Student Question

What are some examples of figurative language in song lyrics?

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The original question has to do with figurative language and song lyrics which I'm sure you have access to if you love music.  I would suggest you try Amy Winehouse because if you can find figurative language in her dark songs, you can find it anywhere.  In her song, "Back to Black", she uses a simile with the phrase, "life is like a pipe" which is a comparison between two unlike objects using like or as and gives the picture of life being a long, narrow, confining pipe.  Another example from this same song is the metaphor she uses when she says, "And I'm a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside." She is saying she IS the penny which is a comparison between two unlike objects without using like or as which is a metaphor and gives the listener the image of her feeling very small and fearful.  This also can be used as personification as a penny cannot roll up anything itself which means it has been given the human power to do so.  The image of her being so small and rolling up so tightly inside is also effective to show her fear or despair.  Obviously, this artist would be okay for a college song lyric, but I would not use her for anyone younger as a classroom assignment.  As a teacher, Amy Winehouse's lyrics would cause too much grief because of her explicit words.

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A very long song that is a classic from the sixties is Don Mclean's "American Pie" that is in the form of stream-of-consciousness. It is, as Don McLean himself has said dreamlike, for, after a night's sleep, he awoke and wrote this song. McLean tells listeners not to try to make sense of it as it is part dream and part reality. "The day the music died" refers to the JFK assassination. In the song, too, there are allusions to othe iconic James Dean, a jester, and a king. "Helter skelter" is also used; this was an expression from the nefarious Charles Manson who had a cult following and was responsible for several murders. Many are the metaphors in this song: "sacrificial rite," "sacred store," "the last train for the coast."

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I agree with #3 - in a sense it may help you to think of songs as sung poems, with the same uses of figurative language that is characterised by poetry. For example, you might want to think about comparisons, and how the singer compares his or her beloved to something using similes or metaphors. Then you might want to think about imagery that is used to evoke the senses. These tips should help you to detect and analyse songs.

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The example I usually use with my students is "Time" by Pink Floyd. This song contains many examples of figurative language such as the metaphor of life as a race. "Dull day" is also an effective example of alliteration that causes the line slow down and take on a monotonous, repetitive tone.

Another great song that is full of allusions is "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel. The song is a large repeat of allusions combined with a metaphor comparing the world's problems with a fire.

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There are literally millions of examples. For instance, two of Madonna's songs are based almost entirely on a simile (a comparison using like or as) Those are "Like a Virgin" and "Like a Prayer" In her song "Spanish Eyes" there is a great example of metaphor (a comparison not using like or as) "the streets are paved with fear." Perhaps the easiest figurative language to find in song lyrics is the five different types of imagery: Tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), visual (sight), auditory (hearing) and gustatory (taste). These are phrases that directly appeal/engage the five senses. Allusion (alluding to a famous person, place, or event) is another type of figurative language often found in song lyrics. You can use the website below to search for song lyrics to serve as further examples.

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