Most of us are surrounded by music nearly every day of our lives. We hear it, and we take it for granted. But, sometimes, there is so much more going on.
So, what are the best songs with deep meaning? And what makes them “deep” in the first place? Some songwriters use plain, literal language. It doesn’t take too much thought, and it is often very clear.
Other songwriters delight in using metaphorical, figurative language hiding the real message of the song. The lyrics, therefore, are open to a certain amount of interpretation. I am sure we have all read about a song we like and thought, “I never knew that.”
That is what you could call some songwriters. Where the lyrics are poetry set to music. Bob Dylan is a good example of that. Poetry is often written in that way. Leaving it open to people’s interpretation and even, in some cases, their imagination.
There are plenty of songs that have a deep meaning to consider. And we will try and understand the songwriter’s lyrical intentions. Let’s start with two songs that, interestingly enough, might have a link other than their writer. Someone we will also see a bit more of later.
Top 120 Best Songs With Deep Meaning
It Ain’t Me Babe by Bob Dylan
1961 was a momentous year. Outgoing American President Eisenhower warns the people of the power of a growing Military Industrial Complex. Wasn’t wrong, was he? There was the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Russia built a wall between East and West Berlin.
Gagarin became the first man in space and orbited the earth. “West Side Story” was a big film. “Moon River” by Andy Williams and Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” made a musical impact.
But 1961 saw the arrival in New York of a young man from Minnesota. He had gone there to meet his idol, Woody Guthrie. He played his first gig supporting John Lee Hooker, and he became a legend.
In a few short months…
He had become the talking point of the New York folk clubs. They saw him as a hero. But he saw them differently. He enjoyed playing folk music, if you want to call it that. But he always knew he would move on to other things as well. They thought they owned him.
It is felt by some that this was one of several songs where he tried to move away from the image they created for him.
They saw him as the figurehead of a new, fast-growing protest movement within folk circles. He saw himself as a poet and singer with varying battles to fight, not just one.
At the time…
It looked like he had accepted that mantle offered him. But it wasn’t long before he was saying, “Go away from my window – Leave at your own chosen speed – I’m not the one you want, babe – I’m not the one you need.”
The song was included on his album, Another Side Of Bob Dylan, which also might be a hidden clue. It came out in 1964, a year after the next song, which might also have been an early message to some.
The song was written cleverly as if he were singing to a girl he was about to break up with. Maybe that was the problem. Many didn’t look close enough at what he was saying.
Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan
Another Dylan masterpiece of the time, this was released in 1963 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. When it comes to the best songs with deep meaning, this one always ranks near the top.
Dylan has always insisted “Blowin’ In The Wind” was not a deep meaning protest song. If it wasn’t, then what was it? The lyrics are built around a flow of rhetorical questions he is asking referring to War, Peace, and Freedom.
It had quite an impact. Mavis Staples, a civil right activist of the time, was especially shocked. She couldn’t understand how a young white boy could even begin to understand a black man’s problems.
The Questions Have No Answers
That is further evidence of his genius and the message of this song. The questions keep coming, but there is never an answer. Only that the answer is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Deeply ambiguous and a song designed to make people think.
And that may be part of the meaning behind the song. Maybe Dylan is telling us we need to start thinking for ourselves, not just blindly following someone and accepting their opinions.
A Hidden Message To Fans
An earlier message similar to the previous song, “It Ain’t Me Babe.” A warning, if you like, of setting him on a pedestal and turning him into an icon. He would never be that, nor did he want to be.
Dylan never saw himself as some modern-day messiah, although some did. He wants people to question everything that is around them.
“Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head? – And pretend that he just doesn’t see? – Yes, and how many ears must one man have? – Before he can hear people cry?”
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
This is a track of some importance in certain social circles. It was written mainly by drummer Bill Berry, although it is credited as a band composition. It was taken from the album released in 1992, Automatic For The People. The single was released a year later, in 1993.
It has a very melancholy feel to it, but it is a song with an important message. Essentially, it was written for young people, but it could apply to anyone feeling the same way.
The lyrics are not that difficult to come to grips with. The object lesson is to try and save lives. Suicide, especially among young people with their whole lives before them, is a frightening statistic.
It Is OK To Feel Hurt…
This song is an attempt to try and persuade them that it is okay to feel hurt and be disillusioned. We all go through it and struggle from time to time. But we get through it in the end. Even though, at times, it feels like we won’t.
The song struck a chord with a lot of people, even those that did not suffer from problems. Michael Stipe delivers a heartfelt and meaningful vocal. The song peaked at #7 in the UK and #29 in America.
And the string arrangement gives this song a lift and adds to the feeling. Who created that arrangement? John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Who else?
Blackbird by The Beatles
If anyone needed convincing just how far ahead The Beatles were, then this would be a good start. Hard to believe that “Love Me Do” was only six years before. This is a track taken from The White Album and features McCartney playing his Martin D28.
A couple of meanings are associated with the song…
Initially, he said he wrote the song after hearing a blackbird sing in India. That may be the case, but if so, it was a guarded attempt to hide the real meaning.
It has now been acknowledged that the song is about the racial tensions that existed and still exist today in America. The idea of a bird with broken wings is symbolic of America’s broken society. And, because the bird cannot fly, there seems to be no escape.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night – Take these broken wings and learn to fly – All your life – You were only waiting for this moment to arrive.”
Perhaps in those words…
We can also read a positive sign in that he is saying you can learn to fly. And the time to create a new future is now.
The fact that this song and The White Album came out at a time when the Civil Rights Movement may have been at its most powerful is no accident. As a result, it is one of the best songs with deep meaning.
I Am The Walrus by The Beatles
I’m including this song for the same reason that John wrote it, to have a bit of lyrical fun. It first appeared in the 1967 TV film “The Magical Mystery Tour” and the associated album that accompanied it.
John has taken an idea from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” The walrus is a character in a poem in that book entitled “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” This, in turn, was a sequel to “Alice in Wonderland,” which he had written in 1865.
It has long been thought that Lewis Carroll might have been under the influence of some substance when he wrote them. Their fantastical imagery, completely out of context with his time, was inspired by something.
No doubt about John, though…
He openly admitted he was “away with the fairies” when he wrote, “I Am The Walrus.” Some in his inner circle at the time were aware that he wrote it in that state of mind on purpose.
An Intentional Trick?
He was amused by those who would over-analyze and apply meaning to everything he did and wrote. Therefore, John wrote this song to give them something to ponder over. But, of course, a song that had no meaning at all.
However, in the midst of all that, some relevant phrases are interesting. “See how they run – Like pigs from a gun” is one. “Pigs” is a derogatory term often used to refer to the police. Running from a gun seems to indicate civil unrest, of which there was plenty.
There is a reference to the “egg-men.” Possibly another reference to Lewis Carroll, this time through Humpty Dumpty, who is in “Alice Through The Looking Glass.” There is a reference to a Beatles song in talking about the police again, “See how they fly – Like Lucy In The Sky – See how they run.”
I am not going to fall into the trap…
I’m not going to try to offer any sensible explanation because I don’t believe there is one. Gibberish mixed in with some relevant comments in an attempt to fool the “analysts.”
However, it is still a great song, even though it has no meaning at all. So, if you are looking for one, you won’t find it.
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1) & (Part 2) by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd are well-known for often being cryptic with their lyrics. It is not a deliberate attempt to conceal the meanings. It’s more a way of getting people to consider those meanings and therefore gain a richer understanding.
Some think The Wall to be one of the finest examples. It is a story, quite a lot of it autobiographical, about the barriers that are created in our upbringing. And the ones we develop ourselves. In Part 2, the song mentions terminology that refers to the physical abuse of children in school by teachers.
But, it has a wider meaning…
Walls are objects that separate us from things. In this case, separate from reality. The whole double album shows how those bricks can accumulate to form barriers to development. The teachers in this song are not the wall. They are just one brick in it.
His own experiences with school and teachers in Cambridgeshire as a young boy contributed to the concept. Outlined are restrictions to growth that are placed upon children.
The album infers that the role of the teacher is to help the development of the child. But often, the reverse is the case. And each emotional barrier becomes another brick in his wall. Of course, people begin to create their own barriers to prevent them from some realities.
It saw great success as a single and as an album. The single was #1 in the UK, and the album rose to #3. In America, the single went to #1, as did the album. The album topped the charts in nine other countries.
Gangnam Style by Psy
Yes, I am serious. Some might think to have this track rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dylan on a list of the best songs with deep meaning is sacrilege. But there is more to this song than meets the eye. It could be called a song with a tongue in cheek meaning.
A Bit Of Fun?
It would seem like it on the face of it with its comical, almost ludicrous horse-riding dance. And initially, on its release in 2012, it was viewed as such by many people. Especially by those the song was aimed at.
He might have been someone most had never heard of, but Psy was a well-known rapper in Korea. The track was taken from his sixth album, Psy 6 (Six Rules Part One).
The word “Gangnam” is worth considering for two reasons…
Firstly, it is what is known as “neologism.” That is, a word that exists in a culture but is not accepted in common usage as it may be offensive, or for other irrelevant reasons.
Secondly, “Gangnam” is a lifestyle that is associated with the Gangnam area of Seoul in South Korea. Most Asian cultures are structured by the amount of money and material things you have.
Gangnam is one of those areas known in other parts of Asia as “Hi-So” (High Society). People with money and fancy cars who lead privileged lives. Ordinary people are supposed to show them respect.
Fortunately, that attitude is changing, and many are not appreciated at all. That is the meaning of this song. Psy is addressing this issue and making fun of them for thinking that they are superior. The horse dance is a representation of how stupid they look and act.
It is a great piece of satirical work and an example of how meanings can be hidden just below the surface to some, but are obvious to others.
She Belongs To Me by Bob Dylan
Back to Bob Dylan one last time and this interesting song from 1965. It was released as the B-side to “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It was also included as a track on his album, Bringing It All Back Home.
There has been plenty of conjecture over the years about who or what this song is about. Some people think it is a metaphor for America and how he sees the country. I think it goes a little deeper than that.
Dylan seems to be talking about someone because there are specific statements that would not refer to a country.
The song could be about someone, or it could be about no one at all. That is the beauty of Dylan – he surprises you. He is a master at writing very vague songs. Most can be interpreted in many ways.
Some think it could be about Suze Rotolo, his girlfriend from 1961 to 1964. A British artist, Caroline Coon, claims it is about her on her website, but that is very unlikely. But there are some clues hidden away.
“She’s got everything she needs – She’s an artist she don’t look back – She wears an Egyptian ring – It sparkles before she speaks.” Other lines conform to her moral convictions and assertiveness.
An artist? The Egyptian Ring? Assertive?
It all points to one lady in my book. He was known to have formed a relationship with Joan Baez. Was she the artist? She certainly had her moral convictions and was very assertive in letting everyone know what they were.
But, importantly, Dylan bought her an Egyptian ring which she wore. Of course, she was a successful artist in her own right. So, she was not going to be content to be Dylan’s “other half.” Maybe that was the reason for the animosity that we are told existed between them for a while.
Typically Dylan and typically open to interpretation. A great songwriter giving us another great song with a hidden meaning.
Romeo And Juliet by Dire Straits
This was a song that was taken from their 1980 album, Making Movies. It was released as a single in 1981 and reached #8 in the UK.
We Know The Title
Of course, we do, being one of William Shakespeare’s great tragedies. Mark Knopfler uses the story to tell his own tale. The song tells the story of two lovers who part ways. Not in death as they did in Shakespeare’s play, but in just saying goodbye.
The words intimate that Juliet abandons her Romeo after her life and status improve and she finds fame. He asks her, “How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your deals?”
But, she seemingly doesn’t care at all, “You promised me everything – You promised me thick and thin – Now you just say, “Oh, Romeo – You know, I used to have a scene with him.”
It also carries some very clever references to other songs…
A modern version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” a hit song from 1963 by the Angels. Used by Knopfler is a line from the song; she’s singing, “Hey, la, my boyfriend’s back.”
An excellent song that is a true story as he recalls in detail a breakup with his girlfriend at the time, Holly Vincent.
Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles
This is a George Harrison song that initially looks like it might be about the weather. Instead, it’s a song with a double meaning. It all becomes very clear once you know the backstory. The song is taken from their album Abbey Road.
The in-fighting had become almost out of hand, and the bad feelings were running high. During the time this album was being recorded, the interaction between the band had become almost non-existent.
The Walk Out
One day, George decided he’d had enough and just walked out. He left and wrote this song. It became one of the band’s most popular songs and is one of their most-streamed songs on Spotify.
Given that he’d had enough, it is interesting that it is such a positive song. But, maybe he could see his way forward on his own with no restrictions placed on him.
A deeper meaning indeed…
The relationship between George and at least one band member might be described by the line, “It’s been a long cold lonely winter.”And, “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting – Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear.”
Possibly referring to the icy relationship that had developed. But, the sunshine was him knowing it would all soon be over and that better days were coming. He refers to his own happiness, “Little darling, the smile’s returning to the faces – Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.”
As was seen in his career after the split, as a guitarist and songwriter, he had so much to offer. Maybe that’s why efforts were made to keep him from the spotlight.
Fire and Rain by James Taylor
Those heady 60s days were full of an almost non-stop clinical expression of feelings and emotions in the words of some songs. Of course, we had simple little songs, but we also had some literary classics of their time.
It is interesting that, apart from the great Lennon and McCartney, we also had Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor all around at the same time. One of the albums that can claim to have moved us was Sweet Baby James by James Taylor.
It was released in 1970 and included an epic James Taylor song, “Fire and Rain.” It reached #3 in America but only #42 in the UK.
You only needed to hear the song…
And right away, you could tell from the sadness of expression in his voice that something terrible had happened.
James Taylor is a very private person. So, it must have been very hard for him to write this song, let alone sing it in public. Each of the three verses relates to specific situations in his life that, for him, were life-changing.
The first verse talks about his childhood friend, Suzanne Scherr…
Sadly, she committed suicide while he was away in London, recording his first album. The news was kept from him by friends in America because they didn’t want to distract him.
“Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone – Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you.” He then moves on to his drug addictions which he privately called the monkey on his back.
“You’ve just got to see me through another day – My body’s aching and my time is at hand – And I won’t make it any other way.”
Finally, his depression…
This was about his band, The Flying Machines, which had split up, and his already looming struggles with fame. A song with so much meaning hidden in the lyrics. A great way to end this list of the best songs with meaningful lyrics.
The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel
The Man’s Too Strong by Dire Straits
Hurt by Johnny Cash (cover of Nine Inch Nails)
Wish You Were Here by Incubus
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
The Night We Met by Lord Huron
One Headlight by The Wallflowers
How to Save a Life by The Fray
The A Team by Ed Sheeran
Wake Up by Arcade Fire
Carry You Home by James Blunt
I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
The Freshmen by The Verve Pipe
Tapestry by Carole King
This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
The Cave by Mumford & Sons
Say Something by Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton
Gone Too Soon by Michael Jackson
Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson
You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban
The Climb by Miley Cyrus
The Times We’ve Known by Taylor Swift
Love of My Life by Queen
The River of Dreams by Billy Joel
You’re Beautiful by James Blunt
Gone by Switchfoot
Let It Be by The Beatles
Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine
Carry On by Fun.
Fix You by Vita Chambers
The Show Must Go On by Queen
Shallow by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper
When You’re Gone by Avril Lavigne
Home by Michael Bublé
Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots
Wake Me Up by Avicii
Chasing Pavements by Adele
Forever Young by Bob Dylan
More 70 Best Songs With Deep Meaning
- All Too Well by Taylor Swift
- The River by Good Charlotte
- What About Us by Pink
- Don’t You Worry Child by Swedish House Mafia ft. John Martin
- All of Me by John Legend
- Gone Away by The Offspring
- If I Die Young by The Band Perry
- Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt
- The One That Got Away by Katy Perry
- Demons by Jacob Lee
- Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars
- I Will Remember by Toto
- Talking to the Moon by Bruno Mars
- Snuff by Slipknot
- Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi
- Darkness by Eminem
- Waving Through a Window by Ben Platt
- The Sound of Silence by Disturbed
- Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara
- Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots
- My Immortal by Evanescence
- Lose Yourself by Eminem
- Fix You by Coldplay
- The Scientist by Coldplay
- What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
- Mad World by Gary Jules
- One by U2
- Vincent by Don McLean
- Mr. Brightside by The Killers
- Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
- Cat’s in the Cradle by Ugly Kid Joe
- Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
- Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
- Imagine by John Lennon
- The Reason by Hoobastank
- Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
- You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King
- I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
- Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
- All Star by Smash Mouth
- What It’s Like by Everlast
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
- The Kids Aren’t Alright by The Offspring
- All I Want by Kodaline
- Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran
- Candle in the Wind by Elton John
- The Last Goodbye by Billy Boyd
- Some Nights by FUN.
- Fast Car by Jonas Blue ft. Dakota
- I’m Not Okay (I Promise) by My Chemical Romance
- The Call by Regina Spektor
- Dream On by Aerosmith
- I’m Still Standing by Elton John
- Flowers for a Ghost by Thriving Ivory
- The Unforgiven by Metallica
- Far Away by Nickelback
- Only One by Kanye West ft. Paul McCartney
- Not Afraid by Eminem
- Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
- If Today Was Your Last Day by Nickelback
- The Pretender by Foo Fighters
- Fix You by Boyce Avenue ft. Tyler Ward
- Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
- The Story by Brandi Carlile
- Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield
- Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw
- I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith
- Gravity by John Mayer
- Breathe (2 AM) by Anna Nalick
- Hymn for the Weekend by Coldplay ft. Beyoncé
Looking for More Songs with Substance?
Well, take a peek at our detailed articles on the Top Songs About Wolves, the Top Songs About Brown Eyes, the Top Songs About Snow, the Best Songs About Fire, and the Best Songs About Rain for more great song selections.
Of course, you’ll need to listen to the. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, the Best iPhone Earbuds, and the Most Comfortable Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Best Songs With Deep Meaning – Final Thoughts
Do songwriters have a need to tie us all up in knots on purpose? Perhaps they want to make us sit and come up with fanciful conclusions about what is being said.
In most cases, I don’t think so…
It is just that sometimes it is easier to make a situation understood by speaking figuratively. Using a literal explanation can sometimes be harsh and counter-productive. So, they use an alternative description which is softer and sometimes easier to take if the subject is awkward. That some songwriters can do this with such ease demonstrates their exceptional talents.
But, more than that, it adds a certain mystique to the song. And, as we can see from my list, it can make the song very special indeed.
Until next time, happy listening.