Good Rhymes Bad Rhymes


Ten great lyrical couplets that have inspired, stimulated and entertained us over the years… and ten that sadly have not!

Good rhymes:

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful

1. “Cheddar cheese and pickle/The Vincent motorsickle/Slap and tickle”

Ian Dury & The Blockheads, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3’ (Stiff Records, 1979)
This could easily have made it into the worst-ever rhymes section, had it been written by anyone else. But as an example of Ian Dury’s idiosyncratic outlook on life and tongue-in-cheek Cock-er-nee humour, it actually works rather well…


Nastee Boi ft Trilla - ‘G-Star’

2. “Don’t think you’re a G, star/Just cos you’re
wearing G-Star”

Nastee Boi ft Trilla, ‘G-Star’ (Revelation Music, 2008)
Proof that lyrical prowess is not the sole preserve of earnest young studenty types with acoustic guitars! Predicating a rhyme around the homophonic coupling of ‘G, star’ and G-Star is the kind of genius wordplay that can’t be taught. Translation for the over 40s: “I note that you are wearing clothes from the exclusive designer label G-Star. However, please disabuse yourself of the notion that this in itself, qualifies you as some kind of No 1 bad-ass gangster player”.


Take That - The Flood

3. “Although no-one understood/We were holding
back the flood”

Take That, ‘The Flood’ (Polydor, 2008)
Even if you’re not a Take That fan, there’s no denying Gary Barlow knows how to write a catchy pop tune… but catchy pop tunes aren’t enough on their own to make it into our Good Rhymes top 10. No, the reason this is here is the rhyming of ‘understood’ and ‘flood’, which of course only works if you’re got a northern (UK) accent. God bless Mr B for staying true to his roots… we’re so impressed we’ll even forgive him the less-than-inspired rhyming of ‘cavemen’ and ‘save them’ in the preceding verse!


John Shuttleworth - ‘You’re Like Manchester’

4. “You’re like Manchester: you’ve got strange ways, but you’ve got style too”

John Shuttleworth, ‘You’re Like Manchester’ (Chic Ken, 2000)
This one might not make much sense to readers outside the UK, who (Smiths fans excepting!) probably won’t know that Manchester has a very famous prison called Strangeways – and a slightly less famous women’s prison called Styal. Geddit? Strangeways, strange ways… Styal, style! Not strictly a rhyme, obviously, but a clever bit of wordplay that, like the Take That track above, shows the songwriter – in this case, The Artist Formerly Known As Jilted John – is unafraid to write in their own natural vernacular.


Oasis - Morning Glory

5. “All your dreams are made/when you’re chained to the mirror and the razorblade”

Oasis, ‘Morning Glory’ (Creation, 1995)
A particularly clever rhyme? Not really, no. But the essence of hedonistic abandon distilled into a single shot? Most definitely. Dripping in the kind of rock n’ roll swagger the Glimmer Twins themselves would be proud of, yet simultaneously alluding to the ultimate emptiness of the rock n’ roll dream… where were YOU, when we were getting high?


Blind Melon - 2 x 4

6.“Needle/ fetal/Someone’s pouring warm gravy/ all over me/And you see that synthetic therapy/Don’t you know it seems/ to be/ so unappealing/But, oh what a feeling”

Blind Melon, ‘2 X 4’ (Capital, 1995)
Blind Melon are one of the great tragedies of the early to mid-’90s alternative rock explosion. Not just because of the drug overdose of lyricist Shannon Hoon, but because they’re almost solely remembered for their debut album’s lead single No Rain. These words come from their staggering second album Soup and represent Hoon’s confessional approach towards his addiction. If words could shrug with knowing acceptance then that’s what these lines would be doing. You’ve to to love its use of rhythm and the symmetry of drug addiction and ‘warm gravy’.


Nirvana - Heart-shaped Box'

7. “I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap/I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black”

Nirvana, ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (DGC Records, 1993)
Hey, wait a minute, people aren’t supposed to talk about love this way! “Cancer”,”tar pit trap”, “black”… these aren’t words that anyone uses to describe the extent of their feelings towards another. Unless you’re Kurt Cobain, of course. With a vocabulary and outlook on life as torn as his jeans, he is touchingly candid about wanting to take away the ills of a loved one and it’s quite sweet, really, though in an extremely bleak way. Wouldn’t you want someone to care for you that much?


The Jesus & Mary Chain - 'In A Hole'

8. “God spits on my soul/There’s something dead inside my hole”

The Jesus & Mary Chain, ‘In A Hole’ (Blanco Y Negro, 1985)
Everything dark, angry and nihilistic that was summed up by The Jesus & Mary Chain’s unholy feedback squall could be found right there in their lyrics, too… and seldom more so than in this high-octane number from their classic 1985 debut album, Psychocandy. The ultimate in cathartic listening for pale, angst-ridden teenagers.


The Kinks - 'Village Green Preservation Society'

9. “We are the office block persecution affinity/God save little shops, china cups and virginity… We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliates/God save Tudor houses, antique tables and billiards”

The Kinks, ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ (Pye, 1968)
To include a Ray Davies composition in this list isn’t meant to denigrate the man’s talents. That is to say, with his ability to tell stories, write sympathetically from a wide range of viewpoints, capture quintessentially what it means to be English and mix and match humour, love, angst and pathos – often within the one song – there’s a lot more to the man widely regarded as one of the UK’s greatest-ever songwriters than mere rhyming! But rhymes are what this features about, and there are two we particularly like right there.


Elliott Smith - 'Either/Or'

10. “Drink up with me now/And forget all about/ the pressure of days/Do what I say/ and I’ll make you okay/And drive them away/The images/ stuck in your head”

Elliott Smith, ‘Between The Bars’ (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)
This song takes alcohol as its narrator and perfectly encapsulates those occasions where it becomes a convenient best friend. It’s one of the best examples of Smiths genius as a writer, being able to sum up what many think and feel but in a way so beautifully poetic and frank. We’re also treated to his skill for making rhymes where they might not exist, listen to him sing the final line and rhyme “images” with “head”. It’s also a warning against the temptation of taking alcohol as a friend “Drink up one more time and I’ll make you mine, Keep you apart, deep in my heart”. Anyone looking for a reason for why Smith has such a cult following need look no further than these rhymes.

Bad rhymes:

Muse - 'Muscle Museum'

1. “I have played in every toilet/but you still want to spoil it”

Muse, ‘Muscle Museum’ (Mushroom, 1999)
A review of this single in Kerrang at the time extolled the virtues of a couplet that could rhyme toilet with spoil it. No, no, no! Yes, we get it, you’ve played the tiny shit holes and, despite your commitment and success, there are those who wish to ‘spoil it’. Guys, we appreciate the sentiment, but could we not have expressed it differently?


Plastick - ‘I Feel Like Batman’

2. “I jump over a block of flats/I knacker all the neighbours’ cats”

Plastick, ‘I Feel Like Batman’ (Xcentric Noise, 1984)
Only ever released on an Xcentric Noise compilation album called Beating The Meat, this track by uber-obscure Notts punk outfit Plastick is actually quite good… but there’s no excuse for that opening couplet. The next verse is even worse (“What a stupid prick he is/What happened to my f***ing quid?”), but to be fair, we might be hearing that one wrong… given that the whole thing was seemingly recorded in a tub of yoghurt, it’s kinda hard to tell.


Young MC - 'Stone Cold Rhymin'

3. “And so you think that it’s your destiny/To get the best of me/But I suggest that you be quiet boy/Don’t even try it from the east and west of me”

Young MC, ‘Know How’ (Delicious Vinyl, 1988)
Don’t get us wrong: ‘Know How’ is a classic track, revered in hip-hop and rave circles alike, and there’s some smart bits of word play in there for sure (“I got juice like the president/Make other rappers hesitant/Invite me to your home and I’ll be chillin’ like a resident”). But ask yourself: have you ever, in your entire life, tried anything from the east and west of someone? No? Our point.


The Primitives - 'Lovely'

4. “What is that boy on?/He’s a strange person”

The Primitives, ‘Spacehead’ (Lazy Recordings/RCA, 1988)
Writing this article sent us back to listen to The Prims’ debut album ‘Lovely’ once more, and what a heady, visceral rush of Shangri-Las-meets-The-Ramones thrills it truly is. But rhyming ‘on’ and ‘pers-on’? Shocking! Still, the drummer had the single best bowl haircut in the history of the world, so we’ll let them off.


Wang Chung - 'Dancehall Days'

5. “Take your baby by the hand/And make her do a high handstand/Take your baby by the heel/And do the next thing that you feel”

Wang Chung, ‘Dance Hall Days’ (Arista, 1982)
Quite how your baby is supposed to do a high handstand, or even a low one, when you’ve obviously got her hand clasped in yours is beyond us. But it’s not as baffling as taking your baby by the heel… and as for what you might feasibly get up to while clutching your putative partner’s ankle, well, probably best not to think about that one. Still a classic track, though.


The Smiths - 'Hatful of Hollow'

6. “A boy in the bush is worth two in the hand/I think I can help you get through your exams”

The Smiths, Handsome Devil (Rough Trade, 1984)
This seeming ode to man-love caused something of a controversy at the time the Hatful Of Hollow album came out, garnering tabloid accusations of pederasty… somehow the fact that the above couplet, quite apart from not making much sense, is simply a rubbish rhyme went largely unremarked. Much as we love The Smiths, lyrically this track wasn’t Mozzer’s finest hour.


Winter Wonderland

7. “In the meadow we can build a snowman/And pretend that he is Parson Brown/He’ll say, are you married? We’ll say no, man/But you can do the job while you’re in town”

Felix Bernard & Richard B Smith, ‘Winter Wonderland’ (1934)
This perennial Xmas fave has been recorded by over 150 artists, so we’re certainly not saying it’s not a good song. But every year we ask ourselves, “Is ‘man’ really a suitable way for two young lovers to address a man of the cloth? Would they be likely to actually say that?”. And every year we answer, “No”.


Snap! - 'Rhythm Is A Dancer'

8. “Got to be what you wanna/If the groove don’t get you, the rhyme flow’s gonna/I’m serious as cancer/When I say rhythm is a dancer”

Snap!, ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ (Arista, 1992)
This one crops up a lot in lists like this, we know. And admittedly, having a pop at the rap lyrics from dodgy ’90s Eurodance hits is a bit like stealing sweets from blind kiddies. But still.


Stereophoncs - ‘The Bartender And The Thief'

9. “The bartender and the thief are lovers/
steal what they need like sisters and brothers/met in a church a night to remember/robbing the graves of bodies dismembered”

Stereophonics, ‘The Bartender And The Thief’ (V2, 1999)
John Peel once said The Smiths were the only band whose lyrics could make him laugh out loud. Well, Stereophics aren’t the only band to elicit the same response from us but, boy do they make us cackle. This song is a classic example of cobbling together words just because they rhyme, with little regard for meaning. “Met in a church a night to remember, robbing the graves of bodies dismembered”? It’s unfair of us to pick on just this line though, they’re all awful!


Country Stonewall

10. “I despise you Herman Schwartz/I ain’t never liked your name/I hope your face gets full of warts/And you’re run over by a train”

Stonewall Jackson, ‘Herman Schwartz’ (available on ‘Country Stonewall’, One Media Publishing, 2011)
It’s a bit harsh listing this one really, seeing as 1973 single Herman Schwartz was only ever meant to be a novelty record anyway. So no disrespect intended to Stonewall Jackson, one of the great ‘honky-tonk’ country stars of the ’50s and ’60s and a Grand Ole Opry stalwart… but for sheer ‘So bad it’s good… or is it just so bad it’s bad?’ comedy value, this had to go in.

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