One of the joys of music is in delving into the lyrics and meanings behind our favorite songs. However, not all songs have truly deep lyrics and meanings at their core. This is a subject that is close to my heart, as song lyrics ultimately inspired me to become a musician and a writer at a young age.
In this list, I put together all of my favorite songs with the deepest lyrics and meanings behind them. There are 60 songs in total.
I also made sure to go the extra mile and linked to the full lyrics for each song so that you can go further into the deep meaning behind these amazing song lyrics. Where possible, I also tried to pick videos that have the lyrics on screen!
I hope you enjoy this list of the 60 best songs with deep lyrics and meanings:
Wonderful – Everclear
Wonderful’s lyrics tell the story of a tough childhood with fighting parents and trying to find your place in the world. This song was always playing in the car when I was growing up, so it always bring back memories for me. It really captures that feeling of “young angst” many of us have in our early years.
Canadian Rose – Blues Traveler
My favorite Blues Traveler song, the lyrics tell of a love affair between an American and Canadian. The live version above really captures the power and meaning of the deep lyrics.
The End of the Movie – Cake
This deceptively simple song has extremely powerful lyrics and is open to many meanings. Even though life has its challenges, nobody wants to leave “before the end of the movie” because it has its beautiful moments too.
Extreme Ways – Moby
This was my first introduction to Moby’s music. To me, its lyrics tell the story of going to the very “extreme” edge. Sometimes we go too far (“then it fell apart”). The meaning may be the danger of excess and pushing things too far. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gkbsOywVxU
Brokedown Palace – The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead’s lyrics were part of what first inspired me to become a writer and musician. They remain very powerful to me to this day – especially the Hunter-Garcia songs. Brokedown Palace has particularly beautiful and deep lyrics. It is rumored that Robert Hunter wrote this song, To Lay Me Down, and Ripple in the same day! Now that’s lyrical talent.
School – Supertramp
I hated school growing up. I felt like it stifled my creativity and made learning extremely boring. Apparently, the guys in Supertramp felt the same way. They allude to this in Logical Song (one of their biggest hits) but the lyrics of school go even deeper, capturing the conformity that is all too common in our school system.
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
One of James Taylor’s most beloved songs is Fire and Rain – and deservingly so. The songs lyrics are a deep, moving, classic tribute to a childhood friend who committed suicide.
The lyrics also explore other prominent themes that appear elsewhere in James Taylor’s songs, such as drug addiction, depression, fame, and more.
The Weight – the Band
The Weight has amazing lyrics that are open to a wide variety of meanings. They contain several Biblical allusions… The protagonist encounters multiple characters who all ask favors of him, and he ends up with quite a heavy cross to bear, so to speak.
Aqualung – Jethro Tull
Aqualung is a lyrical masterpiece, capturing the duality of the human condition. One “viewpoint” sees an old homeless as perverted and filthy “eyeing little girls with bad intent.” The other possibility is that this is “An old man wandering lonely / Taking time the only way he knows.”
Don’t Talk to Stranger – Dio
Ronnie James Dio, is to me, an underrated singer and songwriter. One of my favorite Dio songs is Don’t Talk to Stranger. I particularly like the lyrics “Don’t write in starlight / ‘Cause the words may come out real” but the whole song is quite deep, and perfect if you’re in the mood for something heavier.
The Stranger – Billy Joel
The Stranger describes “the secret self” that we all have, and hide away from others: “Though we share so many secrets / There are some we never tell.” Is keeping secrets a necessary evil, or the root of the downfall of all relationships? Listen to the song to find out.
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – Willie Nelson
Lost love is one of those eternal themes, and Willie Nelson captures it perfectly in the lyrics of Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain: “Love is like a dyin’ ember / Only memories remain.”
The lyrics were originally written by Rose Fred.
What is Life – George Harrison
Another classic love song, this has always been my favorite George Harrison song, largely because of the lyrics.
He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
This George Jones tune tells the story of faithful love, so faithful that it goes on until both lovers have passed from this world…
Pusher – Alt J
When I first heard this song the feelings of loneliness cut straight through to me. I encourage you to listen to it. It is kind of “stripped down and minimalistic” but extremely powerful, and the lyrics are excellent:
Are you a pusher or are you a puller?
I pull the weight towards me
And I lack the zest of a lemon, looking forward
Unless I have a woman pushing me
Killing Yourself to Live – Black Sabbath
The meaning of this song is still uncertain to me. It could either be about the treadmill of materialism and workahol-ism, or about the struggles of drug addiction. Pay close attention to the lyrics and let me know which you think it is.
Schooldays – The Kinks
This one will bring back all the nostalgia of school – even if you hated it. For as the lyrics say: “Schooldays were the happiest days / Though at the time they filled me with dismay” …
Where the Sidewalk Ends – George Strait
This is another tale of lost love. It’s easily my favorite George Strait song:
Where the sidewalk ends and the road begins
I’ll wait for you in the cold dark night
You might come back, you had to go
Where the sidewalk ends I’ll never know
Green Man – Type O Negative
Green Man’s lyrics capture the change of the seasons perfectly, and the cycles of nature. I find myself listening to this one whenever we transition into a new season… but Type O Negative is particularly powerful during autumn. After all, their album that this song comes from is titled October Rust.
Old Man – Neil Young
This Neil Young song was written for the caretaker of the Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch, which Young purchased for $350,000 in 1970.
The song compares a young man’s life to an old man’s and shows that the young man has, to some extent, the same needs as the old one.
Letterbomb – Green Day
This is my favorite Green Day song. The lyrics and music come together to capture the incredible energy that Green Day is known for.
Kristy, Are You Doing Okay? – The Offspring
This is my favorite Offspring song. It’s about a friend who is clearly dealing with child abuse and a rough home life.
She’s Always a Woman – Billy Joel
Another Billy Joel lyrical masterpiece from The Stranger album. One of the best love songs ever.
Small Town Southern Man – Alan Jackson
Click Here to Read Full Lyrics
Small Town Southern Man is about the joy and beauty of a simple life.
Can I Play with Madness – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden has some of the deepest lyrics in classic metal. I particularly like the opening lines from Can I Play with Madness:
Give me the sense to wonder
To wonder if I’m free
Give me a sense of wonder
To know I can be me
Piece of Wood and Steel – David Allan Coe
If you’re a guitarist, this is a song you need to know. It’s about how your guitar is always there for you, even when the rest of your life falls apart. “All I ever needed was that piece of wood and steel.”
Jumper – Third Eye Blind
The power of this song’s lyrics didn’t stand out to me until I saw the scene above, from Yes Man with Jim Carie. It really shows how music has the power to save lives.
Code Monkey – Jonathan Coulton
This song tells the story of a guy who works a boring job, but slowly falls in love with a coworker. It’s popular with a lot of coders and software developers.
Chiseled In Stone – Vern Gosdin
In Vern Gosdin’s Chiseled in Stone, one man learns that the trials in his relationship are a small challenge compared to a man who has lost his wife.
Eminence Front – the Who
One of the Who’s best songs both lyrically and musically, Eminence Front reminds me a bit of Billy Joel’s The Stranger, which I covered earlier. It’s about the “front” or “put on” that we take up to conceal our true selves.
Closer to the Heart – Rush
While the meaning of Closer to the Heart is simple, the lyrics are still deep. Overall the song is about forging a new reality closer to the heart, and more aligned with love, art, and creativity.
Big Log – Robert Plant
Big Log is an excellent “song of the open road,” perhaps about a long-distance trucker. Either way, the song lyrics capture the romance of highway travel.
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
To many of us, Stairway to Heaven may be a bit “overplayed” and this causes the amazing lyrics to be overlooked. Can we buy a stairway to heaven? Do material goods buy happiness? These are some of the questions the song raises.
Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan
This song is amazing because it almost seems to encapsulate a character’s entire life in just a few verses, and yet hold your attention and interest all throughout. Like other songs on this list, recurring themes are travel and romance.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
I always loved the lyrics of this song. To me, the meaning of Goodbye Yellowbrick Road is about a return to a simple life in rural farm country, and leaving behind a more materialistic/careerist existence:
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough
I Got a Name – Jim Croce
This is one of the deepest songs on this list. To me, it’s about the purpose or life mission that we are all destined for.
Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
Obviously, the lyrics of this song are closely intertwined to death. There are several allusions to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, who committed a lover’s suicide.
My Hero – Foofighters
Dave Grohl has said that this song’s lyrics are about “heroes that are ordinary.” All the people that we idolize are, at the end of the day, just normal human beings like everybody else.
Father and Son – Cat Stevens
This excellent Cat Stevens song perfectly captures many of the arguments fathers have with their sons about love and dreams. Ultimately, the son seems to feel largely misunderstood by the father in the lyrics.
She’ll Leave You With a Smile – George Strait
George Strait’s She’ll Leave You With a Smile perfectly captures the trials of love, and ultimately leaves you with the impression that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Canadian Railroad Trilogy – Gordon Lightfoot
Most know Gordon Lightfoot for his epic masterpiece The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Canadian Railroad Trilogy is an equally ambitious song, with lyrical themes ranging from the industrial revolution to colonialism and North American history.
Take This Heart of Gold – Mandolin Orange
This poignant lovesong by Mandolin Orange aims to reconcile our urges to travel and discover new horizons, with the equally strong urge to settle down and build a home with the one we love.
Upside Down – Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson’s inspiring song will help silence the critics in your life and return to your inner creative energy. This one is also imbued with a bit of childhood nostalgia for me.
Gentle on My Mind – Glen Campbell
This is another song that similarly tries to balance love and freedom. It also hints at the idea that love can live on in our memories forever, gently “on our mind.” Originally by John Hartford.
Massachusetts – Bee Gees
This is a romantic song about returning to one’s home to see “the one that got away” (a lost love):
Feel I’m goin’ back to Massachusetts
Something’s telling me I must go home
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
The day I left her standing on her own
If That Ain’t Country – David Allan Coe
This is a song about growing up poor in rural America. It’s one of David Allan Coe’s most loved songs, largely because of its lyrics.
Limelight – Rush
Rush’s Limelight is largely about the struggles of fame that come with being a famous musician: “I can[‘t pretend a stranger / is a long-awaited friend.”
Forever and Ever, Amen – Randy Travis
This is about a former ladies’ man who has “settled down” and found a woman he can finally love forever and ever, amen.
I’m No Stranger to the Rain – Keith Whitley
I never really thought about the words to this song until seeing them in this video… powerful writing. This is a story and it’s told very well by one of country music’s classic voices. It’s an anthem for anyone who’s had tough times and come out of them on the other side.
Time – Pink Floyd
As the title implies, Pink Floyd’s Time is about the limited time that we all have in our own lives, and how it often slips away from us far too fast.
Georgie – Doc Watson
This song is about a man who committed a crime against the king, and is now sentenced to die, even though he is beloved by a royal maiden (the king’s daughter/pricness?)
Highway 40 Blues – Ricky Skaggs
Highway 40 Blues is about a disillusioned musician who has traveled around the country, but ultimately finds that he misses his home (Dixieland) as he is still a country boy at heart.
How am I Supposed to Live Without You? – Michael Bolton
One of Michael Bolton’s most famous songs, and a classic “breakup” tune for obvious reasons.
The Last Thing on My Mind – Tom Paxton / Tony Rice / John Denver
This song has been covered by everyone from Tony Rice to John Denver, but the original amazing lyrics were penned by Tom Paxton.
That’s Life – Frank Sinatra
This song is largely about life’s ups and downs:
That’s what all the people say
You’re riding high in April, shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
Running on Empty – Jackson Browne
In Running on Empty, a road trip inspires the main speaker to look back on his life. Ultimately the speaker still feels somewhat lost in life even in the present day:
You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find
Running into the sun but I’m running behind
April Come She Will – Simon & Garfunkel
This song beautifully parallels the “cycles” of love to the turning of the season.
You’re Gonna Miss This – Trace Adkins
Trace Adkins captures how even life’s trials will be beautiful memories someday. Even the things that seem like a struggle today, we’ll look back and “miss them” in the near future.
Long Black Train – Josh Turner
Josh Turner’s Long Black Train has strong Christian themes running throughout. We can all find a better way in life by “burning our ticket” to that long black train.
Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
Some have proposed that Solsbury Hill also has a Christian message. It’s certainly possible given the song’s most prominent recurring line: “Son,” he said, “I’ve come to take you home.”