The wisdom of pop songs – Going home

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
ten years after
As Alvin Lee insisted for 15 minutes at Woodstock, he was going home to see his bay beh

If leaving home is the chief ambition for many young people, going home is another preoccupation when things don’t work out so well.

Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound at a railway station in a small town in the north of England, and whether he really was feeling homesick or not we don’t know. It’s just a song and a skilled songwriter like him can knock out a lyric for its effectiveness and its ability to strike a chord with an audience. That is not to say that writers never tell you what they really feel, but sometimes they’re just creating stories and feelings, like a painter working on a picture.

In Homeward Bound the singer is disillusioned, doubting his own talent:

“But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me”

Looking at the basic problem and the relative costs involved, it sounds like a nice Lancashire girl could have eased his pain as much as a trip back to New Jersey.

country roads
Okay, but have you entered the destination in the satnav?

John Denver’s Country Roads, in which he urges the rural thoroughfares to take him home, is not so much a song of feeling sorry for himself as a wistful appraisal of the place he comes from.

“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze”

Those of us who have never been there will just have to take his word for it.

Jack Johnson, on the other hand, seems more worried about the state of his property:

“I’ve gotta get home
There’s a garden to tend
All the fruit’s on the ground
The birds have all moved back into my attic,
Whistled in static
The young learn to fly
I will patch up the holes once again”

Can’t you get your Dad to pop round, mate? Or pay someone. You’re a pop star, after all, so money shouldn’t be a problem.

And the lawn needs mowing too, Jack

Mostly, though, it’s like an exercise in writing lyrics at a songwriting workshop. “You have 30 minutes to come up with three verses and a chorus on the subject of longing for home.”

Or, if you’re looking for an angle for a Christmas song, how about throwing in the idea of the one you love not being there, because on a less sentimental day of the year she dumped you? Step forward Don Henley of the Eagles for the all-encompassing “Please come home for Christmas”. And then he gives her a get-out clause:

“If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night”.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that she’s not coming back because she never left. He was a songwriter trying to write a festive hit.

One song that makes no pretence of being autobiographical but hits home as a piece of fiction is Nick Cave’s Roaming. Here, the singer is  a no-good drifter who sounds boozed-up and maudlin, talking about all the good things he’s going to do when he gets home, seeing his mother and brother and how he’s going to “put things in order.”

This includes seeing his little boy, and buying him a toy, and “he’s going to jump for joy”. But in the last verse he lets slip that it’s all just talk.

“When I get home, I’m gonna unpack my bags
When I get home, I’m gonna wash these dirty rags
When I get home, I’m gonna pack ’em up again
And I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go right back a-roaming”


Lynyrd Skynyrd wailed about a whole state in Sweet Home Alabama, throwing in such elements as the fact that Neil Young had had the audacity to criticise it, and using language as their dirt-poor, uneducated grandparents might have.

“Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes”

But was it really any more than a way of guaranteeing extra record sales in their own region and a roof-raising finale at their next concert in Birmingham or Mobile? It wouldn’t be wise to suggest this to the band – or to Alamabans in general – when they were up to their eyes in Jack Daniels and it’s not a mark of disrespect, either; it’s just a song, that’s all. Just like the Star Spangled Banner or Rule Britannia.

Most of us see our home town through rose-coloured glasses, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of patriotism, but really, if you want to go home, be my guest. And see if you can find everything you need there. Remind us: why did you leave?