It's not exactly poetry, or How can you tell if the lyrics will work?


Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 17

Thread: It's not exactly poetry, or How can you tell if the lyrics will work?

  1. #1

    It's not exactly poetry, or How can you tell if the lyrics will work?

    It was one of those live mic gigs which bring singer-songwriters out of hiding; original songs only. I'd finished my four song bracket and was threading my way back to my table (look out, pregnant guitar coming through!) when my progress was halted by a vision of loveliness with those eyes which said I'm drunk, but you might do.

    "Your songs," she said, loud enough for the nearest tables to hear, "are just like poetry put to music."

    "Really?" This discerning Venus had my undivided attention.

    "Yeah. Can't stand poetry."

    OK; the punchline didn't happen, but I couldn't resist.

    It does, however, bring up the question for lyricists here:
    Without live audience testing, how do we know if the lyrics work?

    If a song is not a poem put to music, then are the lyrics fairly assessed as a poem?

    Looking back over the decades, would seeing just the words doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo lead someone to think, this is a potential hit?

    Sure, there are some epic songs with lyrics that can stand alone and rightly be called powerful poetry, but there are as many, if not more, that get into our heads (or the heads of those who came before us) and sold, and sold, and sold - gold records.

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

    So, what do you look for when you look at someone's original lyrics?

    And, perhaps more importantly, do you hear the songwriter's tune, or your own?

    Hey macarena!
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

    "Faith can move mountains - she's a big girl!" (unknown/graffiti)

    If I act like I own the place, it's because I did.





  2. #2
    WF Veteran Bloggsworth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Leafy suburb of North London
    Posts
    3,840
    The first thing to look for in a lyric is "Who is singing it..." The rest is is history.
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  3. #3
    Interesting. How, by seeing an unrecorded lyric for the first time, do you determine who is singing it?
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

    "Faith can move mountains - she's a big girl!" (unknown/graffiti)

    If I act like I own the place, it's because I did.





  4. #4
    WF Veteran Bloggsworth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Leafy suburb of North London
    Posts
    3,840
    If I sang it it wouldn't work, if Adele sang it it probably would. "I can't stop loving you" was just the "B" side of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me", but an international No1 hit for Ray Charles, you just can't always tell by just looking at the lyric.

    "All you need is love" has nothing lyrics, it was who by and when that made it unforgettable. Most pop successful songs are clichéd to the point of banality, barely having moved on from moon/june in terms of originality. If you want lyrics that actually say something, listen to Pete Atkin, Beware of the Beautiful Stranger, Girl on a Train, Driving Through Mythical America & others ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Atkin ) - Lyrics by the poet and all round genius, Clive James, who was told not to expect any hits, the lyrics were too intelligent...


    Lyrics here: http://www.peteatkin.com/download/tourlyrics.pdf
    Last edited by Bloggsworth; August 12th, 2012 at 05:11 PM.
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  5. #5
    WF Veteran Bachelorette's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    In a lone grave on Gormenghast Mountain... ;_;
    Posts
    554
    I think it depends on more than just the content of the lyrics. Like Bloggsworth said, it depends on who's singing it, but also how they sing it, and the instrumentation. Take 'Hurt' by Nine Inch Nails. Listen to the NIN version, and it's kind of over-the-top and a little juvenile, despite the moving melody. But listen to the Johnny Cash version, and O_O. You don't even have to know anything about Cash's hard life to understand why his version is so much more powerful. It's all in HOW he sings it.

    But, if you just look at the lyrics by themselves, without a singer or music to go along with them, well...

    Hurt

    I hurt myself today
    To see if I still feel
    I focus on the pain
    The only thing that's real
    The needle tears a hole
    The old familiar sting
    Tried to kill it all away
    But I remember everything...

    And so on. Pretty inane if viewed strictly as poetry, and left on its own without Reznor's melody or Cash's vocals. It's the kind of thing a depressed fifteen-year-old would write on the back of his trapper keeper.

    Like Cran said, you do have lyrics that hold up well completely on their own. I'll trot out Leonard Cohen as an example, since he started out as a poet but was far more successful as a songwriter. Many of his lyrics read like pretty decent poetry.

    But 98% of lyrics out there - possibly less - don't hold up by themselves as stand-alone pieces. A good song is about a combination of many components: melody, arrangement, lyrics, vocals, etc. And the lyrics, in many great songs, are rarely the most important component or the component that gets the most attention.

    So when someone posts lyrics they've written, and only the lyrics, it's really, really hard - for me anyway - to judge them by any standard other than the standards of poetry, because they have been divorced of their musical context. And without music, they will almost always fall short of being anything I would care to read.

    So I don't think it's really about lyrics by themselves being "successful," but about the whole song being so. If the other components of a song are good enough, you can get away with crap lyrics, and the listener will provide his/her own meaning or weight to the words, provided they like the other aspects of the song.

    I mean, you've got Bob Dylan, who writes some great lyrics, but his music and vocals, in general, bore me to tears. I'd rather listen to the Beatles than to pretty much anything Dylan's ever recorded, even though compared with Dylan's lyrics, the lyrics of most Beatles songs are downright inane.
    When will children learn to let their wildernesses burn?
    And love will be new, never cold and vacant.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bachelorette View Post
    ...So when someone posts lyrics they've written, and only the lyrics, it's really, really hard - for me anyway - to judge them by any standard other than the standards of poetry, because they have been divorced of their musical context. And without music, they will almost always fall short of being anything I would care to read...
    That's it; that's what I find.

    I also find myself trying to marry a tune to the lyrics I see, and (coming back to Bloggsworth's and your other point) trying to hear a voice that could make the whole thing work. But the tune and the voice that I might hear in my head will be nowhere near what the lyricist had in mind when writing it - been on the other side of that coin, too; a friend and far better musician than I could ever hope to be took some lyrics of mine and put a completely different sound to it, turning what would have been a scrap pile piece into a halfway decent song.

    Short of requiring a U-tube clip, or a wmv file (or mp3 or mp4), for each lyrics post, is there any way of improving our lyricists' chances of getting useful feedback?
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

    "Faith can move mountains - she's a big girl!" (unknown/graffiti)

    If I act like I own the place, it's because I did.





  7. #7
    Well, there are times where the lyrics are far too poorly done to even possibly be redeemed by the music that accompanies it. Not just inane, out right terrible crappy lyrics. But other than that, not really. The melody and music can make or brake it as a song.

    "It's only falling in love because you hit the ground."- "I Appear Missing", Queens of the Stone Age

    "She lingers beneath the dying moonbeams; glass in hand, struggling to stand, and in her eyes the universe gleams." - Lady of the Moment

    [Hidden Content ] - Always appreciative of a critique.




  8. #8
    WF Veteran Bachelorette's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    In a lone grave on Gormenghast Mountain... ;_;
    Posts
    554
    I also find myself trying to marry a tune to the lyrics I see
    See, I'm not musically inclined enough even to do that. I think if I could cook up a tune to go with written lyrics, it would help me immensely in critiquing them, even if my melody wasn't the one the author had in mind.

    is there any way of improving our lyricists' chances of getting useful feedback?
    Well, the problem I have is that I don't know how to critique lyrics by themselves. I'm a huge fan of music, and I listen to music that, lyrically speaking, spans from inane to almost literate. As a writer and "word person" myself, even I don't pay a whole lot of attention to lyrics in songs I like. I usually like a song for other reasons. So all I can do is fall back on my poetry critiquing "skills", which is unfair to the lyricists, because lyrics, in most cases, aren't poetry and aren't meant to be.

    I think that might be what's really holding a lot of people back from commenting on lyrics. They don't know how to critique them in a way that would be beneficial to the lyricist.

    So! Nox and Cran: what kind of things would you, ideally, like people to comment on regarding your posted lyrics? Or, given that this section of the forum is rather slower than other sections, would you be happy with just about anything?
    When will children learn to let their wildernesses burn?
    And love will be new, never cold and vacant.

  9. #9
    I've been slowly working on recording mine to assist with the critiqueing process. I'm not very good at developing a tune to written lyrics either, there are just too many ways you can take it and with me the melody always comes first; the words are added to fit to the tune. Also I'm half hoping some one who is more musically inclined than I will hear the recording and know what music to play along with it =0


    So! Nox and Cran: what kind of things would you, ideally, like people to comment on regarding your posted lyrics? Or, given that this section of the forum is rather slower than other sections, would you be happy with just about anything?
    Anything indeed. For lyrics without melody attatched to them the contents and meaning would be what we are looking at I guess. You can't judge the rhythm or the structure until you hear it.

    "It's only falling in love because you hit the ground."- "I Appear Missing", Queens of the Stone Age

    "She lingers beneath the dying moonbeams; glass in hand, struggling to stand, and in her eyes the universe gleams." - Lady of the Moment

    [Hidden Content ] - Always appreciative of a critique.




  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Bachelorette View Post
    So! Nox and Cran: what kind of things would you, ideally, like people to comment on regarding your posted lyrics? Or, given that this section of the forum is rather slower than other sections, would you be happy with just about anything?
    Once again, Bachelorette, most of your response mirrors my own thought and feeling.

    If I've posted any lyrics here, as lyrics, they'd be buried deep in the back pages somewhere. I have posted some as poems (not sure if they are on this forum, but certainly on other sites) because I could get away with calling them poems, or having them treated as poems.

    When I've tried to look at the posted lyrics here, I've mostly ended up comparing them with how I'd write them - which doesn't seem fair, so the few comments I've made have been simple error-spotting or bland one line statements.

    So all I can do is fall back on my poetry critiquing "skills", which is unfair to the lyricists, because lyrics, in most cases, aren't poetry and aren't meant to be.

    I think that might be what's really holding a lot of people back from commenting on lyrics. They don't know how to critique them in a way that would be beneficial to the lyricist.
    It certainly holds me back. And I believe you're right that it's a common issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by Noxicity
    Also I'm half hoping some one who is more musically inclined than I will hear the recording and know what music to play along with it =0
    I think that hope is also a common one.

    As a forum, I think the challenge is that we have no, or not enough, expert lyricists to lead the way or mentor in the same way as happens in the more popular written forms (poetry, fiction, non-fiction - I don't know what's happening in scriptwriting; haven't looked).

    Most of all, I hate not having the answer; or even an answer.
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

    "Faith can move mountains - she's a big girl!" (unknown/graffiti)

    If I act like I own the place, it's because I did.





Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
This website uses cookies
We use cookies to store session information to facilitate remembering your login information, to allow you to save website preferences, to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners.