Eight classic rock songs with problematic lyrics

Do these classic rock songs have great lyrics or not?
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin / Michael Putland/GettyImages
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“Human” - The Killers (2008)

“Are we human, or are we dancer?”

Oh my, the internet still fumes over the grammar. Brandon Flowers, one of the credited songwriters and frontman of The Killers, seemed flabbergasted that people complained about the singular “dancer.” A certain segment of the grammar police wanted it to be “Are we human, or are we dancers.” As if that would have made everything all right.

It wouldn’t have. “Human” and “Dancer” are not easily recognizable counterparts. If you know the origin – “dancer” is a reference to a Hunter Thompson line about how sheeplike America had become – it does make sense. But out of context, “dancer” sounds like it would be creative and artistic. Flowers is attempting to juxtapose “human” against something mechanized, but I don’t think he succeeds.

Verdict: Bad lyrics

“Loser” - Beck (1993)

“In the days of chimpanzees, I was a monkey
Butane in my veins and I’m out to cut the junkie”

It isn’t as if Beck invented the loser song. The Everlys did “Cathy’s Clown" and the Beatles did “I’m a Loser” decades earlier. And that’s just modern pop. You can go back as far as there have been songs. Beck just happened to catch a particular wave of ‘90s emo self-loathing that struck a real chord in the post-Reagan years. A lot of young people had gotten absurdly rich in the 1980s. The ones who didn’t – well, they were the monkeys.

Absurdity is the key to Beck’s song. Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins surrounded “Loser” with their own “woe is me” songs but they played it somewhat straighter. Beck’s entire self-pitying diatribe is based on the fact that he doesn’t fit in. Thus, his lyrics are all built on that theme. After the brilliant opening line, he follows it with utter nonsense. But it is nonsense in the service of a consistent message about somehow being a square peg.

Verdict: Good lyrics