It's entirely possible to write a good song with lyrics that make no sense whatsoever. There are tons influential artists who've strung words together purely because they sound good, but don't let that make you think that writing a good song is as easy as spitting out a Donald Trump-esque word salad. There's creativity and poetry, and then there's just laziness.
So, here's a list of songs that work because of their nonsensical lyrics, along with examples of incompetent misfires that prove that it's much harder than it looks to make nonsense interesting.
1. The Beatles - "I Am The Walrus"
"Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower/ Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna/ Man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe."
Okay, so this is probably the most commonly-cited example of nonsensical lyrics. In case you didn't know, John Lennon wrote this song purely to screw with people. He got a letter from a fan about a college professor analyzing Beatles lyrics during his lectures, so he threw him a curve ball. And thus, we have lyrics like "Yellow matter custard dripping from the dead dog's eye."
Why it Works:
The nonsense is hilarious! Coupled with how wacky the actual music sounds, the absurdity of it all is what gives the tune its cheeky personality.
2. LFO - "Summer Girls"
Lyric: "New Kids On The Block had a bunch of hits/ Chinese food makes me sick."
I mean... I guess I can't argue with these lyrics. New Kids On the Block did, in fact, have a bunch of hits. And who am I to judge if Chinese food makes you sick? To each his own, bro. Also, it is true that William... or, *ahem*, Billy
Shakespeare wrote quite a few sonnets. How many sonnets, you may ask? "A whole bunch."
Why It Doesn't Work:
The whole song is purely a collection of unrelated statements that are made for the sake of rhyming. This isn't creativity, it's just laziness.
3. Radiohead - "Everything In Its Right Place"
4. Talking Heads - "I Zimbra"
Lyric: "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon/ yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon/ yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon."
This is the song that essentially birthed Kid A, Radiohead's electronica masterpiece mostly written in lyrics that read like Dada poetry (Thom Yorke wrote most of the songs by cutting up random words and phrases and pulling them out of a hat at random).
Why it Works: Theres a reason why Radiohead did not print out the lyrics for Kid A's liner notes: the abstract lyrics are too attached to the abstract nature of the music. Plus, I've always thought that Thom Yorke was recognizing the weirdness of the song with the line "What was that you tried to say?"
"Gadji beri bimba clandridi/ lauli lonni cadori gadjam"
Speaking of Dadaism, Talking Heads' "I Zimbra" was written as an adaptation of the famous Dadaist poet Hugo Ball's poem "Gadji Beri Bimba." There's simply no possible way to know what is being sung without having the lyrics in front of you, and then when you have the lyrics in front of you, you'll be even more confused than you were before.
Why It Works:
No band was better at not making sense than Talking Heads. They embraced the nonsensical personality of their music, and "I Zimbra" is the best example of just how damn catchy they often were whenever they threw the need for literal meaning out the window.
. Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby"
6. Bob Dylan - "Ballad Of a Thin Man"
Lyric: "Then I flow like a harpoon daily and nightly/ Will it ever stop? Yo -- I don't know."
I'm still confused as to why, out of all the two syllable words for things that actually flow, Ice chose the word "harpoon."
Why it Doesn't Work: I think I'll just let Adam Scott take care of this one:
Lyric: "Well the sword swallower comes up to you and then he kneels/ he crosses himself and then he clicks his high heels/ And without further notice he asks you how it feels/ And he says, "here is your throat back, thanks for the loan."
...huh? Much in the same way people are still analyzing "I Am the Walrus" to no end, people still scratch their heads at "Ballad of a Thin Man." Hell, no one knows, to this day, who "Mr. Jones" even is.
Why it Works:
Dylan puts you
in the role of Mr. Jones. Much like the main character in the song has no idea what's going on around him, neither do you. But, you're sure that there's some meaning behind it all that's escaping you. "You know something is happening here, but you don't know what it is."
7. Miley Cyrus - "Dooo It"
8. Beck - "Loser"
Example Lyric: "Yo, sing about love, love is what you need/ Loving what you sing, and loving smoking weed/ (Weed, weed, weed, weed)"
Miley's primary concern, at the time, was whether or not everybody was aware of the fact that she smokes pot. She didn't care if she made sense as long as she got that across.
Why it Doesn't Work: ...dude... what's the point.
9. Eiffel 65 - "Blue"
Lyric: "In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey/ butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie/ with the plastic eyeballs, spray paint the vegetables/ dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose."
Why it Works: Despite the nonsense, Beck still gets this message across that he's a total... well, loser. Somehow the imagery, while making no sense whatsoever, helps you picture the ill-advised antics of a slacker high school dropout.
Lyric: "I have a blue house with a blue window/ blue is the color of all that I wear/ blue are the streets and all the trees are too."
...So trees are blue, apparently. Everything is blue... just blue everywhere... it's all blue.
Why it Doesn't Work:
Okay, so here's my theory about this song. Everyone cracks jokes about how dumb it is, but really they're missing out on a well-written story about a sad man whose emotional state has become so "blue" that everything he sees around him appears to also be blue. Ever notice the lyric "blue inside and outside"? Also, the main character's apparent need to purchase blue things, like his house and is car, is a critique on modern consumeristic society.
...or this song just sucks, one or the other.