Metaphors can be like post-it-notes. You can find them almost anywhere and sometimes they never seem to stick, no matter what they were ostensibly designating in the first place.
Remember the neo-cult-classic 1993 film Airheads? In it, Brendan Fraser (playing a Gen-X rocker with a “loaded” squirt-gun) debates with Joe Mantegna (playing a grouchy former hipster and Baby Boomer) about the profundity of their respective musical generations. “You’re telling me,” Fraser cocks an eyebrow back at Mantegna’s sacred 60’s, “that ‘Purple Haze’ says something?”
Well…! Maybe! Right?
One has to be careful. A.) Sometimes a song really IS just about an actual thing. And, B.) truly…some songs aren’t about ANYTHING, really.
If anything, we hope this modest list gets you thinking about some of the ambiguity-laced lyrics that might be otherwise fluttering past your ears, chorus-to-chorus, as you stream the next batch of singles from the Best Of Whoever’s Next.
I mean, really, what did the B-52’s mean, in “Love Shack” when they shouted: “TIN ROOF….rusted!” We could be here for hours.
Here are 10 great metaphors in song:
10. Starland Vocal Band – “Afternoon Delight”
Metaphor for: Daytime sex winning out over cold showers
Did anyone see the parody of this song on Arrested Development? No one expects a song that sounds so sweet and innocent to actually be so lascivious. Horny, really! It’s right around that “sticks and stones” part where everyone usually gets creeped out and stops singing-along.
9. Run D.M.C. – “My Adidas”
Metaphor for: Achievement / career break-out / rap going global
If you walked a few miles in Run-D.M.C.’s shoes, specifically those laceless Adidas they rocked so well in the ’80s, then you’d notice that you were entering arenas, doing festivals and meeting and collaborating with some big name people. They may just be sneakers, but this jam was about a journey, a progression; it was during the moment of rap’s big arrival on the global scene.
8. The Eagles – “Hotel California”
Metaphor for: Deceptive evils of celebrity, materialism, music industry, California in general.
That “pretty face” is pretty tempting, right? But it sums up the fickleness and transient, fleeting and fake nature of all the glamor found out west in Hollywood-land. We know you’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s gotta make the list.
7. Tori Amos – “Crucify”
Metaphor for: Sexism
With Tori Amos releasing a new album (Unrepentant Geraldines) just last month, we thought we’d include this song from her major label debut. Raised by a preacher and later tied to the third-wave of feminism in the early 90’s, this is Amos’ ballad that was a not-so-subtle challenge to the voices of authority, inside the church and out across a wider patriarchal society. The metaphorical device here, (the crucifix,) is a bit overt, but sometimes that’s needed; sacrilegious as some might have seen it at the time, it could also be read as merely anthem to stave off doubt and self-imposed limitations.
6. Radiohead – “Idioteque” / “Everything In It’s Right Place”
Metaphors for: Dangers of distraction, realizing its already too late: it’s doomsday! / compromises of fame
There are too many Radiohead songs we could have spotlighted. There are countless metaphorical songs from countless artists (Flaming Lips? Pink Floyd? Jimi Hendrix?), really. We decided, instead, to just nod to, essentially, the entirety of their 2000 album Kid A. Again, yes, OK Computer and, much more overtly, Hail To The Thief, are both rife with symbolism, but let’s just dance a bit to the foreboding hellfire of “Idioteque,” a mashing of the escapist dancers in a discoteque and the clueless, pitiable masses of, say, an “Idiocracy.” Listen to all the chaos in this song: everyone’s phones are going off and people are cramming into the bunkers, grasping their bank accounts, taking stock of the lives they spent, mostly surfing the internet, spoiled (and distracted) by their access to “everything all the time.”
Having secured substantial fame in the alt-rock world of the late ’90s with their Grammy-winning OK Computer, they kicked off their next album with this darkly dazzling mantra picking apart the false perceptions of perfection, when it comes to the famous people and how these avant-gardists were going to have to suck on a lemon every day to achieve the idyllic camera-friendly smiles. “What was that you tried to say?” Can you even communicate whatever it was you wanted to say to the pop-mainstream masses?