Was thinking about songs that perfectly represent a single concept or idea (as two of them happened to come up on Lithium on the ol' satellite radio in succession).
Road rage: Bad Habit, The Offspring
Bitter breakup: You Oughta Know Alanis Morissette
The thing that I like about You Oughta Know is that it presents a protagonist who has some serious personal issues. I don't know why but I just really, really enjoy songs written by less than completely sympathetic narrators. Actually, that's probably reason #1A (the pure #1 being his musicality) why I like Ben Folds so much. A couple of his better songs...Selfless, Cold, and Composed
is about a guy who just endured a breakup (I think she was probably the one who did the breaking up) who laments the fact that his former girlfriend is treating their former relationship "like a bank teller / politely telling me 'have a nice life'".
[i}Kate[/i], also off of "Whatever and Ever Amen", is about a guy who has a crush on a girl and is enamored with the idea of her as much as he is with her.Give Judy My Notice
concerns a guy who got locked into the "friendzone" and has decided that the way he's going to get out of it is to distance himself from the girl entirely. "I knew / If I made it easy for you / You'd settle for me / Eventually". Again, not really a nice guy, and not at all in touch with what's really going on there, but again, the real-ness is something I enjoy from that artist. Where a guy like Phil Collins actually tells songwriters to be as vague as possible so that you can reel in as many people, Ben Folds goes the more literary route which is to be specific and through specificity lure the listener in.Late
is Folds' song to his friend Elliott Smith, who committed suicide in the early 2000s (and who was a hell of a songwriter in his own right). It's more specific than general like most good Ben Folds songs but it really captures that feeling of loss and how much it sucks sometimes to be the person who has to keep on living after someone you care deeply about decided not to do so.
Oh, speaking of tearjerkers, The Luckiest
is a sad ass song about finding true love and being able to live with that true love forever. I'm not sure I can exactly describe it but it's about how incredibly lucky the writer was to find the woman of his dreams and yet it's still inexpressably sad.
See also: the Barenaked Ladies...Jane
is about a guy who gets in a short term relationship with a girl who works in a store and who has troubles letting go. It's a bit more omniscient than Ben Folds songs but I think that makes it interesting in its own way: Steve Page and Ed Robertson show you the situation and then show you the protagonist reacting to it poorly.
I like Pinch Me
just plain nails depression. I think there's an idea that it's all about being sad all the time but no, it's more about not being motivated to do stuff, not even being motivated enough to act out and do something, until all you're filled with is self-hate... "like a dream you try to remember but it's gone / and then you try to scream but it only comes out as a yawn".
This probably will get me kicked off the island but Don MacLean's American Pie
is an amazingly deep song about the connection between music, particularly rock and roll in the 50s and 60s, and the "spirit", and how the promise and happy times of the 50s transmogrified into the protesty 60s via the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens (known as The Day The Music Died), the near-fatal car crash that Bob Dylan got into, and Altamont, among other things. It's been picked over to death by now but IMO it's one of the few songs that stands up to poetic scrutiny.
After many years of going back and forth on this, I've decided that Wilco's I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
is good at this too. It's about a guy who is kind of full of himself but who is also filled with such a high level of self-contempt that he treats a girl poorly for the crime of being attracted to him. One of the things I also like about this song is that it uses a lot of front-end rhyming to get its point across (the first line goes "I am an American aquarium drinker", which is a kind of corny way to say "I'm an alcoholic" but it also sounds like Beowulf it's so alliterative). It's half artsy, half pure asshole, and I think it presents that feeling as well as any song out there.
I'm sure I can remember more but that's all I got for now.