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7 Great Songs with Spoken Word Lyrics: Blur, Tom Waits, and more

 

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There are countless lyrics that sound totally idiotic when spoken instead of sung, but sometimes a songwriter will come up with some lyrics that can't really be pinned onto to a melody. Here are seven great songs with spoken word lyrics.

 1. Blur - "Parklife" (1994)

Despite the fact that the lyrics to Blur's "Parklife" are in English, I still have no idea what they're about (or what a "dustman" is). Though singer Damon Albarn performs the spoken-word verses in concert, they're performed by actor Phil Daniels on the recording and in the music video, in an almost absurdly heavy Cockney accent.

2. Galaxie 500 - "Fourth of July" (1990)

Dean Wareham's singing voice is one of Galaxie 500's most distinctive traits, but on the band's third and final album This Is Our Music, Wareham opens the album with some bizarre spoken lyrics about writing a poem on a dog biscuit. Having been born in New Zealand and later living in Australia, New York City, and Boston, Wareham has quite an unusual and awkward accent.

3. Tom Waits - "Shore Leave" (1983)

Tom Waits' love of beat poetry revealed itself in a number of spoken-word songs throughout his career, but his best is this track from 1983's Swordfishtrombones, which vividly describes the experience of a soldier on shore leave in Southeast Asia. The lyrics are classic Waits, and the line "shot billiards with a midget until the rain stopped" might be the definitive Tom Waits lyric.

4. The Velvet Underground - "The Gift" (1968)

The Velvet Underground's second album White Light/White Heat took the noise and experimentation of the band's debut and pushed it to its extreme. The album's second track "The Gift" is unusual not just in its structure, but also in how it was recorded. When listening to the song through headphones, bassist John Cale can be heard reciting a darkly comic short story in your left ear, while the band performs a noisy jam in your right.

5. Cap'n Jazz - "Tokyo" (1998)

Though many Cap'n Jazz songs come off sounding like music set to Tim Kinsella's feverishly written nonsense (which totally rules), this spoken-word track is an insightful commentary on architecture and urban sprawl. Although the song isn't very long, Kinsella reads the lyrics off of a sheet of paper when performing the song in concert.

6. Slint - "Good Morning, Captain" (1991)

Four of the six tracks off of Slint's Spiderland LP feature spoken lyrics, but the most intense is the 7-minute closer "Good Morning, Captain," which tells the harrowing story of a sinking ship. Singer Brian McMahan allegedly screamed so hard at the climax of this song that he became physically ill.

7. Minutemen - "History Lesson - Part II" (1984)

Minutemen's first "History Lesson" was a 38-second punk song about how the first humans killed each other, but "History Lesson - Part II" is two minutes of guitarist D. Boon telling the brief history of the band itself. The song is the closest to a ballad the band ever came, and the opening lyric, "Our band could be your life," served as the title to an excellent book by Michael Azerrad about American indie rock in the '80s.

WARNING: strong language

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