In this article, let’s examine some interesting songs with metaphors and see what these metaphors do to bring forth the lyrics and the story of the songs. Metaphors aren’t present in every song, but what you’ll find is that they are present in many songs with best song lyrics because they really help to make the song imagery come alive.
Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin
To me, this is the strongest and most vivid metaphor in American and Western music of the 20th century. I can be wrong and if you think I am wrong and there is a song with a stronger metaphor, please write to me and let me know. Here is the full lyric:
There is a lady who thinks that all that glitters is gold and she’s building a stairway to heaven.
This metaphor hardly needs explaining. But what makes it special is not the stairway to heaven itself, but the fact that we can all collectively see that the stairway to heaven isn’t built with gold, and the only person who can’t see this is this naive lady. We don’t know this lady, but the way the song is sung by the vocalist hints at the fact that she needs help and guidance, evoking the best parts of us to want to help her. That’s where we feel emotion and a connection to the song. She’s so close to getting help but she isn’t getting that help and not realizing how the real stairway to heaven is built – presumably.
Even though this song has us guessing about what will happen to this mysterious lady, something about this song is inspiring. You can’t help but feeling uplifted after listening to it. Perhaps this song is the true stairway to heaven which you clim as you listen to it because it builds in an epic way as though it was a stairway.
Sound of Silence By Simon And Garfunkel
The sound of silence is a wonderful title because supposedly there is no sound to silence. But according to authors of this song, there is a definite sound to silence. The general metaphor of this song is people’s inability to connect emotionally. There is often just silence between us while we go about our daily business. The song is magical and haunting in a pretty way on its own. But this metaphor is so real and strong that even hints of it make this song feel deep even before people truly understand what the sound of silence is.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road By Elton John
The yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz is a metaphor to the road to wealth and happiness. This is unrelated, but ironically similar to Led Zepplin’s Stairway To Heaven. In Elton John’s song, leaving the yellow brick road is a positive song and a way to get back to simpler roots instead of chasing the pursuit of fame with all its pitfalls.
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
This isn’t a modern song, but it’s one of my all-time favorite songs with metaphors. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is the one with the famous 4-note motif of DA-DA-DA-DA.
This 4-note motif is a metaphor for your life knocking on your door and asking what you are doing with your life. I’ve always been a fan of this musical piece and I wrote a song that incorporates this 4-note motif and this metaphor into my own song. I called it “The One Who Didn’t” because what if you are trying to do something with your life, but ultimately fail? That’s scary and I wanted to explore that. We’ve all wondered that about ourselves, which I think makes this a relatable song.
The song isn’t all gloom and doom. The protagonist fights for what he has set out to achieve and is in some ways triumphant. In some ways, this is one of the songs about not giving up while facing your demons.
Here is that song of mine:
Using A Shakespeare Metaphor In A Song
I love Shakespeare and one of my all-time favorite lines from Shakespeare is “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.” I was actually able to use that in a song into which I was able to weave a few Shakespeare lines that worked in an original storyline of the song. Here is the Shakespeare song.
Learn To Write Your Own Beautiful Metaphors
Writing metaphors doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about using your imagination and being in touch with what you are feeling and thinking, and replacing the literal idea with an imaginative image communicated through the metaphor. Here is a tutorial on how to write metaphors in poetry and music.
If you like that tutorial, here is a full poetry course you can take for free: