one lyrics site got them wrong, then another and another and another which suggest they all just lift the lyrics off of each other, perpetuating mistakes ad infinitum

    • Spencer

      I think that would qualify! I will listen to it. Good suggestion!

      “Perpetuating mistakes ad infinitum”…I feel like that’s what the internet is all about! Ahem…except for this site, of course 😉

  • Brendo

    I have always been way too intimidated to write a song because it needed to be deep and meaningful… this post is very inspiring!!! Harmonies and bone rattling bass is all you need!

  • ohdanyel

    I think Broken by Teenage Fanclub counts as an amazing one line song – “Your heart has been broken again. It’s broken. It’s broken.”

    sooo beautiful

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