I’m fairly certain that awesome people have imparted mind-blowing words of wisdom to me over the years. The problem is, I no longer recall most of the conversations I’ve had before breakfast today. Which is why I’m a big fan of the pop song as life-guidance source: They get right to the point and distill life down to its lyrical essence, but they’re also sing-songy and they rhyme, which makes them easy to remember. Here are seven lyrical lessons I find as valuable today as I did when I first heard them in my youth.
1. “Closing Time,” Semisonic
“One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer. … You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
In my younger years, these lines were like an admonishment, encapsulating that blinding 4 a.m. moment when the house lights went up on my favorite watering hole. Now that I no longer skulk around bars in the wee hours, I consider the words a reminder that it’s always best to exit a party as it’s cresting.
2. “Fight for Your Right,” Beastie Boys
Key lyric: See song title above, and add “to paaaaaaaaarty!”
What was once the rallying cry of culturally repressed, curfew-restricted teenagers everywhere is now my theme song when I just want the couch and the Netflix to myself for a night.
3. “The Climb,” No Doubt
“Pulling myself up by a rope, I better my view. The only thing in sight is what I must do.”
Improbable as it may seem, everybody’s fave ska-pop band imparts valuable counsel to the hyper-ambitious with this lyric, which I interpret as a mini to-do list when I’m feeling angsty about my career advancement or lack thereof: Get some perspective and your best next step will become obvious.
4. “Wannabe,” Spice Girls
“If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends, and you have got to give.”
A basic yet essential reminder that real-life partners fully and willingly integrate their lives into yours. (And, you know, want to be generous to you as well.) This song was clearly written by the never-seen sixth Spice Girl, Sage Spice.
5. “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” Baz Luhrmann
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists. … Do one thing every day that scares you. … Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts”
Mary Schmich was right about everything in this spoken-word commencement speech—especially the sunscreen.
6. “Express Yourself,” Madonna
“You deserve the best in life, so if the time isn’t right then move on.”
Probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn (which means I still relearn it often) is that a good chunk of life’s wrong turns and dead ends—petered-out relationships, bad career moves, etc.—don’t happen because other people are evil or because I suck. They just happen because of bad timing.
7. “Tubthumping,” Chumbawumba
“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”
I’d be lying if I said that all of life’s most precious pearls of wisdom are really just spoken Chumbawumba lyrics. But this lyric in particular would look right at home on your badass grandma’s needlepoint pillow.