10 Best Similes in Popular Music

My nine-year-old daughter recently had a school assignment to write down her favourite similes in songs.

It looked fun, so I’ve also taken on the challenge. Just to remind you, if you’ve forgotten since school, a simile is:

a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g. as brave as a lion).

Oxford Dictionary

There are a lot of similes to choose from, so it’s hard for a list like this not to be arbitrary. But here are ten similes that are creative and evocative. I didn’t bother numbering them, but they’re vaguely ordered with my favourite at the end.

I don’t want to spoil the whole list, but here are notes on the first two entries:

  • Bernie Taupin isn’t always an accomplished lyricist, but he’s written some evocative similes. He’s better known for comparing Marilyn Monroe to a candle in the wind.
  • Paul Simon has a lot of great similes, and it was hard just picking one:
    • Like a bridge over troubled waters
    • Peace like a river
    • Loves me like a rock
    • Moves like a fist through the traffic
    • Lives like a mole in a motel/a slide in a slide projector
    • The bride was contagious/She burned like a bride.

You know, I can’t think straight no more
You make me feel like a bullet…
In the gun of Robert Ford

I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford), Elton John

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a national guitar

Graceland, Paul Simon
Paul Simon Graceland

And our love is like Jesus but worse
Though you seal the cave up where you’ve lain its body
It rises

Going to Marrakesh, The Extra Glenns (John Darnielle)

Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street
Faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly
Loving him is like trying to change your mind
Once you’re already flying through the free-fall
Like the colors in autumn, so bright, just before they lose it all

Red, Taylor Swift

You just get out what they put in
And they never put in enough
Love is like a bottle of gin
But a bottle of gin is not like love

Love is Like a Bottle of Gin, The Magnetic Fields

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

Bird on the Wire, Leonard Cohen

I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwin’ away my shot

My Shot, Lin Manuel-Miranda

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
A complete unknown, like a rolling stone

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
Joni Mitchell Hissing of Summer Lawns

Like a priest with a pornographic watch
Looking and longing on the sly

Boho Dance, Joni Mitchell

She’s the raw flame
The live wire
She prays like a Roman
With her eyes on fire

Josie, Steely Dan

Did I miss your favourite simile? (I probably did).

I already nearly have enough for a second installment, but let me know any I’ve forgotten.

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14 Comments

  1. There will be others but:
    Said James, “In my opinion, there’s nothing in this world
    Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
    Now Norton’s and Indians and Greavses won’t do
    Oh, they don’t have a soul like a Vincent 52”

    Maybe not as great as:
    When she came to the hospital, there wasn’t much left.
    He was runnin’ out of road. He was runnin’ out of breath.

    Whatever, there are times when I can’t get through that song without blubbing even though I’ve sung and heard it so, so many times.

    • I love that song too – there are some total classics on those early 1990s Thompson albums. Beeswing and King of Bohemia are favourites too.

      Come to think of it, this is a pretty good simile too:

      She was a rare thing, fine as a beeswing
      So fine, a breath of wind might blow her away

      • Beeswing was a cracking choice.

        I’ve always thought that ‘Night Comes In’ is the dark heart of ‘Pour Down Like Silver’ and it’s set up by a simile:
        Night comes in
        Like some cool river
        How can there be
        Be another day?

  2. What about John Martyn’s great seduction song ‘Go Down Easy’

    You curl around me
    Like a fern in the spring;
    Lay down here,
    Let me sing the things you bring.

  3. the first verse of Heart Like a Wheel, by Linda Ronstadt and Like a Virgin chorus by Madonna. I like your list. My favorite from that group is the Hamilton one.

  4. Fun post. And, yes, surely enough, I had to look up simile and to realize you kindly included a definition. 🙂

    I guess my convenient excuse is I’m not a native English speaker! “Deacon Blues” is my favorite Steely Dan song.

    • I often have to think twice about what’s a metaphor and what’s a simile.

      I crawl like a viper
      Through these suburban streets
      Make love to these women
      Languid and bittersweet

  5. Some of the strong lyric writers have written my favourites.

    Gordon Lightfoot uses multiple similes. ‘The Way I Feel’ is founded on them with the last verse:
    Now the way I feel is like a robin
    whose babes have flown to come no more
    like a tall oak tree alone and cryin’
    when the birds have flown and the nest is bare

    Similarly ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ has a couple with ‘like an old time movie’ the most memorable.

    Elvis Costello wrote in ‘Man Out of Time’ the chilling ,He’s got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge’.

    Suzanne Vega wrote a favourite on ‘Small Blue Thing’ with:
    ‘Today I am a small blue thing
    Like a marble or an eye’

    And my top simile is Blue with the simple ‘songs are like tattoos’. They mark, they endure, they stay with you, they colour the perception of others. Can that be bettered?

    .

    • The simile is a pretty good device for an expressive writer.

      Those are all great choices. Kind of wish I’d thought of the Costello one for my list – maybe I can borrow it for a part 2. One of my favourite Costello songs.

      He`s got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge
      He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege

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