Songs About Lying, Liars and Deception
Stephen Colbert once got lots of laughs for coining the term truthiness. It means truth that comes from the gut — something one wishes to be true, regardless of actual fact. In an era of truthiness, it is easy to be lied to: The facts simply don't matter. The gut is what counts.
Unfortunately, the gut can be wrong, and often is. And no one knows this — or seems to know this — better than rock stars, for whatever reason. Perhaps they've been done wrong, or are about to do someone else wrong, or are sitting in a bar, watching a third party about to do someone wrong. These are not seers or prophets; they live in the moment and they've got their hearts on their proverbial sleeves. There's not a cynic among them (well, maybe Henry Rollins). They feel; they feel so hard that they have to share their feelings with others, after setting them to music.
Here are more than 30 examples of artists who lead with their gut, only to be disappointed when the truth — whatever that truth might be — makes itself known.
Argent, "Liar" (1970)
An overwrought Russ Ballard wrote "Liar" for his band Argent, but the single went nowhere — nowhere, that is, until Three Dog Night plucked it up and made it a hit.
Big Star, "Don’t Lie to Me" (1972)
The most influential band no one had heard of, Big Star get their Who on, deep into the first side of their first album. Bless Chris Bell for this blast of attitude.
Billy Joel, "Honesty" (1978)
Billy Joel had troubles with his first record company and manager, and would have troubles with future managers and wives, and in the middle of it all – on the biggest non-disco album released in 1978 – he found the time and space to complain. Melodically, of course.
Black Keys, "Lies" (2008)
"I got a stone where my heart should be," Dan Auerbach sings, and the bitterness drips from his voice, while a cacophony of all manner of Danger Mouse-mixed instruments explodes behind him.
Bob Dylan, "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" (1964)
Lovelorn confusion, voiced by the young Bob Dylan, hardens by the end of the song into the stiffened neck and who-needs-her attitude of one who has lusted, lost and learned.
Chuck Berry, "Don’t You Lie to Me" (1961)
Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll take on a 1940 blues song by Tampa Red, the selection of which was perhaps influenced by his legal woes at the time. In the end, he'd be jailed for 18 months and would not release another record for three years; this one had to last a while.
Def Leppard, "Love Don’t Lie" (2002)
Expertly produced rumination on matters of the heart, from Def Leppard's quasi-adult-contemporary phase of the early '00s.
Del Amitri, "Always the Last to Know" (1992)
"Though we share the same city and feel the same sun / When your winter comes, I'll be the last to know." Glasgow never seemed gloomier than when these Glaswegians sent this song out over the airwaves.
Depeche Mode, "The Policy of Truth" (1990)
You say you'll never lie again? You might have just lied.
Dio, "Living the Lie" (2004)
By the time Master of the Moon came out, Ronnie James Dio's music was not much of a commercial concern in the U.S. It was a fine album, though, and this meditation on the fleeting nature of fame is but one example.
Duff McKagan's Loaded, "Easier Lying" (2011)
"Nothing is easy when nothing is true," Duff McKagan sings in the wobbliest manner one can imagine someone as solid and rock-ribbed as McKagan singing. The whole song sounds like it could rattle apart at any minute, as if the band is unsure of where the shaky voice is going. That's how difficult it is to live without truth.
Eagles, "Lyin' Eyes" (1975)
Glenn Frey and Don Henley are hanging out at the local steak joint / alcohol-consumption establishment. They see pretty young women on the arms of rich older gentlemen, and immediately question the intentions of the pretty young women. (They know what the old men want.) "She can't even hide those lyin' eyes," Frey says, before returning to his mescal. The dead light bulb above their table suddenly sizzles to life; they look up at it, then across at each other. Bonus: The Eagles' album cut of "Lyin' Eyes" is nearly six and a half minutes long. That's as long as "Hotel California" — a third of a Yes song! — but it goes down so smoothly, you don't even notice.
Elvis Costello, "Beyond Belief" (1982)
The pickup artist finds his mark and moves in. He considers telling her the truth — about himself, about how he sees her — but then decides on his normal routine instead.
Elvis Presley, "Suspicious Minds" (1969)
Paranoia will destroy ya, even if you're the King of Rock 'n' Roll. You love that woman, but you just know she has warm, tingly feelings for someone else. You can't walk out, but you can't go on living with suspicions of her. What do you do? You're Elvis Presley; you sing.
Eurythmics, "Would I Lie to You?" (1985)
A cheating lover gets what's coming to him — a good brow-beating and kiss-off, with a full band supporting both, blowing R&B fire. And Annie Lennox doing the beating and kissing. Pretty vicious stuff.
Fleetwood Mac, "Little Lies" (1987)
For most of the song, Christine McVie makes a point of saying she'd rather hear a lie than the truth; lies are more convenient, less painful in the moment, though they do more damage in the long run. That latter notion — that she'll be worse off after months or years of untruth — dawns on her gradually as the song progresses, until she slips in, "No more broken hearts / We're better off apart; let's give it a try." The music is so sweet, he probably barely notices.
Goo Goo Dolls, "Sweetest Lie" (2010)
Post-punkers-turned-Dad-rockers lament being duped and dumped, but still wanting the duper/dumper.
Huey Lewis & the News, "Tell Me a Little Lie" (1982)
Before there was Sports, there was this — a modified reggae, played by the luckiest bar band in the world (until Hootie & the Blowfish came along), begging for a fib that will last forever. Not a meat-and-potatoes sentiment, but sung by a meat-and-potatoes singer, a guy just two steps away from the big time – though, of course, Huey Lewis didn't know it just yet.
Knickerbockers, "Lies" (1966)
Proto-garage rock, rough and ready, and that's a good thing, considering the jagged sentiment here. "Who do you think you are, girl," Beau Charles sings, "to lead me on this way?" And his band, banging behind him, practically says, "Yeah! Who do you think you are?"
Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Don't Ask Me No Questions" (1974)
At the end of The Godfather, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) tells his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), "Don't ask me about my business," in order to cover up the fact that he had his brother-in-law killed (along with a number of other enemies). There's no telling what Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant is looking to avoid discussing when he says the same thing here.
Meat Loaf, "I'd Lie for You (And That's the Truth)" (1995)
Diane Warren and Ron Nevison play the roles of Jim Steinmen and Todd Rundgren, respectively, with middle-aged Meat Loaf reprising his star turn as Meat Loaf. Together, they tried to recapture the success of Bat Out of Hell, which Mr. Loaf (as the New York Times called him) had already managed to do once, a couple years previous. They got the bombast down pat, stretched it out to six and a half minutes, and sent the big guy back into the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart one last time.
Motorhead, "Liar" (1993)
Were we televangelists around the time Lemmy came up with this vicious (and we mean vicious) screed against those of the evangelistic persuasion, we'd have definitely looked for a new line of work.
Pretenders, "Lie to Me" (2002)
"Spare me the details, the entrails and the gore," Chrissie Hynde practically spits out to the lover who done her wrong. This bluesy doozy kicked off the Pretenders' Loose Screw, a record that deserved more listeners than it got.
Queen, "Liar" (1973)
The overdubbed, stacked and radically EQ'd vocals that shout "Liar!" on Queen's first album are perhaps the most accusatory of any on this list. They leap from the speakers so harshly, you can't help thinking they're shouting at you.
REO Speedwagon, "Take It on the Run" (1980)
Gary Richrath wrote this one all by his lonesome, and it can be surmised that he was feeling lonesome, having heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from yet another friend that his lady was being unfaithful.
Robert Plant, "Liars Dance" (1990)
The most Led Zeppelin III-like track on Manic Nirvana, or maybe in the entirety of Robert Plant's solo discography, and it's about the wages of fame and riches that accompany it. Bonus points for the "Stairway" reference ("Just leave it to the lady who's sure") and the wordplay in the middle ("Kneel before the fatted cow / Let's take a little moo before we go").
Rolling Stones, "Lies" (1978)
Aside from the repeated refrain of "Lies!" you absolutely need a lyric sheet to follow along as Mick Jagger excoriates the object of his ire. Imagine our surprise to find the line we'd heard as "Lies — lana cut a chest-a-belt" was actually "Lies, lies — you dirty Jezebel." We recommend reading the lyrics, particularly in preparation for some point at which you wish to express anger at someone for telling you an untruth.
Rollins Band, "Liar" (1994)
This is one case in which the song really needs the video to be complete. In order to really appreciate "Liar," you simply must see Henry Rollins as a sepia-toned Clark Kent oozing sincerity, only to turn into a body-painted devil bellowing about how insincere that sincerity was.
Sammy Hagar, "Little White Lie" (1997)
With such a bitter song, you'd think Sammy Hagar had just been through a bad breakup or something.
Sex Pistols, "Liar" (1977)
Johnny Rotten lectures someone for lying to him, as all manner of racket crashes around him. And though Rotten is straightforward and angry (and maybe even a little vulnerable), what we really care about is the racket, how it scrapes through our ear canals and punches our chests. The singer's feelings might be hurt, but the music is actually inflicting no small amount of punishment, and it is exquisite.
Ted Nugent, "I Love You So I Told You a Lie" (1976)
Derek St. Holmes split the band, so Ted Nugent brought in this guy named Meat Loaf for two days of singing and everybody got a platinum record to hang on their walls. The following year, Meat Loaf released Bat Out of Hell and got some hardware all his own.
The Who, "La-La-La-Lies" (1966)
The shoop-shoop background vocals and lyrics about "this girl with eyes like gems" are so conventional as to be a bit of a snooze, particularly for the band that had ripped everyone's head off with "My Generation." But there is a bit of a sneer here — it's the rumor mill versus Pete Townshend, and he's about to go up 1-0.
Thompson Twins, "Lies" (1983)
Early MTV-era synth pop, rendered by three "twins" who were unrelated and looked nothing alike. The song was so ubiquitous, though, that there are still people of a certain age who hear the word lies, and immediately think "Lies, lies, lies, yeah!"
Three Dog Night, "Liar" (1970)
For six or seven years, just about everything Three Dog Night touched turned into gold records, including this one Argent couldn't quite seem to take anywhere. Three Dog Night took it to the Top 10.