10 Songs with Meaning – Symbolism & Deep Meaning in Music

Discover Some of the Best Songs with Meaning

A lot of music these days has very basic, surface level meaning.  But some of the best songs are ones that dig deeper to unveil a truer or secret meaning beyond a song’s top level veneer.  So in this article, I’m going to share with you my ten favorite songs with meaning, which hopefully will allow you to see some very notable songs in an entirely new light.

Songs with Meaning You Will Love

Let’s begin with a song by the Jonas Brothers.

10) “A Little Bit Longer” by the Jonas Brothers (2008)

The lyrics of this track seem pretty clear: the brothers are singing about some kind of illness, lamenting about doctors visits, and wishing for the disease to be gone. But what most people do not realize is this song is about Nick Jonas himself, who actually has type one diabetes

The song was Nick’s own brain child and it is a beautifully underestimated piece with mournful piano to back up the lyrics that increasingly tug at your heartstrings once you know who it is truly about. Listening to Nick singing the song knowing the backstory just makes it that much more real. 

9) “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5 (2002)

Like most people, I assumed that this song was just another bitter heartbreak song to add to the repertoire of Maroon 5 hits. But looking further into it, you learn that this was Levine’s way of calling out the band’s record label for applying a ton of pressure to add various songs to the album at the last minute (and thus, making it harder for the members to “breathe”).  

In the end, Levine stated it drove him crazy in the moment, but he was happy the label put the pressure on because, as we all know, pressure can certainly make diamonds.

8) “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles (1967)

This song (debatably) is not quite as popular as many of this iconic band’s others, but it does have its fair share of devoted fans. But the meaning of the song seems to keep alluding many. Looking at the lyrics, it is hard to tell if the song really even has a meaning. It has a psychedelic feeling sound, and the lyrics almost sound like some kind of psychedelic trip. 

But John Lennon said that the song was actually about a drawing his son did that he called “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”. Lennon thought it was beautiful, and wrote the song for it. 

But there is admittedly a circulating theory that the track is actually about drug use, since the words in the title spell out LSD and multiple members of The Beatles were very open about their recreational drug use in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Lennon has denied this theory, but it still persists even know, years later. Regardless, I wouldn’t have picked up on either of those possible meanings just by looking at the lyrics, and that’s how this song landed on this list. 

7) “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley (1974)

Truly a classic. I would argue most people have heard this song at least once, or recognize the name in one sense or another. It is an iconic protest song, and still holds its own to this day. But much to my surprise I found out that this song (according to Marley’s girlfriend at the time) was actually Bob Marley complaining about his girlfriend using birth control, and him “shooting the sheriff” was his way of trying to get rid of the doctor that was giving it to her. Whether or not this is actually the case, Marley never denied his girlfriend’s claim. 

Even if you choose to lean toward the song as a protest anthem rather than a vendetta against birth control, it retains a deeper meaning that is not quite so obvious on the surface level. It has the classic reggae sound that Marley was known for. Even though I have never considered myself a fan of Marley’s music, this was definitely a song that caught my attention and, in my opinion, remains one of his most memorable. 

6) “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind (1997)

Growing up with an older brother who liked punk and alternative music, I heard this song all of the time. I never really listened to the lyrics—I just liked the upbeat, almost alternative-pop feel of it. I can still remember what the guitar riffs sound like even without listening to the song. As I got older, of course, I listened to the lyrics a little more. The song sounds like any typical indie love song, until the line “doing crystal meth” pops up in the fourth verse. 

Then, looking further into the song, you realize it is actually about meth addiction. Once you learn that, all of the other lyrics seem to make startling sense (like “I’m packed and I’m holding”; I genuinely do not know how I never made the connection solely based on those words). It’s a little shocking that I was listening to stuff like this as a kid, knowing what it means now, but I honestly do not think my brother even knew what it was about at the time. Regardless, it is still incredibly catchy and a staple in my “alternative music” playlist. 

5) “Hotel California” by The Eagles (1976)

My mother has always loved this song and I have listened to it on repeat since my childhood as a result. But it is one of the few songs that I genuinely do not think I could ever get tired of. It has an almost jazzy, psychedelic tone to it, despite its classification as a rock song. I love listening to the guitar picking and it is what always catches my ear whenever I hear it. It was another track that I never cared much to listen to the lyrics of when I was younger, and even now, the true meaning of the song seems to evade me. 

There are multiple theories about what this song is about, and even the band members themselves have all said it is about something different. Most commonly, the song seems to be about the idea of the “American experience”. You work hard and run yourself into the ground for the hopes of getting the riches, the fame, the status that you desire. 

But once you get everything that you thought you wanted, you find that it is suffocating and was not worth it to begin with. This deep meaning really forces you to think about the idea of the “American dream” and how some things really should stay dreams. It is truly a masterpiece, and an excellent testament to the state of being of America (if that’s what you believe it is about).

4) “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga (2008)

Lady Gaga is known for her fearlessness, her willingness to write songs about whatever she wants, her sexual innuendos, and, of course, her extravagance. Poker Face seems to be an expression of all of these qualities. While the smash hit seems to be about partying, playing around, and having a good time, Gaga herself revealed it was an expression of her bisexuality. She claims she wrote it based on a memory she had of making love to a man but picturing a woman the entire time.

Though this meaning may seem obvious to most when really looking at the lyrics, I had no idea- for years- that this was the true meaning of the song. But I think it makes this already incredibly hit that much better. It truly shows Gaga’s fearlessness to express herself, even in moderately explicit ways. 

I also think that since the true meaning of this song has been exploding on social media recently, it will quickly become a bisexual empowerment song, where those who identify as such can play this sound loudly and hold their heads up while they’re doing it. I truly believe Gaga is one of the biggest role models for LGBTQ people all around the world. 

3) “Closing Time” by Semisonic (1998)

I adore this song. I almost cannot put into words just how much I love it. This is another one I was exposed to in my childhood and have loved ever since. It shot the band to fame, and became one of singer and songwriter Dan Wilson’s best works. Listening to the lyrics, the song sounds straightforward: a man is at a bar, and the bar is about to close. But Wilson quickly revealed that the true meaning of the song was actually about the birth of his child. 

The way that Wilson explained it, a child being birthed into the world was the same thing as patrons of a bar being kicked out into the real world at the end of the night once the bar closes. Both things are disorienting, a little scary, and involve people that can’t really control their motor functions very well. 

Nonetheless, knowing that Wilson wrote this song about his daughter being born just takes it that much deeper than what it appears to be at first glance. There is a reason this song continues to be one of the best-known by the band, even more than two decades after its release. 

2) “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (1975)

It may be a surprise to some to find this song by Queen on this list, it may not. There really doesn’t seem to be any one meaning to the track when just listening to the lyrics. Freddie Mercury, for years, even semi-refused to give any sort of meaning to the song, claiming that what makes a great song great is its ability for people to make it their own. He wanted the song to be an inspiration to those around him, and for anyone that heard it to come up with their own unique meaning as to what it could be. 

But only after Mercury’s death was the true meaning of the song revealed. Jim Hutton, Freddie’s boyfriend, claimed that the song was Freddie’s confessional. It was his way of coming out to the world without really coming out. It was a ballad to how different his life could have been if he had been able to live the way he truly wanted and to have been himself, if he had not had to keep up the façade of heterosexuality as he did for his entire life. Knowing this true meaning makes this iconic tune a little more heartbreaking. 

This meaning becomes clearer when looking at lyrics like “Mama, just killed a man” in which it is theorized that the “man” Freddie was talking about was actually himself, or, at least, the “straight” image of himself. The song in its entirely is undeniably powerful and a true testament to Mercury’s writing abilities and the band’s creative capacities. It is just so incredible, I really do not even know how to fully put my thoughts into words for this one. I just love it, as does the rest of the world. 

1) “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton (1992)

It was difficult for me to not put Bohemian Rhapsody first on this list, but the heartbreakingly painful reality behind Clapton’s most emotional song edged it out of the way by a hair. This is the song on this list that I discovered probably the most recently, having just gotten into it a few months ago. I have always known Clapton’s name, but never really listened to his music. But this track demands to be heard, even if it’ll have you sobbing as a result. 

The lyrics of the song seemingly talks about Clapton going to Heaven to visit someone he has lost. The true pain behind this message comes in when you find out Clapton wrote the song for his four year old son, who died after accidentally slipping from a window on the fifty-third floor of an apartment building. My heart continues to break every time I think about this story, even though I have already read it through what feels like a million times. Knowing the song is about a young child makes lyrics like “would you know my name/if I saw you in Heaven” just dig in a little deeper. 

This slow, strummed ballad makes the already intense emotions behind the song even stronger. Just listening to the guitar makes my heart stutter a little bit; it only gets worse once Clapton starts singing. Stoic as he may be, the emotion behind the song is clear. This is a man that has felt immeasurable pain, and wants to share his feelings with the world. It is difficult to fathom ever feeling what Clapton must have felt, but listening to this song is a good start. 

Conclusion

Some songs just aren’t as clear cut as they first appear to be, but that’s the fun of it. It is always surprising to find that a song you have listened to a hundred times is not actually about what you think. It kind of keeps you on your toes. Or breaks your heart. Or just makes the song that much more powerful. 

Regardless, these songs on this list are just a short example of what almost seems to be a genre, where songs have deeper meanings than first expected. But I could only choose so many masterpieces to include here, so this was my list of the best songs with meaning.

This song was written by Angela and edited by Michael.

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