The Top 10: Strangest subjects for songs

None of your unrequited love nonsense here

John Rentoul
Friday 18 September 2020 12:43
Queen took on Einstein’s special theory of relativity
Queen took on Einstein’s special theory of relativity

Started by Cole Davis with “One Piece at a Time”, Johnny Cash’s 1976 ode to the joy of embezzling car parts. Matt Forde said the song, about a factory worker who can’t afford a car so steals the parts over years to make one, is one of his favourites: “Well, it’s a ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59 automobile. It’s a ’60, ’61 ...”

1. Reincarnation as a bag of groceries. “Dead” by They Might Be Giants. The weirdest of the band’s weird output according to ’Scope Davies. “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” about a nightlight, nominated by Paul Martin and Sean Rogers, is also pretty odd.  

2. The time dilation effect in Einstein’s special theory of relativity. “’39” by Queen. “A man who goes on a journey and returns having aged ‘but a year’, to find that that the lover he left behind has died in the many years which have passed,” said David Mills.  

3. A man who steals knickers off washing lines. “Arnold Layne” by Pink Floyd. He really existed in Cambridge, apparently. PD Anderson. David Webb. Tom Morton.  

4. Empty cigarette vending machines. “Smokin’ (Empty, Try Another)” by Joni Mitchell. Thanks to PD Anderson.  

5. A woman who stops her boyfriend from getting older by keeping him in a freezer. “Ageing Had Never Been His Friend” by Love is All. Nominated by Blair McDougall.  

6. “Fruit Fly” by Nada Surf, on their 2003 album Let Go. “A small but essential insect,” said Laura Dawson.  

7. Disapproval of secondhand clothing. “Junk Shop Clothes” by The Auteurs. “Their New Wave album includes songs about domestic burglary, murderous chauffeurs, and a deliciously angry song about a minor legal dispute involving the lead singer,” said David Boothroyd.  

8. A woman trying to speak to her Mars-based space soldier husband. “Clouds Across The Moon” by The Rah Band. Thanks to Emma Burnell.  

9. “1,000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks” by Voka Gentle. “The weirdest song I’ve ever heard,” said Josh Keeling.

10. A dog trying to understand its reflection. “Dog in the Mirror” by Guerilla Toss. One of a series of curious nominations by James of Nazareth.  

Some people got completely the wrong idea. Mitchell Stirling tried to nominate Suede’s “Animal Nitrate”, about drug-addled, sadomasochistic gay sex in a council flat, which sounds like a normal pop song to me.  

Next week: Greatest political errors of all time, inspired by Jo Swinson’s decision to allow Boris Johnson to have an election.

Coming soon: TV shows that lasted longer than the thing they were portraying, such as Dad’s Army, which ran for longer than the Second World War.  

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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