[Published:03/29/07] Life on the road is tough, so it’s no surprise that many songwriters have used the concept of home as a theme throughout their songs. If I were living with 10 other dudes in a small van, I’d be homesick too. The word ‘home’ may conjure up different images to different people, but it seems the connection is a feeling of security and safety.
In the first six months of this column we’ve tried to focus squarely on the music. But today, this B List takes a look at the lyrics as we check out the 20 best songs about home (in no particular order). As usual, we did our best to find a YouTube video or audio clip to illustrate the songs listed:
1. Sing Me Back Home – Merle Haggard: This death-row tale was written in the late ’60s. As you see in the video, Merle used to play this song at a quick tempo, while the Grateful Dead slowed it down to a funeral dirge in their version. I favor the Dead’s version — nobody was better at emoting that sad soulful feeling like JerBear.
“Sing me back home with a song I used to hear”
2. Home Sweet Home – Motley Crue: Leave it to Motley Crue to write a tearjerker that can be classified as kickass. The number one Hair Metal Power Ballad returns to the B List due to its heartfelt lyrics by Nikki Sixx. I guess between shots of adrenaline and pussy, Sixx got a bit homesick.
“I had to run away high So I wouldn’t come home low”
3. Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith: Blind Faith’s gift to the world is possibly the best song ever written about home. Pre MTV Unplugged Eric Clapton rarely picked up an acoustic. But on the version of Can’t Find May Way Home from Blind Faith’s eponoymous album, Clapton delivers one of his most beautiful performances of his career. To me, Can’t Find My Way Home is about being caught up in the excesses of life so much so that you lose vision of what’s important.
If this was an ordered list I’d have to say this song would probably be number one. My friend Hadley hit the nail on the head when he said “If there is a more hauntingly beautiful tune than this, either the standard acoustic version or the electric one, then I’ve never heard it.”
“And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home”
Read on for the 17 remaining tunes on this week’s B List…
4. Tones of Home – Blind Melon: Blind Melon is one of the first bands I listened to seriously, so I’m always glad to give them a little love. Tones of Home is just one of many Blind Melon songs that references home; this one just does it the best. The lyrics seem to indicate Shannon Hoon’s tough experience moving from Layfette, Indiana to the circus scene of Los Angeles in the late ’80s.
“I’m flyin’, I’m flyin’ home”
5. Two of Us – The Beatles: It’s ironic that the lovely Two of Us, a song about friendship and relationships, was one of the last songs The Beatles ever released.
From the first sentence on, Two of Us is a song about platonic love saluting the best that friendship offers us as heady human beings. Lennon and McCartney refer to days “wearing raincoats in the sun” and all the other goofy things we do with our friends. The talk of home comes during the chorus: The two characters in the song are downright stoked to be on their way back home. Again, it’s just crazy these dudes wrote this song together and then spent the next 10 years suing each other.
“On our way back home, we’re goin’ home”
6. Rockin’ Chair – The Band: Just when I thought I knew everything about the amazing cannon of The Band, I find another song that blows me away both lyrically and musically. Endless Highway: A Tribute to the Band could be my favorite album of the first quarter of 2007. While listening to the album I came across the track Rocking Chair, which was performed by emo’sters Death Cab For Cutie. What a beautiful fucking song.
While, of course, no one can match the prowess of The Band, Death Cab For Cutie absolutely kill this song in the greatest sense of the word. If Ben Gibbard straining to hit the lyric “Oh, to be home again” at the peak of his register doesn’t give you chills, perhaps you weren’t programmed to feel.
Robbie Robertson, if you believe the credits, wrote this tale of growing old. Robertson was fascinated by the elderly and has said “Most people are knocked out by younger people. I’m knocked out by older people. Just look at their eyes. Hear them talk. They’re not joking. They’ve seen things you’ll never see.” Levon Helm hit the nail on the head when he described the depth of the lyrics: “We wanted to make one that you didn’t really get until the second time you played it.”
Rockin’ Chair’s lyrics can be taken literally as a tale of two old sailor friends yearning to go home to “old Virginny,” or it could be taken as a metaphor of being lost (Peter Viney wrote an amazing essay explaining multiple views on the meaning behind Robertson’s lyrics). Rockin’ Chair is one of those rare songs that leaves me thinking the lyrics mean something different each time I listen. The one thing that is clear is that the singer wants to go home.
7. Home Again – The Disco Biscuits: While I’m not into the music of the Disco Biscuits, I respect their abilities. A few years ago I asked my friend Ginz to point me in the right direction in terms of learning about the band’s music, and he gave me one of those old-fangled CDs of the Biscuits 9/1/01 gig at The Wetlands.
The first song from that show was Home Again. This is the only song on the list whose lyrics speak of a home that isn’t familar to the main character in the song. “Never had a home like this” and “always knew my home was in paradise” give the impression that home is a new place. The brief lyrics don’t speak directly of a yearning for the old home place that the title implies. But the Biscuits often play this tune in Philly or just before they get to Philly. The version of Home Again on Trance Fusion Radio 1 begins with Marc Brownstein stating “at the risk of being emotional the Biscuits are coming back to Philly guys. We’re coming home.”
8. Our House – CSNY: Graham Nash’s Our House is one of the more positive entries on this list. The author speaks of how hard life used to be before he met his muse. “Now everything is easier” with the love of his woman, who in this case was Joni Mitchell. This song seems to be a Utopian vision, as Nash and Mitchell never had “two kids in the yard” of their own. Home is once again shown as a place of safety and security that leads to a sense of happiness.
“Our house…. is a very very very fine house”
9. Take Me Home – Phil Collins: Phil Collins was a machine in early ’80s producing solo albums and Genesis albums by the ton. The intense schedule had an effect on Collins that comes through in the lyrics of Take Me Home. Even the mighty Phil Collins got sick of waking up and kicking ass everyday.
Collins’ former Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel, who just missed this list with his Solsbury Hill, adds backing vocals to this track from 1985′s No Jacket Required. The video for this track was a high budget affair that features shots of London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Sydney. Phil Collins was on top of the world in 1985, but that doesn’t mean he still didn’t long for home.
10. Country Roads – John Denver: Would you believe John Denver had never been to West Virginia before penning this ode to the state? Country Roads was written by musicians Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who hailed from the Mountain State. The song speaks of longing for the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley that give the authors a sense of home. Toots and the Maytals did a stellar version of the song, changing key lyrics to reflect their Jamaican heritage.
“Country Roads take me home, to the place I belong“
11. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd: The greatest “answer” song ever written, Sweet Home Alabama was penned in response to Neil Young’s Southern Man and Alabama. Just as with Country Roads, the group that made this song famous wasn’t even from Alabama (Skynyrd hails from Jacksonville, Florida). Ronnie Van Sant was frustrated with the way the south was being portrayed by Neil and others, and he offers a response speaking of the beauty found in Alabama’s blue skies and the swampers in Muscle Shoals.
I think it’s pretty cool that Neil Young performed this song at the memorial service for the members of Skynyrd who died in a 1977 plane crash.
“Carry me home to see my kin”
12. Breathe – Pink Floyd: Roger Waters wrote this incredible song in 1972 for inclusion on Dark Side of the Moon. Both the song Breathe and its reprise towards the end of DSOTM speak of taking a breath and figuring out what is truly important in life. The lyrics remind me of a cancer survivor who once said “getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. It helped me understand what was truly important in life.”
Going home and spending time with your loved ones to me is one of most crucial things in this world. I too “like to be there when I can.”
“Home, Home Again. I like to be there when I can”
13. My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen: I grew up about five miles from Springsteen’s hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. The vivid images Bruce’s lyrics conjure up illustrate quite a different Freehold than the one I grew up near.
In the mid ’60s a confluence of events including factory jobs moving out of Monmouth County, young kids being sent off to war in Vietnam, and black folk moving into town created a tense atmosphere in Freehold. My biggest issue with Freehold was when the NBA Jam arcade game at the Freehold Mall was broken. Things were just a little different in the mid ’80s.
The Boss had a tough upbringing during a tough period in a tough little town. Forty years later, it’s nice to know Bruce has enough of a connection with Monmouth County that he is raising his family in Colts Neck, a mere stones throw from where he grew up.
“Take a good look around, this is your hometown”
14. Memories of Home – Umphrey’s McGee: Jake Cinninger’s ode to the woods of Niles, Michigan instantly provokes images in the listener’s mind of the safety and warmth of home. Every lyric attacks the senses be it “scent of pine” or “fields of gold.” Unlike many of the other songs featured in the column, this song doesn’t seem to speak of a longing home, rather an appreciation of where the author came from.
Jake, like Bruce Springsteen will always be attached to his hometown. “As long as I live, I’ll remember my town.” I’ve never been to Niles, but after listening to Memories of Home I kinda want to check it out.
“As fall returns, the presence of home is real to me, and where I belong”
15. Misunderstood – Wilco: We weren’t able to find a video clip, but check out the link for a streaming Wilco concert that features Misunderstood as the last song in the encore. Friend of HT Luke Sacks helps with this one:
Wilco’s Misunderstood is not your typical “longing for home” song. It speaks more of reverting to someone you used to be, or feelings you used to have, when put in those familiar surroundings of home. The cigarettes taste better, lies come easier and pictures are clearer. The thoughts that have faded into sepia-toned memories rush back to the forefront of your mind. But the goals you set in high school and failed to reach haunt you all over again. The places you went with your first girlfriend tap into a place in your heart that is closed most of the time.
You feel trapped all over again. But it is home and nothing will change that: Not becoming a rock star or winning a Grammy or belting a fan in the face on some college campus in Missouri. The song, which opens the band’s double-disc Being There, concludes with a powerful refrain that, more than any other section of the song shows Jeff Tweedy’s disdain for the past. The building anger of “thank you all for nothing at all” reminds us how even the most accomplished musician still can have a chip on his shoulder for those that doubted him years ago.
“You think you might just crawl back in bed”
16. Papa’s Home – Widespread Panic: Papa’s Home is a song about a child who’s waiting for daddy to return. Papa seems to be doing everything in his power to make his way home including driving through the night. Friend of HT, BGentzel, was right on when he said “It’s amazing to me how well they convey the sense of a child’s joy at the prospect of his/her daddy coming home after a long trip.”
My mom used to travel often for work, and I would wait on the steps for hours awaiting her return. Panic’s lyrics bring me back to that time in my mind. Parents want to be around all the time for their children, but they have to balance that with making enough money to support their kids.
“Papa’s driving past the night. He’s working his way to make it home”
17. New York City – moe.: New York City may not be home to everyone, but it is home to me, so both of this song has personal meaning to me. Rob Derhak nailed all the quintessential NYC moments a resident experiences such as “a cab ride at 5 AM,” “the freaks on St. Marks Place,” and the gorgeous Manhattan goddesses with their “Levis and curls.”
I’m pretty sure Derhak has never lived in NYC so it is amazing he was able to illustrate an experience so similar to mine. If you haven’t taken “an early morning ride on the subway” or experienced the roller skaters zooming by during a “summer Sunday” in Central Park, you are really missing out.
“New York City I’m coming home again”
18. Mama I’m Coming Home – Ozzy Osbourne: Ozzy Osbourne would always finish conversations from the road with his wife Sharon by saying “Mama I’m coming home.” Oz’s co-writer for 1991′s No More Tears, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, picked up on that phrase and created lyrics around it. Zakk Wylde and Ozzy combined to write the melody on piano, and Mama I’m Coming Home was born.
Life on the road moving from city to city without your family is painful, and that emotion comes through in the lyrics. Ozzy just can’t take the pain anymore as he sings “Hurts so bad, it’s been so long.” At the time Ozzy had just finished battling multiple addictions. I would imagine facing your demons at home is tough but it must be insane trying to stay sober on the road. Who would have thought the guy who gave us Paranoid and Suicide Solution would create such a tender song? Interestingly, Mama I’m Coming Home is Ozzy’s only solo top 40 US hit.
“Here I come, but I ain’t the same”
19. Sloop John B – The Beach Boys: There seems to be a nautical theme amongst a few entries on this list. I’ve seen the Deadliest Catch on Discovery so I can understand how hard life at sea must be. Sloop John B is a tale of being stuck on a sinking ship. Sometimes we head out on trips or adventures with the best of intentions only to find that thinks don’t work out as planned. I think we can all relate to the lyric “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on… I wanna go home.” Kinda like Coventry for Phish fans.
The Beach Boys took a traditional West Indies tune called John B Sails and changed the lyrics around a bit to come away with one of the best records of all-time. Brian Wilson and his mates used every studio tool available to them at the time to create the symphonic masterpiece that is Sloop John B. I think perhaps “Crazy” Brian Wilson came to find and re-work John B Sails due to his longing to stop writing, touring, and promoting his music every day of his life. He wanted to return “home” so much so that he spent a few years of his life in bed.
“Why don’t you let me go home”
20. Homeward Bound – Simon and Garfunkel: Paul Simon was waiting for a train in the middle of a European tour when he penned his ode to home. Homeward Bound has the most clear and vivid lyrics of any song on this list. All the writer wants to do is go home “where the music’s playing” and where his girl “lies silently waiting for” him. Instead he is stuck “on a tour of one night stands” smoking cigarettes and reading magazines.
“Homeward Bound…. I wish I was”
So what’s your favorite song concerning the theme of “home?” Let us know in the comments section below…we want to hear it.