Some people love to quote lines from classic movies. Others cite the best lines from their favorite poems. Me? I’m all about classic rock lyrics! But my readers already know this, seeing as how this will be my 12th Lyrics Quiz on Hack’s Back Pages.
In the past, I’ve selected lyrics from Beatles songs, Paul Simon tunes, soul records, songs from movies, hit singles, deep tracks and more. This time around, I’ve chosen 20 classic rock songs with lyrics that make us smile, chuckle or laugh out loud.
Take a look at the 20 lines listed below, ruminate on them, and write down your answers on a piece of paper. Then scroll down to see how many you identified correctly, and read a little bit of background about each one. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end so you can listen to where the lyric appears in each track.
Music’s here for us to love each day. Let’s have a little fun!
1 “My Maserati does one-eighty-five, /I lost my license, now I don’t drive…”
2 “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…”
3 “Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister Customs Man…”
4 “There’s a light in your eye, and then a guy says, ‘Out of the car, longhair!’…”
5 “I told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been…”
6 “Is there nothing I can take to relieve this bellyache?…”
7 “Now I’m playing it real straight, and yes, I cut my hair, /You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care…”
8 “Well, there’s nothing to do, and there’s always room for more, /Fill it, light it, shut up and close that door…”
9 “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?..”
10 “I wanna squeeze her, but I’m way too low, I would be runnin’ but my feets too slow…”
11 “When I began the game, hear me singin’ ’bout fire and rain, /Let me just say it again, ‘I’ve seen fives and I’ve seen tens’…”
12 “That cigarette you’re smokin’ ’bout scare me half to death, /Open up the window, sucker, let me catch my breath…”
13 “Putting drumsticks on either side of his nose, snorting the best licks in town…”
14 “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes…”
15 “I whipped off her bloomers and stiffened my thumb, and applied rotation on her sugar plum…”
16 “I was so pleased to be informed of this, that I ran twenty red lights in His honor, /Thank you, Jesus…”
17 “The owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a fence post…”
18 “So put down your books and pick up a gun, we’re gonna have a whole lotta fun…”
19 “Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best, and he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest…”
20 “I’m blowing the day to take a walk in the sun, /And fall on my face on somebody’s new-mown lawn…”
1 “Life’s Been Good,” Joe Walsh, 1978
Walsh, one of rock’s best guitarists, has always been one of rock’s more colorful characters as well, joking about life and keeping things light. In his biggest hit from his aptly named “But Seriously Folks” album, he makes fun of himself and his excessive rock star tendencies in multiple verses. I love the irony in someone owning an expensive car but unable to drive it because his license was taken away!
2 “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon, 1973
Most of us have memories of suffering through required high school classes full of useless information we’d never need later in life. Simon found a way to nail this nearly universal sentiment in one of pop music’s most cynical opening lines. The rest of “Kodachrome” is a breezy yet thoughtful appreciation of the things that color our world, but that first line cracks me up every time I hear it, and I always sing along at top volume.
3 “Comin’ Into Los Angeles,” Arlo Guthrie, 1969
Guthrie had made his name as a wry songwriter with the epic “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” in 1967, and then cemented his street cred at Woodstock, where he opened his set with this jocular song about a stoned hippie trying to sneak some marijuana into the country. He’d recorded “Comin’ In to Los Angeles” earlier that year, but its appearance on the “Woodstock” soundtrack album was what made it famous.
4 “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” Loggins & Messina, 1972
Jim Messina’s song tracks the life of a typical teenager stuck with square parents who try to limit his fun times with his girlfriend. On one occasion, they’re gettin’ busy in the back seat when they’re interrupted by a cop, who overreacts with “Out of the car, longhair!” I saw Messina perform here in L.A. a couple years ago, and this song, played near show’s end, is still a big crowd pleaser.
5 “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels Band, 1979
The tale of a fiddle competition between Satan and a good ol’ Southern boy was Charlie Daniels’ ticket to the Top 5 of the pop charts in 1979. Making a deal with the Devil is serious business, but Daniels found a way to make it clever, with the Devil coming out on the short end and the young man Johnny defiantly declaring victory as the better fiddler.
6 “Coconut,” Nilsson, 1972
Harry Nilsson was a very creative songwriter who was once singled out by Lennon and McCartney as one of their favorites, which was no small achievement. He penned some serious, thought provoking songs as well as some whimsical ones, the best known of which was probably “Coconut,” which builds and builds as it repeats the prescription for the protagonist’s bellyache and other ills.
7 “Hip To Be Square,” Huey Lewis and The News, 1986
Huey Lewis and The News were pegged as a frat boy party band, with a relatively clean look and stage persona. So it wasn’t too much of a stretch when Lewis and the band wrote this fun tune that claimed it was OK to follow the rules and conform to society’s expectations. Hipsters of the ’80s loved the irony of the lyrics and took to cutting their hair short and wearing “square” clothing styles. What a hoot.
8 “Shanty,” Jonathan Edwards, 1971
Edwards, best known for his 1971 hit “Sunshine,” also wrote this wonderfully cheeky song about staying home and putting a good buzz on. There was plenty of that going on in the early ’70s, but at that time, songwriters had to be relatively discreet in talking about it, and Edwards did a fine job of using humor to do just that. I love singing along to this one, usually with a knowing wink and a smile.
9 “With a Little Help From My Friends,” The Beatles, 1967
As sessions for the landmark “Sgt. Pepper” album were drawing to a close, they still hadn’t come up with a song that featured Ringo on vocals, as each previous album had done. So John and Paul collaborated on this self-deprecating singalong, with lyrics that poked fun at their drummer’s sometimes shaky vocal abilities. Pretty gutsy, and amusing, to begin a song by apologizing if the singer sounds off-key.
10 “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu,” Johnny Rivers, 1972
In 1957, the US was hit with outbreaks of both the “walking” pneumonia and the “asian flu.” Huey “Piano” Smith, an R&B artist who helped influence the direction rock and roll music would take, turned those illnesses into musical maladies in this lighthearted rocker. His version stalled at #56 on the pop charts, but in 1972, singer Johnny Rivers revived the tune and made it a #6 hit in early 1973.
11 “Money Machine,” James Taylor, 1976
Taylor writes and sings a lot of “feel good” music with lyrics that evoke warm thoughts and emotions, but he’s not exactly a jokester as a rule. Still, the occasional deep track offers a playful line or two that makes me smile. Consider this lyric from “Money Machine,” an exuberant song from his 1976 LP “In the Pocket” that satirizes his breakthrough hit “Fire and Rain” while skewering the endless pursuit of fame and fortune.
12 “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” Three Dog Night, 1970
Newman is most recently known for his delightful tunes in the “Toy Story” trilogy and other animated films, but he’s been writing sardonic, wry lyrics since his late ’60s career debut. He’s the guy who wrote “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the humorous #1 hit for Three Dog Night in which the naive narrator shares his anxiety and discomfort attending a party where drinking and drug use are rampant.
13 “Lather,” Jefferson Airplane, 1968
Grace Slick was the most striking, visible member of the band with a fabulous rock voice, but she didn’t write very many songs. But when she did, she made them count: “White Rabbit” is hers, as is the captivating leadoff track from the “Crown of Creation” album, “Lather,” which she wrote about Spencer Dryden, the band’s drummer. Her description of his cocaine use always struck me as funny.
14 “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Jimmy Buffett, 1978
Buffett has made a successful career writing and performing songs that make us smile and laugh: “The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful,” “It’s Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet,” “Off to See the Lizard,” “Last Mango in Paris.” He somehow found a way to turn one of his funniest songs — an ode to the almighty cheeseburger — into a lucrative restaurant chain. How do you like your cheeseburger?
15 “Dinah-Moe Humm,” Frank Zappa, 1973
From the early Mothers of Invention LPs to his many solo albums, Zappa had his tongue firmly in cheek when he wrote his lyrics. Sometimes clean, often dirty, his songs went where other songwriters dared not tread: “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” “Valley Girl,” “Your Dirty Love,” “Stick It Out.” Top of the list is the outrageously hilarious “Dinah-Moe Humm,” which focuses on a wager about an orgasm(!).
16 “Far Away Eyes,” The Rolling Stones, 1978
Thanks to the influence of the late Gram Parsons, the Jagger-Richard songwriting axis often leaned toward country rock, most notably on “Wild Horses” in 1971. On their ferocious 1978 comeback LP “Some Girls,” The Stones wrote their most country-ish song of all, “Far Away Eyes,” in which the narrator recalls listening to gospel radio and preposterously concluding God will let him get away with ignoring traffic laws.
17 “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me),” Tom Waits, 1976
Jazz/blues/rock singer Waits writes wryly perceptive songs about the underbelly of society, delivered in a gravelly voice that gives them realism. On his 1976 album “Small Change,” Waits offers this marvelous example of wordplay in a droll, stream-of-consciousness manner that’s as amusing as it is profound. You decide — is it Waits or the piano that’s been doing the drinking?
18 “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag,” Country Joe and The Fish, 1967
There were plenty of creatively strange musicians in the Bay Area in the ’60s, and “Country” Joe McDonald was certainly one of them. Of the many anti-war songs written during the Vietnam era, McDonald’s “we’re all gonna die” folk tune was the morbidly funniest. In the “Woodstock” film, his performance of it was accompanied by a trailer at the bottom of the movie screen with lyrics and a bouncing ball!
19 “Excitable Boy,” Warren Zevon, 1978
There are probably a dozen or more songs in Zevon’s impressive catalog of original material that qualify as humorous, topped by his 1978 surprise hit “Werewolves of London.” I’ve always been partial to the title song from that same album, “Excitable Boy,” which has background vocals by Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes. The crazy young man does several gruesome things, but the incident in this lyric is just bizarre.
20 “Daydream,” The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966
John Sebastian, the happy-go-lucky singer and songwriter behind The Lovin’ Spoonful, wrote some of the best “good time jug music” of the ’60s, hitting the charts a dozen times during their four-year run. One of the silliest and most popular was “Daydream,” which encouraged everyone to chill and enjoy watching the days go by. This lyric image always made me chuckle when it came along on the radio.