They don’t give a Grammy for the best opening line in a song, but if they did, fun.’s “We Are Young” would be a prime contender this year: “Give me a second/I need to get my story straight.” The Kelly Clarkson hit “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” also has a compelling opening line: “You know the bed feels warmer/Sleeping here alone.” These opening lines draw you in; they command your attention right from the start.
Both of these songs received Grammy nominations for Song of the Year. fun. co-wrote “We Are Young” with their producer, Jeff Bhasker. Jorgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin and Ali Tamposi wrote Clarkson’s smash.
A grand total of 260 songs have been nominated for Song of the Year over the past 55 years. Many have vivid, memorable opening lines. I played them all over the weekend. Here are 40 of the very best. I tell you who had the highest-charting Hot 100 hit with the song, who wrote it and whether it won for Song of the Year or was just nominated. They’re listed in reverse chronological order.
“Easy come, easy go/That’s just how you live/Oh, take, take, take it all/But you never give.” Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” (which he co-wrote with Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine and Andrew Wyatt). 2011 nominee.
“I used to rule the world/Seas would rise when I gave the word/Now in the morning I sleep alone/Sweep the streets I used to own.” Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” (which the band members wrote). 2008 winner.
“Head under water/And you tell me to breathe easy for awhile.” Sara’ Bareilles’ “Love Song” (which she wrote). 2008 nominee.
“Forgive, sounds good/Forget, I’m not sure I could/They say time heals everything/But I’m still waiting.” Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” (which the trio co-wrote with Dan Wilson). 2006 winner.
“Girl, I’m in love with you/This ain’t the honeymoon/Past the infatuation phase.” John Legend’s “Ordinary People” (which he co-wrote with Will Adams, a.k.a. will.i.am). 2005 nominee.
“He said I was in my early 40s/With a lot of life before me/When a moment came and stopped me on a dime.” Tim McGraw’s “Life Like You Were Dying” (written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman). 2004 nominee.
“Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t/Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t.” India.Arie’s “Video” (which she co-wrote with Carlos Broady, Reginald Harris and Shannon Sanders). 2001 nominee.
“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder/You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger.” Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” (written by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers). 2000 nominee.
“She’s into superstitions/Black cats and voodoo dolls/I feel a premonition/That girl’s gonna make me fall.” Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” (written by Desmond Child and Robi Rosa). 1999 nominee.
“Hit it!/This ain’t no disco/It ain’t no country club either/This is L.A.” Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” (which she co-wrote with David Baerwald, Bill Bottrell, Wyn Cooper and Kevin Gilbert. 1994 nominee.
“Tale as old as time/True as it can be/Barely even friends/Then somebody bends, unexpectedly.” Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson’s “Beauty And The Beast.” (written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken). 1992 nominee.
“Sometimes the snow comes down in June/Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon.” Vanessa Williams’ “Save The Best For Last” (written by Phil Galdston, Jon Lind and Wendy Waldman). 1992 nominee.
“It must have been cold there in my shadow/To never have sunlight on your face.” Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” (written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar). 1989 winner.
“Every generation/Blames the one before/And all of their frustrations/Come beating on your door,” Mike & the Mechanics’ “The Living Years” (which the group’s Mike Rutherford co-wrote with Brian Robertson). 1989 nominee.
“Look at this face/I know the years are showing/Look at this life, I still don’t know where it’s going.” Linda Ronstadt (featuring Aaron Neville)’s “Don’t Know Much” (written by Barry Mann, Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil). 1989 nominee.
“The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar/I am following the river down the highway through the cradle of the Civil War.” Paul Simon’s “Graceland” (which he wrote). 1986 nominee.
“(I want my MTV.) Now, look at them yo-yos, that’s the way you do it/You play the guitar on the MTV.” Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” (which the group’s Mark Knopfler co-wrote with Sting). 1985 nominee.
“Well, my friends, the time has come/(To) raise the roof and have some fun/Throw away the work to be done/And let the music play on.” Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night)” (which he wrote). 1983 nominee.
“Her hair is Harlow gold/Her lips a sweet surprise/Her hands are never cold/She’s got Bette Davis eyes.” Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” (written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss). 1981 winner.
“Start spreadin’ the news/I’m leavin’ today/I want to be a part of it/New York, New York.” Frank Sinatra’s “Theme From New York, New York” (written by Fred Ebb & John Kander). 1980 nominee.
“At first I was afraid/I was petrified/Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side.” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” (written by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren). 1979 nominee.
”Isn’t it rich/Are we a pair?/Me here at last on the ground/You in mid-air.” Judy Collins’ “Send In The Clowns” (written by Stephen Sondheim). 1975 winner.
“I learned the truth at 17/That love was meant for beauty queens.” Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” (which she wrote). 1975 nominee.
“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train/And feeling near as faded as my jeans.” Janis Joplin’s “Me And Bobby McGee” (written by Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson). 1971 nominee.
“Take the ribbon from my hair/Shake it loose and let it fall/Layin’ soft against your skin/Like the shadows on the wall.” Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (written by Kris Kristofferson). 1971 nominee.
“It’s knowin’ that your door is always open/And your path is free to walk/That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch.” Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” (written by John Hartford). 1967 nominee.
“It was the third of June/Another sleepy dusty Delta day/I was out choppin’ cotton/And my brother was bailin’ hay.” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” (which she wrote). 1967 nominee.
“Trailer for sale or rent/Rooms to let, 50 cents/No phone, no pool, no pets/I ain’t got no cigarettes.” Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road” (which he wrote). 1965 nominee.
“It’s been a hard day’s night/And I’ve been workin’ like a dog/It’s been a hard day’s night/I should be sleepin’ like a log,” The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” (which the group’s John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote). 1964 nominee.
“The days of wine and roses/Laugh and run away/Like a child at play.” Andy Williams’ “Days Of Wine And Roses” (written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer). 1963 winner.
“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone/Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone.” Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go” (written by Audrey Allison and Joe Allison). 1960 nominee.
Post Script I: I could have easily made this a top 50, but Casey Kasem was right about the magic number. If I’d kept going, I would have had room for Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You!,” Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It" and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song," among others.
Post Script II: We’re very fortunate to be living in the digital era. All but one of the 260 songs that have received Grammy nominations for Song of the Year since 1958 are available on You Tube, just waiting for you to check them out. (The only one I couldn’t find is “I Know,” which was a minor hit for Perry Como in 1959. Perhaps a Como fan out there will upload it so that 100% of the Song of the Year nominees will be available to the general public.)