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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let's Stamp Out Bad Lyrics

Writing Lyrics image
For songwriters, many times lyrics get a pass. If you have a great hook, catchy melody, and solid arrangement and production, listeners and fans can take even the most banal lyrics with a grain of salt. It may be too much to expect great poetry from today's writers, but we can expect they at least spend some time trying to come up with more than "moon - June" and "down - frown."

A wonderful post on NPR blogs by James Toth put a spotlight on some lyrics by current artists that will make you cringe when read without the music.

"Afterparty in a hotel room
Pretty soon there will be no moon

—The Black Keys, "The Go Getter"
"You know I'm bad at communication 
It's the hardest thing for me to do
And it's said it's the most important part 
That relationships go through
And I gave it all away just so I could say that
Well I know, I know, I know, I know
That you're gonna be OK anyway."

—Haim, "The Wire"
"Turn around and no one's there
Don't know why I even care
Moods, they swing, the seasons change
Is it you or am I to blame?
I always complain ...
Before I can stay inside
Oh, how fast the time goes by
Take a pill, spend the bills,
Seems to be the way I get my thrill
A never-ending hill."

—Best Coast, "Why I Cry"
"It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
I received no warning
Now that's heartwarming
Alright, the weather's boring

—Sleigh Bells, "You Don't Get Me Twice"
And I don't know why 
The sun's in the sky
The rain, it falls down
Down on to the ground.

- Bethany Cosentino, "I Don't Know How"

The irony is that the albums that these songs are from are all well-regarded and received high marks in a variety of music publications. I'm sure that dozens of other examples can be cited, especially from the top 40 on any given week.

The point is, songwriting consists of two parts - music and lyrics. Is it too much to ask that a writer put more effort into a song so it actually says something and even slightly rises above the 3rd grade poetry level? Not everyone can be a Lennon and McCartney, or a Bob Dylan or a Paul Simon or a Hal David (or any of the other great lyricists of our time), but it's not too much to ask to try a bit harder, please. Read the original post here.

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Anonymous said...

And please, I never want to hear "fire" rhymed with "desire" ever again!

Anonymous said...

There's an old story about an engineer at Abbey Road who saw a lyric sheet in the studio and, after reading the lyrics, thought "Oh brother, this sounds like a flop." Here is what he read:

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Anonymous said...

I get that you're making a joke, but She Loves You is actually a pretty interesting lyric. Most of the Beatle's early stuff is geared towards a younger audience, one that is at the age at which one begins to negotiate the terrain between friends and love-interests. Many of the Beatles' early songs depict these sorts of situations. She Loves You is a song sung by a friend to a friend, about a girl. The situation is implied, but it's more complicated than a simple "I love you" type of love song. The speaker is affirming the feelings of someone who is not there to his friend who seems to have been hurt in some way.

"Yes It Is" is another of those great lyrics which depicts youthful relationships as complicated, and depicts young people as having significant emotional experiences.

The thing the Beatles often do, and other successful lyricists often do, is write words that give us just the tip of the iceberg, that imply a larger reality that we are invited to discover, and which is sometimes surprisingly rich.

Rand said...

...that's right, said the Walrus and if I may also say Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, while Stinging De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da and in the end, the cash you take is equal to the hits you make...


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