Thoughts in songs

December 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

In a recent book review in the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Epstein wrote the following, quoting Yip Harburg, the song lyricist who wrote, among other memorable songs, the lyrics to "Over the Rainbow" from "Wizard of Oz":

In the realm of cognition there are thoughts and there are feelings, but "a song," Harburg held, "makes you feel a thought." Thus it can be more powerful than either on its own.

- Joseph Epstein, Passing the Memorability Test, Wall Street journal, Dec 29, 2012.

I find this very insightful, and certainly true with myself. And after only a little more thought, I have to say that it is obvious, so perhaps not so profound if you're one of those for whom ideas cannot be simultaneously both obvious and profound. In any case I offer the following examples of thoughts that are made immensely more powerful by the feelings invoked from being put to music. I challenge you to do likewise with your own personal repertoire of songs.

  1. The thoughts of isolation and loneliness from traveling in a far off land, put to music in Farewell to Tarwathie (see the versions by Judy Collins or Custer Larue in particular), or King of California by Dave Alvin.
  2. Thoughts on the toils and struggles of cheap migrant labor in providing the fresh foods I so enjoy, put to music in Deportees (Plane wreck at Los Gatos), or Pastures of Plenty (see the version by the group Solas), both written by Woody Guthrie.
  3. Thoughts on sin and forgiveness put to music in Amazing Grace. Actually all hymns could be given as examples since the purpose of a hymn is specifically to amplify the feelings invoked by the words.
  4. Thoughts on enjoying life with not too much money, and otherwise being laid-back LA cool - a life style I kind of envy - put to music in Poor Man's Shangri-La by Ry Cooder.
  5. The tragicomic aspect of capitalism vs communism of the 20th century - put to music in Waiting for the Great Leap Forward by Billy Bragg.
  6. The joy of being alive - put to music in Feelin' Good sung by Nina Simone (and many others).

Oh well, these were some random examples that came to my mind quickly for some reason. I could go on forever by just looking through my playlists. If you're looking for some good songs any of the above are worth a listen.


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