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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“Wash Jones” - Squirrel Nut Zippers (1995)

“I was talking to an oak tree when a cypress butted in
Out of car parts, a raven made a nest inside my skin”

Jimbo Mathus loves swampy Southern Gothic, and he also loves transposing it. Plenty of other musical genres find their way into SNZ’s neo-swing. One of their best songs, “Ghost of Stephen Foster,” is chockful of absurdist lyrics that fit beautifully with the Cajun/Klezmer hybrid music. He revisited this pattern in many more songs.

But I don’t know if he ever dove as deep into the Southern mystery as he did on “Wash Jones” from SNZ’s debut album. The fact that he chose a classic native Faulkner character as his subject was a tipoff. We’d be dealing with strange voodoo. This is a portrait song of an odd character and the lyrics are intentionally incomprehensible.

But they are not nonsense, and that’s what makes the song work, at least on a lyrical basis. Mathus serves up recognizable images – cleaning fish, selling cotton – but in unrecognizable contexts. That’s why this opening couplet works. Unlike the “stairway to heaven” image, the rest of this song will build on the vague incongruity – the displacement we might feel.

As the chorus explains – ‘To understand me better, you all have to follow me home.” This is a song about understanding a character who exists in a different realm from the rest of us – one in which you may very well have a nice chat with an oak tree. (provided one of those pushy cypresses doesn’t butt it.)

Verdict: Good lyrics