The Top 10: Self-Referential Songs

John Rentoul
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel singing ‘Leaves That Are Green’, 1965

Andrew Denny suggested this one – “solipsistic songs” – two years ago. Then Cumbria Life Editor suggested it again. The thing is, I don’t like “Song Sung Blue” or “You’re So Vain”, but, finally, here are 10 others.

1. “Leaves That Are Green”, Paul Simon, 1965: “I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long.” Copied, so that it was both self-referential and referring to someone else, by Billy Bragg, “A New England”, 1983, which opens with the same lines.

2. “Your Song”, Elton John, 1970. It’s a bit soppy but Bernie Taupin was only 19 when he wrote it. Nominated by Omer Lev and David Mills.

3. “Five Years”, David Bowie, 1972: “I think I saw you in an ice cream parlour, drinking milkshakes cold and long/ Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this song.” Nominated by Cumbria Life Editor.

4. “School’s Out”, Alice Cooper, 1972: “Well we got no class / And we got no principals / And we got no innocence / We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.” Fine nomination from Graham Fildes.

5. “This Is Not a Love Song”, Public Image Ltd, 1983, which refers to itself in the title. Thanks to Mike Mason and Bernie Collier.

6. “The Weeping Song”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, 1990: “This is a weeping song / A song in which to weep.” From David Firn.

7. “Something Changed”, Pulp, 1996: “I wrote the song two hours before we met / I didn’t know your name or what you looked like yet.” Another great nomination from Cumbria Life Editor.

8. “Brimful of Asha”, Cornershop, 1997, which includes the lyrics, “‘Brimful of Asha’ on the 45”, as Paul T Horgan pointed out.

9. “If You Buy this Record, Your Life Will be Better”, The Tamperer featuring Maya, 1998. It also samples Madonna’s “Material Girl”, said Paul T Horgan: “I may be old, but the charts were much better in the previous century.”

10. “Ode to Joyce”, Half Man Half Biscuit, 2008, the only 21st century song on the list, nominated by the Happy Locust. “I went to the store / And I bought a guitar / To bestow this accolade on you.”

And no, I wasn’t going to put “Only a Northern Song” in the list either.

Next week: Embarrassing siblings, such as Boris Johnson and James II and VII

Coming soon: More Twitter jokes

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is just £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes