An album with a handful of songs with great lyrics is one thing, but a whole album’s worth of great lyrics is truly a treat. Here are some albums that stand out to me for being lyrically consistently excellent. I didn’t include any rap albums because there would be too many to put on this list, but I do give my respect to excellent rappers.
Joni Mitchell – Blue
I’m just going to go ahead and dub Joni Mitchell the queen of the early singer-songwriter movement. If you’re going to argue against me, good luck trying to find an album as consistently great as Blue. Mitchell’s way of storytelling is so vivid and true, she says the perfect thing when we least expect it and it catching us off guard – which is exactly what great lyrics are supposed to do.
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
When you get down to it, Bob Dylan was always a poet. Stealing song structures from Woody Guthrie, Dylan turned tradition on its head with quirky storytelling that is at times vivid, laugh-out-loud funny, provocative, and demeaning. Though all his albums have excellent lyrics, Highway 61 Revisited stands out to me for being his most visually satisfying album. I can see Miss lonely’s diplomat with a siamese cat on his shoulders in “Like A Rolling Stone”. I feel pity for Mr. Jones who clearly cannot make sense of what he sees in “Ballad Of A Thin Man”. And of course I know all about what happens down at Desolation Row.
Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
I’m more of a Darkness On The Edge Of Town kind of guy, but I have to give credit to Born To Run for having the better lyrics. The whole album feels like a mini movie, with Springsteen as the hero trying to break out of his dismal life to find his promised land, and he’s getting there on a hot ride with his gal at his side. Springsteen has such power and passion in his words, you can’t help but get inspired. It also doesn’t hurt that its opening track might possibly have the greatest lyrics of rock & roll.
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
I’m 100% bias towards anything Ryan Adams does, so of course I put Heartbreaker on here. Bias aside, this album is called Heartbreaker for a reason. Adams tattoos his heart on his sleeve with devastating accounts of bad love and loneliness. “To Be The One” could be the lyrical highlight of the album, “The sun it tries to warn me, Boy those wings are made of wax / While the things I do that kill me, They just tell me to relax.”
The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You
These brothers sure know how to tell it like it is. Very few albums are as direct in their story telling as I And Love And You, and very few are as good. The music is simple so the stories have more weight, and they sure do pack a punch. Many people compare the Avett Brothers to Mumford & Sons, and while the London sons have the emotion, these American brothers have the storytelling.
Teitur – Poetry & Aeroplanes
It’s unfortunate that more people have never heard of Teitur. The closest he ever got to potentially become big was with his excellent debut Poetry & Aeroplanes. The title track has one of my favorite lines on love (“Love is somewhere in-between, what you believe and what you dream.”) and I love how the whole album makes you feel like the lovable romantic who is behind all the music.
John Mayer – Continuum
John Mayer has always had better-than-average lyrics for his radio-friendly pop songs, but on Continuum his songs have more bite. True, most songs on the album are about his poor life (I’m rich and good looking, but I STILL can’t find love??), but he says it so nicely. I was caught off guard when I first heard “Stop This Train”. This is a song depicting what it’s like to grow up that gets your attention from the very first line (“No I’m not colorblind, I know the world is black and white”).
Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism
Only Ben Gibbard could sing a whole song about his car’s glove department and make it sound heartbreaking. Gibbard is one of indie rock’s more clever lyricist, and Transatlanticism is one of Death Cab’s highest achievements both musically and lyrically. The music demands your attention, but the lyrics make you stay.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
For all his surfer charm, Brian Wilson can be quite the cynic, especially with the ladies. Hidden underneath all the gorgeous harmonies and brilliant arrangements of Pet Sounds are tales about losing the ones you love, religion, and worries about the future – nothing you can really sing-a-long to at the beach. “Here Today” could be one of the greatest anti-love songs I’ve ever heard.
Were there any songs that I missed? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @HeadfoneNation and let me know what albums are full of great lyrics.
Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber