Post 195

Blithering Lyricists:
Analysis of a Song Saying Something or Other

I haven’t forgotten about my 80s music project. I have been wanting to get back to it, because I’ve already identified the inspired songs for 1984 (both of them), and I would like to look into 1985.

But I got sidetracked when I thought about Sting’s biography — it made me remember Patrick Craine’s article in the Faithful Insight magazine, which made me remember Fr. Rutler’s comments in his article for Crisis. And then there were the two unrelated posts, one about envy and one about questions and answers.

But I’m back.

Looking over my list, I came across Yes’s song, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” My comment beside the song title was: “most nonsensical lyrics.” I didn’t mean that they were the most nonsensical lyrics of all time, but just for 1984. I wrote that comment before I listened to Duran Duran’s song “The Reflex.” Beside that song, I also wrote, “most nonsensical lyrics.” And later on, I wrote, beside “Round and Round,” “weak lyrics, goofy.” And then beside “On the Dark Side,” I wrote, “8 lines!” by which I meant that there were only 8 unique lines. That’s very few, even for a rock song.

But anyway, I did spend quite a bit of time considering the lyrics of “Owner of a Lonley Heart,” because I wanted to explain to you why I thought they didn’t make much sense. I thought I could summarize the problem quite quickly, but it is so often the case that properly examining and explaining something (even a few lines of verse) takes a lot of words.

So a post was born.

Now there are songs which make less sense than this one, but usually it’s because they say too little. Boy George’s songs are kind of like that, and quite a few (most?) Enya songs are as well. They seem so poetic but they’re like cotton candy. Filmy and dreamy and full of nothing, when you get right down to it.

(Which reminds me — I don’t like cream-filled cookies either.)

However, this song was different because there are so many words and so many varieties of instructions, yet you struggle to know the take-home message. What’s the point, boys?

In my investigative research on this critical topic, I came across a group of people posting comments about the song — they each thought they nailed it, but their interpretations were all over the place.

But the fault isn’t with the listener. The fault is with the song, which is rather a mess, and therefore won’t make the cut for 1984. But it will get a post. It’ll be post number 195.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” was written by four men who didn’t seem to entirely agree on what the song was trying to say. So it kind of says everything and nothing all at once. It’s kind of amusing, actually. Not inspired, but amusing.

The music was good, mind you. Probably the band was talented.

Let’s do this a stanza at a time:

Move yourself
You always live your life
Never thinking of the future
Prove yourself
You are the move you make
Take your chances win or loser

The writer is describing how ‘you’ (let’s call him or her ‘U’) behaves. Writer doesn’t seem to be very pleased with U. That sounds more like frustration or accusation in the phrase, “you always …” Writer also sounds rather bossy, because the stanza has two imperatives. He wants U to move, and he wants U to prove himself (or herself). Ah, and there’s another direction. He says to U: “Take your chances.”

And unfortunately, if this transcription of the lyrics is correct, Writer says, “win or loser,” which doesn’t make the most sense. It would’ve been better to leave it as a one-syllable word and leave it to the singer to stretch the vowel as needed:

Win or Looo-ooose.


Piece of cake.

Stanza 2:

See yourself
You are the steps you take
You and you, and that’s the only way

So here Writer continues describing U. U is a very solo person, by the looks of it. I am not sure why Writer cares about U’s outlook. A typical story-line in pop songs would have Writer trying to persuade U to view things differently because Writer wants to run a romance with U. A less typical story-line would be that Writer just wants to give helpful advice to the world. Maybe Writer is a blogger. I know the type.

Alright, to continue, here’s stanza 3:

Shake, shake yourself
You’re every move you make
So the story goes

Ah — another imperative. At this point, Writer is directing U to shake himself. Or maybe I should say that Writer is telling U to shake herself. To save typing, I’m going to proceed, from now on, as if U is female. That would be a fair assumption, statistically speaking. In most cases, the men sing about the women.

In writing, “so the story goes,” we don’t know whether Writer is saying that U is being dishonest, and merely telling a fabricated story, or whether Writer is saying that this is how things unfold, again and again. I am going to opt for option two, because so far U hasn’t been doing a lot of talking.

Stanza 4 is the refrain:

Owner of a lonely heart
Owner of a lonely heart
Much better than a
Owner of a broken heart
Owner of a lonely heart

Okay, so there are two possibilities here. The first is that Writer is saying that U thinks it’s better to be lonely than heartbroken. The second possibility is that Writer thinks it’s better to be lonely than heartbroken. I think the first possibility is more likely, because all along, the song describes the perspective and approach of U.

Here’s stanza 5:

Say – you don’t want to chance it
You’ve been hurt so before

Writer says that U has been hurt before and therefore doesn’t want to enter into another relationship. That’s quite clear, so that’s good.

Stanza 6:

Watch it now
The eagle in the sky
How he dancin’ one and only

Alright, so now we’ve got an eagle. Hello Mr. Eagle. I’ve got nothing against him, but having Mr. Eagle around definitely creates a different mood — different from the shaking that was recommended in the earlier stanza. Reading Wikipedia, I learn that the original lyrics got ‘improved’ by others and then ‘improved’ again. Jon Anderson is the one who added the eagle. But the gunshot sound immediately afterwards was the way the others ‘took down’ Jon’s bird. That’s funny, and sounds very much like what could easily happen when a bunch of guys work ‘together’ to write a song.

But anyway, the eagle idea is pushed to try to fit with the theme. The eagle is dancing “one and only.” Okay. That’s a stretch.

Obviously, Writer is setting things up to rhyme with the word ‘lonely,’ which, in this song might be somewhere around the corner.

Or maybe it’s not, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Stanza 7:

You, lose yourself
No not for pity’s sake
There’s no real reason to be lonely
Be yourself
Give your free will a chance
You’ve got to want to succeed

(Ah, there’s the word ‘lonely.’)

There is really no way to understand what is meant by the “lose yourself” first line. It could mean pretty much just about anything. I don’t think Writer was trying very hard. I think it just worked with the three-syllable imperatives that were already in place (move yourself, prove yourself, see yourself, shake yourself).

And the part about “pity’s sake” is anyone’s guess. You could bend that line any which way and not know from anything else whether you’re right or wrong.

Anyway, this stanza appears to be an advice-giving session by Writer who has had too many peanuts and too many beers. Here’s what he’s got:

“Be yourself.” This is good advice, if your ordinary self is somewhat decent and generally well-meaning.

“Give your free will a chance.” Hmm. This is rather thin, perhaps a variation on “Give peace a chance”?

Then we’ve got, “You’ve got to want to succeed.”

I see.

It sounds like Writer is trying to persuade U to ‘succeed.’ What does success mean? I think it means, here, having a successful relationship. And who knows — perhaps it means having a successful relationship with Writer. Perhaps Writer is very slick.

Stanza 8 is the refrain, and then we’ve got this for stanza 9:

After my own indecision
They confused me so
Owner of a lonely heart
My love said never question your will at all
In the end you’ve got to go
Look before you leap
Owner of a lonely heart
And don’t you hesitate at all – no no

This is quite interesting, because it’s a departure from what’s come before. Now Writer has switched from talking about U’s life and is now talking about his own. He has become rather autobiographical here. He says that he has been undecided himself.

Then he says that “they confused me so.” Ah. Now we have a “they.” This is the first “they” in the song. Who are the “they”s? Shall we guess or should we ignore it? Let’s speculate, because the songwriters don’t give us many clues. Let’s go with something safe, like this: when Writer attempted to get in the game of love, Writer got confused by different people. Poor bloke.

The words, “Owner of a lonely heart” appear twice in this stanza, but I don’t think it amounts to much. He is perhaps referring to U with an alternate name.

Writer is becoming quite chatty here, actually. Writer says that “My love” said stuff. This could mean either that a woman said stuff, or it could mean that the love in his heart gave him direction. You can’t really tell, but “my love” seems to have a lot to say. Mind you, at some point, the words of wisdom may be coming from Writer as opposed to “My love.” The transition, if there is one, is hidden.

Here’s the advice:

– “Never question your will at all.”
– “In the end you’ve got to go.”
– “Look before you leap.”
– “And don’t you hesitate at all, no, no.”

What’s that phrase about a lot of cooks in the kitchen? Something about wrecking the soup. Or maybe there are two separate sayings. I can’t remember. How about if you go check and I’ll keep blogging?

My point is that the advice comes across as quite contradictory. I’m picturing a swimmer standing on the diving board while one coach hollers, “In the end you’ve got to go,” and another yells, “Look before you leap,” and the last yells, “And don’t you hesitate at all, no, no.”

Ha ha ha.

This song has a lot of advice. It’s kind of an all-purpose song, I guess, kind of a one-size-fits-all song.

The wonkiest bit of advice is probably “never question your will at all.” I think that’s very bad advice, and impossible, as a matter of fact. Never question anything that you want to do? You want to go right and you want to go left so you should just go? It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you don’t question your choices? Blither blather.

Stanza 10 is the refrain and stanza 11 is the refrain again. The last stanza is this, so it’s a last chance for Writer to pull everything together.

Sooner or later each conclusion
Will decide the lonely heart
Owner of a lonely heart
It will excite; it will delight
It will give a better start
Owner of a lonely heart
Don’t deceive your free will at all
Don’t deceive your free will at all
Owner of a lonely heart
Don’t deceive your free will at all
Just receive it

Hoo boy.

I really have almost no idea what Writer is saying here.

Writer seems to be saying that stuff is going to happen and this stuff will, in effect, serve as U’s decision. The word order shows that U wouldn’t be actively making decisions; it sounds more like U is left with the aftermath of different things.

And I suppose that if you do live your life in an utterly thoughtless way, leaping here and leaping there, then you’d experience a lot of unintended ‘conclusions.’

However, it did sound like, a few stanzas ago, that U had already decided how to proceed. But, of course, I can’t say for sure. Maybe U is as undecided as Writer says that he once was. Who knows?

This stanza seems to describe the gold at the end of the rainbow that U will find, if U decides to leap. Are these rewards offered by Writer? I’m not sure. In any case, U will find that “it” will excite, and “it” will delight, and “it” will give a better start. And as a closing line, Writer directs U to “just receive it.” (Lyrically, “it” is almost never a hit.)

Is that the same “it” that will excite and delight and whatever and whatever? (Hey U! The exit is that way. I’ll distract him while you head for the hills.)

And this stanza also introduces the notion of starting. There is a comparison between starting one way, which is worse and starting another way, which is better. Once again, we’ve got “it”: “It will make a better start” is the line. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and besides, it sounded like U wasn’t wanting to get started at all.

A person really wonders what the “it” is, but I’m not so sure that Writer knows either. Too bad, because “it” might be quite important, coming as it does at the end of the song. Perhaps “it” is the ‘success’ that was mentioned earlier, and back then, my guess was that success meant a successful relationship.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe “it” is the eagle. Mr. Eagle hasn’t made an appearance since his cameo earlier, so maybe he’s “it.”

Tag! You’re it!

The song closes with more advice. Three times, Writer tells U, “Don’t deceive your free will at all.” Three times!


What on earth does that mean? How does a person go about deceiving her free will? I think that Writer has had even more beers than before, and he doesn’t know what on earth he is saying by this point but he wants to sound deep and just a touch philosophical.

Sure, I understand the concept of poetic license, but this is just babbling.

Maybe Writer thinks that free will means something like a will to be free, a willingness to be free, or a desire or yearning to be free. Who knows? And the word ‘free’ perhaps is meant to represent a spirit of willingness to take risks and a willingness to risk a broken heart. After all, Writer has stated that there’s no reason to be lonely.

Maybe it’s something like that.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not.

I’m just trying to make sense of it all, and unfortunately, I suspect that this is more than Writer did.

Or, to be more exact, this is more than the writers did — all four of them.

They were too busy shooting down Mr. Eagle.



Ha ha ha!