Remembering Her Lines: Aimee Mann’s Greatest Lyrical Moments

Aimee Mann has put together a stellar career, one that started way back in the ‘80s as a member of ‘Til Tuesday and has continued throughout a justly-celebrated solo catalog. The one constant has been Mann’s fantastic songwriting. She’s always been a crafter of outstanding melodies that manage to be both complex and catchy.

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And then there are her lyrics, where she’s always been able to combine a sterling vocabulary with incisive insight and miles of heart. Let’s take a look back at eight times when specific lines of her lyrics absolutely sparkled.

1. ”Voices Carry” (from the ‘Til Tuesday album Voices Carry, 1985)

He wants me
But only part of the time
He wants me
If he can keep me in line

The first time most of us heard Aimee Mann was on this intense New Wave smash by her band ‘Til Tuesday. All the songwriting traits that have been on display throughout her career are in evidence here: the melodic hooks, the integrity, the fearlessness. The lines above come from the middle-eight, and it tears apart the façade of this supposedly loving significant other.

2. “Mr. Harris” (from the album Whatever, 1993)

Depending on whichever book you read
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get what you need

“Mr. Harris” is a tender ballad that’s given a dappled glow from the woodwind arrangement of Jon Brion, who often collaborated with Mann on her early solo albums. The song is about a woman who falls in love with a man in the autumn of his years. She can’t understand why everyone around her objects to the romance. Lines like the ones above make her point in touching fashion.

3. “That’s Just What You Are” (from the album I’m With Stupid, 1995)

Now I could talk to you till I’m blue in the face
But we still will arrive at the very same place
With you running around and me out of the race

This was somewhat of a breakthrough single for Mann as a solo artist thanks to its placement in TV shows at the time. Mann took Brion’s suggested idea of a song about an irredeemable cad and ran with it. Once again, the quoted lines come from a middle-eight, proving Mann’s mastery of that underrated, but crucial, song section.

4. “Wise Up” (from the album Magnolia: Music from the Motion Picture, 1999)

It’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

Those lines above might not be the most complex. But they show how Mann can be piercing and direct. They also brought her the biggest exposure of her career, when they were sung by various characters on screen in Paul Thomas Anderson’s motion picture Magnolia. As moving as those scenes were, you can’t match the intensity of Mann’s original vocal delivering those haunting words.

5. “Nothing Is Good Enough” (from the album Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo)

Critics at their worst could never criticize the way that you do
No, there’s no one else I find to undermine or dash a hope quite like you

Bachelor No. 2 is Mann’s masterpiece, which is ironic because she couldn’t get her record company to release it. Songs like “Nothing Is Good Enough” can work as complaints about romantic entanglements. But Mann was also writing about her frustrations within the music industry. And when she does so with the eloquence she shows in the lines here? Well, woe to the target of her ire.

[RELATED: Aimee Mann: A Musical Voice]

6. “It’s Not” (from the album Lost in Space, 2002)

So red turns into green turning into yellow
But I’m just frozen here on the same old spot
And all I have to do is to press the pedal
But I’m not

The closing ballad from Lost in Space relates the narrator’s struggles to change things in her life, only to come against brick wall after brick wall—and sometimes due to her own inaction. The songwriting device of setting the listener up for something positive before pulling out the rug with the negatives of the refrain is particularly effective.

7. “Philly Sinks” (from the album Mental Illness, 2017)

Philly sinks, and when he sinks you go down
And when you do, you both drown

Mann explained in interviews how she steered into the curve of people’s perception of her on the album Mental Illness, which, true to its title, is a collection of decidedly downcast material. She also indulged in her love of waltzes, as in this tale about a ne’er-do-well who nonetheless keeps roping others into his dysfunction.

8. “You Could Have Been a Roosevelt” (from the album Queens of the Summer Hotel, 2020)

This could be us but those were not the cards that we were dealt
You’re doomed to be a Kennedy
When you could have been a Roosevelt

In this incisive track from an album made up of songs meant for an unmade musical, Mann contrasts the fate of the narrator’s cursed clan with those who have enjoyed both privilege and luck. The lines demonstrate her ability to deliver telling and unique metaphors.

Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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