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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Stop Making Sense


Songs don't have to mean anything at all to be successful. They
don't have to have a central message if they don't want to.

Some acts have made a career out of saying nothing at all
but being quite exciting when they said it. Sometimes it's
one hundred percent in the delivery.

Here's a line from a quite famous song by Oasis.

'You're my wonderwall'

What on earth...hang on, wonderwall isn't even in the dictionary!

Here's the chorus to Duran Duran's eighties hit 'The Reflex'

'So why don't you use it?
Try not to bruise it
Buy time don't lose it
The reflex is an only child he's waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isn't that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark'

Duran Duran's intent was to be entirely meaningless. What the words do is paint a picture - nothing else. Does this make a good song? Well, let's not talk about what kind of songs we like. Let's talk about the fact that this song was number one for weeks and people didn't sit around in cafes questioning why children should walk aimlessly in parks trying to find treasure or four leaf clovers. In the dark.

They were too busy buying the records and being 'into' Duran Duran.

NOT making sense does something psychological. It becomes memorable for NOT making sense. Things put together which don't fit become a NEW thing. Phrases that KIND of make sense can sometimes create a whole new sense. What's a Wonderwall? I have no idea, but I remembered it.

I have written songs written entirely to capture an abstract feeling, and its an interesting idea. Why not sit down and decide to write a song that ONLY conjures up images, has nice vowel sounds, pretty words, strange descriptions of a twilight world? What's wrong with that? Some songs exist only to transport the listener to...somewhere else. You don't need a reason for that.

A song can be catchy, or not catchy. Whether it means anything or not is sometimes irrelevant.

U2 and Chili Peppers mix up the meaningful with the strange. Works for them.

Pink Floyd didn't do too bad either.

10:32 AM in Lyric writing | Permalink


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As far as the nonsensical lyric, too many lyricists believe the appeal of a song lies somewhere in the words. This can't be further from the truth. The most important aspect of any song is image. Next comes production/ performance, then melody and finally lyric comes in at a distant 4.

Posted by: Tralfaz | Apr 28, 2004 4:16:58 PM

I'm not sure I agree with Tralfaz - I think a song is what it is. Whether it has great words or just great music – it has to have some kind of content. Image may be important for the look of a band, but if the song words are crap and the melody just consequential then I think we've lost the point. Performance plays a huge part in making a song sound great, and having it well produced also helps but when it comes to writing a good song you can't just sit there writing rubbish in the hope that your producer can make it sound 'wicked' with some funky machine and hope the performer doesn’t wear underwear so the crowd won't notice what they’re singing? Sure it's worked in the past - but its not exactly creating is it?

Posted by: Steph | Apr 28, 2004 6:07:07 PM

Quote* but if the song words are crap and the melody just consequential then I think we've lost the point*

I never said lyrics weren't important, there are many great songs that had great, memorable lyrics, the point is, the lyric itself is the least important of 4 criteria I set in the previous post. First, the image of the song has very little to do with the image of the artist. The image obviously contains the genre and sub-culture that may be defined by tones, beat, drive, style, etc. What makes dico diso and hip-hop hip-hop? This is what lets your audiance identify with a song whether they've ever seen a likeness of the artist. Listen to Jet or The White stripes, Brad Paisley or Christina Aguilara (sp?) what are they selling? It's not lyrics or melody... it's identification of a percieved cool or lifestyle.

Posted by: Tralfaz | Apr 28, 2004 10:29:54 PM

Take another look at bands such as.. Jet, The white Stripes and Christine Aguilera – you’ll find that all their fashion styles are linked directly to the style of their songs. In fact your point that they are ‘selling an identification of a perceived cool or lifestyle’ backs that up entirely.
The genre of music you want to play, write whatever can of course be decided first, but saying that, it can be rather restricting. A friend of mine found it hard to make songs interesting when trying to stay in one style – it was only when he let go of the ‘perceived genre’ he was aiming for and just wrote words that meant something to him and let the melodies just flow out that he started to create some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. So in this case the words and melody came first – the chosen instruments added the ‘style’ of ‘rock’ later. To me words and melodies are what individualise bands within the same style group – but without a style then some may get confused and not know who to compare them to. I don’t agree that the style of a song, the words, or the melody should get put into a criteria of importance. If you are in a creative profession then being narrow minded about what your audience wants is very dangerous. One person’s artistic preferences can differ so completely from another’s, that for you to ignore and/or not appreciate this can only lead to you restricting your music/art and therefore the enjoyment and support of your audience.

Posted by: Steph | Apr 29, 2004 12:05:03 PM

Which brings me to my original point, the narrowminded lyricist is the one who overstates the importance of the lyric. Over the past 40 years there are 1000's of hit songs in any number of genres whose lyrics are inconsequential at best. When Dolly Parton sings "I will always love you", that's a pretty nondescript and generic. What is it that makes the line so powerful? The melody and the dynamics in which the line is delivered, but now recite to me a couple of the other lines from that song... Just as I thought.
I am not saying lyrics are not important, "Down at the sunset strip, where all the basket people mill around and mumble" or "Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train, feeling nearly faded as my jeans", those are great lines, but those are also great melodies, and back to my original point, they create an image. You somehow got to thinking the lyrical image was somehow tied to the artist image. The entire song creates the image, and as I was saying, the lyric is the least important of the 4 criteria I set forth before. I've never heard lyrics being recited over the speaker in an elevator.

Posted by: Tralfaz | Apr 29, 2004 10:56:08 PM

Music's been going for a lot longer than 40 years - Mozart or Bach ring any bells?
I never said that ALL a song needed was fab lyrics to make it great - when did I say that melody couldn't be more important? That’s the reason I disagreed with your narrow-minded criteria in the first place - because it all depends on the bloody song! Lyrics over the elevator loud speaker... are you saying that elevator Muzak is good 'cos they don't do that?

Posted by: Steph | Apr 30, 2004 2:48:35 PM

I don't know. I don't think there are any songs out there that were "meaningless" to the writer, if anything, I think it's easy to go down the road of personal and obscure metaphors. However, it is a good idea to brainstorm out the lyrics, finding great vowel sounds that match, and then decide if you want to make the song accessible or not by using at least a few lines, either in the chorus or the verses, that ties it all together (and make sense). On a personal note though, since it is pretty hard to write lyrics that will be picked up by everyone, regardless of age and other factors, I usually try my hardest to find topics and lines that make sense - turning it into something that doesn't make sense to the general public isn't really too hard if want to do that later...

Posted by: TSW | May 9, 2004 10:47:10 PM