Songwriters write songs for a variety of reasons but oftentimes a composer writes a song because he has a message to pass on. Some of the most interesting and meaningful songs of recent times include songs about children, Vegas games, dancing contests and other hidden themes:
Soul Asylum wrote Runaway Train as a way of addressing the million youngsters who go missing form their homes every year. The 1992 song was written to draw attention to the subject. Director Tony Kaye made a video that was set to play on MTV where, he thought, the highest number of kids and other involved individuals would see it.
Runaway Train was so successful that other variations were made for Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. The video was a success in that it encouraged many kids to return home and raised awareness among people who had the opportunity to help runaways return home.
The results weren’t, unfortunately, always successful. Returning kids to an environment, that had been toxic to begin with, continued to be toxic and many of the returnees ran away again as soon as they could.
Stuck in a Moment
Bono’s Stuck in a Moment was written to commemorate the suicide of Bono’s friend Michael Hutchence. Hutchence was the lead singer of the band INXS. U2’s lead singer Bono composed the song in the form of an argument where Bono tries to convince his friend of the act’s foolishness and fruitfulness.
In 2005 Bono spoke about the song, saying”It’s a row between mates. You’re kinda trying to wake them up out of an idea. In my case it’s a row I didn’t have while he was alive. I feel the biggest respect I could pay to him was not to write some stupid soppy song, so I wrote a really tough, nasty little number, slapping him around the head. And I’m sorry, but that’s how it came out of me.” Bono admitted that the song came out of a feeling of guilt for never having raised the issue with Hutchence.
Wake Me Up When September Ends
The song’s video portrays a couple torn apart by the Iraq war so one could be forgiven for thinking that Wake Me Up When September Ends is about romance and love. The song was also dedicated to the victims of the 2001 World Trade Center attack which took place on September 11 and the 2007 Katrina Hurricane.
In reality however, the song, written by Green Day lead singer Joe Armstrong, is meant to convey Armstrong’s distress at the death of his father. Armstrong was a child when his father passed away in September of 1982 and the boy was distraught. He sobbed at the funeral and then ran home. When his mother returned to the house, she knocked on the door and little Joe said “Wake me up when September ends”
Eric Clapton’s Layla wasn’t a hit when it was first released in 1972 but it garnered critical acclaim and has become a classic in rock history. The song refers to Clapton’s obsession with Patty Boyd who was, at the time that Clapton wrote the song, George Harrison’s wife. Clapton called the song Layla after a love story that originated in the 7th century Arabia. The story was then written down in book form in the 12th century in a book entitled The Story of Layla and Majnun by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The story tells the tale of a young man who fell in love with a young woman. Layla’s father forbade the marriage and Majnun sunk into insanity.
Boyd eventually divorced Harrison and married Clapton (with Harrison at the wedding party) but in 1988 they too divorced.
Like a Virgin
The title sounds naughty but the theme of Madonna’s Like a Virgin is anything but racy. It’s actually a simple story of love, sung to a funky tune that makes it easy to dance to the beat.
The song was written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg and relates to Steinberg’s romantic experiences, first in a emotionally challenging relationship and then in a fresh, exciting love with a new partner.
Steinberg explained that he felt “Like a Virgin” – not in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense as he embarked on a new direction and partnership. Steinberg explained that “I wasn’t just trying to get that racy word virgin in a lyric. I was saying … that I may not really be a virgin — I’ve been battered romantically and emotionally like many people — but I’m starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it’s healing all the wounds and making me feel like I’ve never done this before, because it’s so much deeper and more profound than anything I’ve ever felt.”
Losing My Religion
Losing My Religion by R.E.M. actually has nothing to do with spirituality or religious belief. The 1991 Grammy winning song uses the Southern expression “losing my religion” – which means being at the end of one’s rope or losing one’s temper – to express unrequited love. Michael Stripe, the vocalist who sings the song for R.E.M, said, “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”