Elliott Smith - Between the Bars - 1997

Elliott Smith - Between the Bars - 1997


"Between the Bars" is a poignant and evocative song by the American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Released in 1997 as part of his third studio album, "Either/Or", the song has since become one of Smith's most beloved and enduring works. Its melancholic melody and introspective lyrics delve into themes of addiction, loneliness, and the desire for escape, showcasing Smith's talent for crafting deeply personal and emotionally resonant music.


Elliott Smith was known for his intricate guitar playing, whispery vocals, and introspective songwriting. "Between the Bars" stands out in Smith's discography for its intimate portrayal of the struggle with personal demons and the seductive pull of escapism through alcohol. The song's minimalist arrangement—featuring Smith's soft vocals accompanied by a gently picked guitar—serves to highlight the raw emotion and vulnerability of the lyrics.

Lyrics Analysis

The lyrics of "Between the Bars" speak to the listener as if from the perspective of addiction itself, personifying the substance as a comforting presence promising escape from pain and loneliness. This unique narrative approach allows Smith to explore the complex relationship between the self and the addictive substance, blurring the lines between solace and entrapment.

Influence and Legacy

Since its release, "Between the Bars" has been covered by numerous artists and featured in various films and TV shows, underscoring its enduring impact on popular culture. The song's haunting beauty and emotional depth continue to resonate with listeners, making it a standout track in Elliott Smith's oeuvre and a poignant reminder of the artist's legacy.

Musical Composition

Musically, "Between the Bars" showcases Smith's skill in combining simple musical structures with profound lyrical content. The song's melody is both haunting and beautiful, creating a stark contrast with the darkness of the lyrics. This juxtaposition adds to the song's emotional impact, making it a powerful expression of human vulnerability.


Critics and fans alike have praised "Between the Bars" for its emotional depth and lyrical complexity. The song is often cited as one of Smith's greatest works, exemplifying his ability to convey complex emotions through music.

Interactive Tasks

Quiz: Questions on the song

What year was "Between the Bars" released? (1997) (!1995) (!1999) (!2001) Which album features "Between the Bars"? (Either/Or) (!XO) (!Figure 8) (!Roman Candle) What primary themes does "Between the Bars" explore? (Addiction, loneliness, and escapism) (!Love, happiness, and joy) (!Political activism and social justice) (!Travel and adventure) How is "Between the Bars" musically characterized? (Minimalist arrangement with guitar and vocals) (!Full band with drums and electric guitar) (!Electronic synthesizers and beats) (!Orchestral arrangements) Elliott Smith's vocal style in "Between the Bars" is often described as: (Whispery) (!Loud and aggressive) (!Auto-tuned) (!Operatic)

Quiz: Questions on the Performer

What is Elliott Smith's full name? (Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith) (!Elliott John Smith) (!Steven Patrick Smith) (!John Elliott Smith) Before his solo career, Elliott Smith was a member of which band? (Heatmiser) (!Sunny Day Real Estate) (!Pavement) (!The Shins) In which city did Elliott Smith grow up? (Portland, Oregon) (!Los Angeles, California) (!New York City, New York) (!Chicago, Illinois) What instrument is Elliott Smith famously known for playing? (Guitar) (!Piano) (!Drums) (!Bass) Elliott Smith was nominated for an Oscar for his song from which movie? (Good Will Hunting) (!Almost Famous) (!The Royal Tenenbaums) (!Garden State)

Quiz: Questions on the lyrics

What does "Between the Bars" personify in its lyrics? (Addiction) (!A lost love) (!A city) (!A season) The song promises escape from: (Pain and loneliness) (!The city) (!A relationship) (!Winter) The arrangement of "Between the Bars" primarily features: (Guitar and vocals) (!Full band) (!Synthesizers) (!Orchestra) Elliott Smith's songwriting style in "Between the Bars" is: (Introspective and emotional) (!Outgoing and humorous) (!Abstract and cryptic) (!Political and direct) The narrative perspective of "Between the Bars" can be described as: (From the viewpoint of addiction) (!A third-person observation) (!A direct dialogue between lovers) (!An autobiography)


Year of Release 1997
Album Either/Or
Primary Themes Addiction, loneliness, escapism
Musical Style Minimalist arrangement
Vocal Style Whispery

Open Tasks


  1. Research Elliott Smith's discography: Explore Elliott Smith's albums and list your favorite songs from each.
  2. Create a cover of "Between the Bars": Record your own version of "Between the Bars," focusing on conveying the emotional depth of the song.
  3. Write a poem inspired by "Between the Bars": Write a poem that captures the themes of addiction, loneliness, and escapism found in the song.


  1. Analyze the lyrics of "Between the Bars": Dive deeper into the lyrics of "Between the Bars" and write an essay on its themes and narrative technique.
  2. Explore the influence of "Between the Bars": Research how "Between the Bars" has been covered by other artists and featured in media. Share your findings in a presentation.
  3. Discuss the impact of Elliott Smith's music: Host a discussion group to talk about the influence and legacy of Elliott Smith's music on modern singer-songwriters.


  1. Compose a song inspired by Elliott Smith: Write and record a song that reflects the musical and lyrical style of Elliott Smith, especially drawing inspiration from "Between the Bars."
  2. Create a documentary on Elliott Smith: Plan and produce a short documentary focusing on the life, career, and legacy of Elliott Smith, including an analysis of "Between the Bars."
  3. Organize a tribute concert for Elliott Smith: Plan a tribute concert featuring local artists covering Elliott Smith's songs, including "Between the Bars," to honor his legacy.

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Oral Exam

  1. Discuss the role of music in expressing personal struggles: How does "Between the Bars" exemplify the use of music as a means to convey personal experiences and emotions?
  2. Analyze the impact of minimalist music composition: In what ways does the minimalist arrangement of "Between the Bars" enhance the song's emotional impact?
  3. Explore the relationship between artist and listener: How does Elliott Smith's intimate songwriting style in "Between the Bars" create a connection with the listener?
  4. Evaluate the legacy of "Either/Or" within Elliott Smith's discography: Discuss the significance of "Either/Or" in Elliott Smith's career and its influence on the singer-songwriter genre.
  5. Examine the influence of Portland's music scene on Elliott Smith: Analyze how the music scene in Portland, Oregon, influenced Elliott Smith's music style and themes, particularly in "Between the Bars."

OERs on the Topic


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