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  • It might get controversial

    In this forum, there is always discussion about lyrics, and what is working and what may not be working. It may seem like I want to push a particular barrow with this thread, but really what I seek is an understanding on what really matters in the crafting of a lyric.

    There is recurring discussion on story, backstory, showing-not-telling, etc.....and there is a danger that it is beginning to become dogma. If  'Three chords and the truth' is our stock in trade, then these things can become important, but in the history of Pop, Rock, and Folk, they are not always used.

    In my own writing I lean more towards the figurative and the abstract, with just one toe in the concrete world of fact, sufficient to provide context. But I like mood and hints, rather than spelling it out. I have concern that creative imagery be squashed by comment like, 'It doesn't sound like something someone would say in conversation' or the like.

    I know there can be no such thing as a 'best' Beatles song, but Strawberry Fields is often cited as such. But how would this forum critique a lyric posted here by a new member, Jim Lemon? Would comments include, 'Needs backstory' 'Too much tell and not enough show' 'What is this Strawberry Fields place? Show us what it is'. I could go on, but I hope the point is made.

     

    Strawberry Fields

     

    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.

    Strawberry Fields forever.

     

    Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.

    It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me.

    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.

    Strawberry Fields forever.

     

    No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.

    That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right, that is I think it's not too bad.

    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.

    Strawberry Fields forever.

     

    Always, no sometimes, think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.

    I think I know I mean a 'Yes' but it's all wrong, that is I think I disagree.

    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.

    Strawberry Fields forever.

    Strawberry Fields forever.

     

    So, my hope is that critiques will always be based on the way the writer has written the song, and not the way the one providing the critique would write it. I know this subject has been raised in song threads before, but it would be useful to dedicate a thread, and gather the facts and opinions in one place.

    Let the debate begin........

    'Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn'.
    CHARLIE PARKER

  • #2

    Weird example. Strawberry Fields Forever has a killer back story.

     

    Also, I'm not crazy about the line breaks.

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    • rsadasiv
      rsadasiv commented
      Editing a comment

      Hard to tell without a demo.

       


  • #3

    oldgitplayer wrote:

    In this forum, there is always discussion about lyrics, and what is working and what may not be working. It may seem like I want to push a particular barrow with this thread, but really what I seek is an understanding on what really matters in the crafting of a lyric.

    There is recurring discussion on story, backstory, showing-not-telling, etc.....and there is a danger that it is beginning to become dogma. If  'Three chords and the truth' is our stock in trade, then these things can become important, but in the history of Pop, Rock, and Folk, they are not always used.

    In my own writing I lean more towards the figurative and the abstract, with just one toe in the concrete world of fact, sufficient to provide context. But I like mood and hints, rather than spelling it out. I have concern that creative imagery be squashed by comment like, 'It doesn't sound like something someone would say in conversation'* or the like.

    I know there can be no such thing as a 'best' Beatles song, but Strawberry Fields is often cited as such. But how would this forum critique a lyric posted here by a new member, Jim Lemon? Would comments include, 'Needs backstory' 'Too much tell and not enough show' 'What is this Strawberry Fields place? Show us what it is'. I could go on, but I hope the point is made.

     

    Strawberry Fields
     
    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.
    Strawberry Fields forever.
     
    Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
    It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn't matter much to me.
    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.
    Strawberry Fields forever.
     
    No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.
    That is you can't, you know, tune in, but it's all right. That is I think it's not too bad.
    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.
    Strawberry Fields forever.
     
    Always, no sometimes, think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
    I think I know I mean a 'Yes' but it's all wrong, that is I think I disagree.
    Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
    Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.
    Strawberry Fields forever.
    Strawberry Fields forever.

     

    So, my hope is that critiques will always be based on the way the writer has written the song, and not the way the one providing the critique would write it. I know this subject has been raised in song threads before, but it would be useful to dedicate a thread, and gather the facts and opinions in one place.

    Let the debate begin........


    I have some very strong feelings about this topic (or set of topics). Generally speaking I believe it's best to use concrete imagery rather than abstract concepts, but that doesn't mean abstractions are totally taboo. It depends entirely on the song and the situation.

    The same goes for clear story lines or the lack thereof. I've written a couple of songs here that have no story line ("The Life of the Human Body" and "Philo's Tune"), that are almost purely intellectual (as opposed to physical or emotional) in nature. Yet they both still have very clear visual images.

    You've even said (above) that you're concerned that "creative imagery" might be quashed. Imagery is concrete, not abstract. It means you're giving the listener a mental picture of what's going on. Is that bad?

    For example...

    "Each day at my window I watch her as she passes by..."

    Is better than...

    "Each day I fantasize about a girl I've never met..."

    The first example says everything contained in the second but does so via concrete imagery and emotion.

    As for people's work and creativity being quashed, I would hope that that doesn't happen. Even so, we're all grown ups. We should be able to take or leave anything that anyone else has to say.

    Finally, regarding John Lennon's masterpiece: his gift for clever wordplay, and the way those words fit the rhythm of his tune, take center stage here. This is not a story song. So what? It's a window into the mind of someone who's (probably) tripping. And it's very entertaining, highly creative and eminently listenable. But it's all of a piece. You can't separate the lyric from the music or vice versa.

    If someone posted something that wonderfully strange and interesting here, I would hope to hell we'd all recognize its genius and, to quote John's partner in crime: "let it be..."

    Meanwhile, there's always going to be someone who, from their corner of the room, sees the painting as hanging a bit crooked, and are going to want to straighten it out for us. It's up to the writer to know when his work is hanging at the right angles, despite all the helping hands.

    By the way, the statement I've bolded in red? That's a direct quote from me. And if you're writing a song that's meant to be conversational in nature, it's probably a damn good rule to follow, don't you think?

    PS: Whilst writing this, I completely missed all the back and forth b/w OGP and Ram (mostly forth from Ram).

    PPS: Now there's a song title: "Mostly Forth From Ram!"

    “I started being a songwriter pretending I could do it, and it turned out I could.” —James Taylor.

    Comment


    • rsadasiv
      rsadasiv commented
      Editing a comment
      aaand it did get controversial.

    • oldgitplayer
      oldgitplayer commented
      Editing a comment

      LCK wrote:

      I have some very strong feelings about this topic (or set of topics). That has been noted before.....png" alt=":smileyhappy:" title="Smiley Happy" /> Generally speaking I believe it's best to use concrete imagery rather than abstract concepts, but that doesn't mean abstractions are totally taboo. It depends entirely on the song and the situation. This is the important point I'm pursuing.

      The same goes for clear story lines or the lack thereof. I've written a couple of songs here that have no story line ("The Life of the Human Body" and "Philo's Tune"), that are almost purely intellectual (as opposed to physical or emotional) in nature. Yet they both still have very clear visual images.

      You've even said (above) that you're concerned that "creative imagery" might be quashed. Imagery is concrete, not abstract. It means you're giving the listener a mental picture of what's going on. Is that bad? No - I chose my words badly here. I agree with you following examples. I meant creative and figurative wordplay - strange and unusual new metaphor. 

      For example...

      "Each day at my window I watch her as she passes by..."

      Is better than...

      "Each day I fantasize about a girl I've never met..."

      The first example says everything contained in the second but does so via concrete imagery and emotion.

      As for people's work and creativity being quashed, I would hope that that doesn't happen. Even so, we're all grown ups. We should be able to take or leave anything that anyone else has to say. We should be able to, but although I'm a grown up in one sense, I'm a child in the songwriting sense, so I take to heart everybody's observations on what I post.

      Finally, regarding John Lennon's masterpiece: his gift for clever wordplay, and the way those words fit the rhythm of his tune, take center stage here. This is not a story song. So what? It's a window into the mind of someone who's (probably) tripping. And it's very entertaining, highly creative and eminently listenable. But it's all of a piece. You can't separate the lyric from the music or vice versa.

      If someone posted something that wonderfully strange and interesting here, I would hope to hell we'd all recognize its genius and, to quote John's partner in crime: "let it be..." I hope so too, but I was just wondering.

      Meanwhile, there's always going to be someone who, from their corner of the room, sees the painting as hanging a bit crooked, and are going to want to straighten it out for us. It's up to the writer to know when his work is hanging at the right angles, despite all the helping hands. It's when the voices come in unison from all 4 corners of the room, and I still think what I'm doing is the best way to go - that's when I bang my head for a while.

      By the way, the statement I've bolded in red? That's a direct quote from me. And if you're writing a song that's meant to be conversational in nature, it's probably a damn good rule to follow, don't you think? Agreed.

      PS: Whilst writing this, I completely missed all the back and forth b/w OGP and Ram (mostly forth from Ram).

      PPS: Now there's a song title: "Mostly Forth From Ram!"


      I don't think I disagree with anything you've said here. The key objective of this thread is to bring out in the open that different songs have their own life (which you have said), and different approaches help make the world go round. And possibly I might learn some imporatant point about songcraft that I have missed up to now. Although, in my life I've always been a 'Learn the rules, then creatively break them' sort of a person.


    • Lee Knight
      Lee Knight commented
      Editing a comment

      LCK wrote:

      For example...

      "Each day at my window I watch her as she passes by..."

      Is better than...

      "Each day I fantasize about a girl I've never met..."

      The first example says everything contained in the second but does so via concrete imagery and emotion.


       

      I don't know that 1 is better than 2. I honestly think that a rule has taken precedence over what is really better. The 2nd has a certain opportunity for wordplay. Almost like a song about your unborn and unconceived child some one here had mentioned. 2 begs the listener to ask questions. Have you seen her? Is she real? Does she walk by your window? Does she smile or is she oblivious to you? I bet she's hot.

       

      And 1, while fitting a lot of rule adherence into itself, feels less intriguing. I'm not suggesting a cut and dried one is better one is worse, but this might illuminate some of our different perspectives of any given lyric. What is going to happen around 1 or 2? What further lyrics? What is the music doing to color those words? etcetcetc


  • #4
    If anything, SF illustrates the futility of posting a lyric w/out a demo--the lyric doesn't carry the song in the least.

    I think what's left out of the discussion in these "greatest artists of all time BREAKING THE RULES!!" threads is that, as evidenced by their catalog, they can turn out an amazing, conventional song, and thus may have the skillset to try something more unconventional. I presume that participants here are coming in to learn those foundational skills. You don't make a souffl
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    • #5
      I don't think it is an especially good lyric.
      ...

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      • rsadasiv
        rsadasiv commented
        Editing a comment

        rhino55 wrote:
        I don't think it is an especially good lyric.

        The meter of Straw-ber-ry Fie-lds-For ev-er is very nice.


      • Lee Knight
        Lee Knight commented
        Editing a comment

        rhino55 wrote:
        I don't think it is an especially good lyric.

        Nor is Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park. It's a horrible lyric! It is. But you know what? It's a great song. "What do you mean it's a great song?!??!? It's universally accepted as a horrible song!"  Yeah, it's a stretch but, there is something about it that really works for me and a lot of other people. For you guys, probably not.

         

        When Jimmy Webb is asked about the song he defends it. Paraphrasing, "Hey, it was all hippy dippy mentality and it worked then. I was working a picture in my mind of this cake out in the rain thing getting ruined..." So what?

         

        The point is if you just isolate a lyric and look at it alone, IT WON'T WORK. But listeners rarely say, "Who is this Eleanor Rigby? I wish I knew more about her so I could care about this song." They don't. They take the info presented, sometimes more, sometimes less, and they accept it as fact. Nobody came to her funeral? That's so sad... I wonder if they got her face out of the jar and buried it along with the rest of her?


      • nat whilk II
        nat whilk II commented
        Editing a comment

        rhino55 wrote:
        I don't think it is an especially good lyric.

         

        No it's not and yes it is - that's how I feel about it.png" alt=":smileyhappy:" title="Smiley Happy" />

         

        The first line is I think just great as a first line: "Let me take you down cause I'm going to.....Strawberry Fields.....nothing is real...etc".   It draws you right in, the consonants strike just like one of Ringo's fills, and the switch to the slow tertiary rhythm on "Strawberry Fields" makes it so effectively dreamy and spaced out.  This is the 60s drug thing in one line, brilliant.

         

        The next section, the "living is easy" one, just restates the drowsy, spaced out mood, but underscores the checked-out attitude which is a bit of honesty like one little light in a fog.  Not brilliant, but not much is needed to carry the mood, it's already so strong from the start. 

         

        The next one, the "no one I think is in my tree" is, IMHO, more of the disguised confessions that John was producing pretty regularly, going back at least to "I'm A Loser".  The "tune in" is probably, or at least maybe, a period reference to "tune in turn on drop out" and I'll brashly speculate (with a grin) that John is saying he can do the turn on thing and the drop out thing just fine, but tuning in is not easy for the isolated, complicated poet.  Yeah, I'm out on a limb here - maybe no one will share this tree.

         

        The last section, the "always, no, sometimes think it's me" is funny and effective as it conjures this vision of the seriously stoned guy trying to talk about heavy stuff but unable to make any sense and being aware of that at the same time.  I especially like the repetition of "know" - as if to say, "I know I'm stoned and I know I don't make sense, but I know I know something important and I know it doesn't matter pass the bong...."  

         

        So the lyric gets an A+ from me for overall effectiveness, but there is some filler especially in the second section.  So just a B for what should I call it, efficiency? Composite grade: A - - or B + +.  

         

        nat whilk ii


    • #6

      First, who on earth said "Strawberry Fields" was the best Beatles song? Really. Who would say such a thing?


      I mean, it is, certainly, one of my favorites, en toto; the melody iis exotic and ingratiating, the vocals, arrangement, and performances in combination with that melody give it the right, languid exoticicism.  But the lyris are little more than placeholders. It all works. But it all works in spite of vague, slapdash lyrics.


      (Now, I will admit that there seems a certain artfulness in how the vague bits are put together that is, perhaps, suggestive of the state of mind that Lennon is trying to suggest.)


      I would put the song in the class of other ingratiating pop hits that don't have a lot on their mind but have a nice melody and production concept/style/packaging to put them over. Certainly I don't think it rises to the level of craft of something like Michelle, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, no matter how fond I am of the song.



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      The chorus seems a little weak... I think it needs more lasers.

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      • rsadasiv
        rsadasiv commented
        Editing a comment

        blue2blue wrote:

        First, who on earth said "Strawberry Fields" was the best Beatles song? Really. Who would say such a thing?

        I mean, it is, certainly, one of my favorites, en toto; the melody iis exotic and ingratiating, the vocals, arrangement, and performances in combination with that melody give it the right, languid exoticicism.  But the lyris are little more than placeholders. It all works. But it all works in spite of vague, slapdash lyrics. 

        I would put the song in the class of other ingratiating pop hits that don't have a lot on their mind but have a nice melody and production concept/style/packaging to put them over. Certainly I don't think it rises to the level of craft of something like Michelle, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, no matter how fond I am of the song.


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      • Lee Knight
        Lee Knight commented
        Editing a comment

        blue2blue wrote:

        First, who on earth said "Strawberry Fields" was the best Beatles song? Really. Who would say such a thing?

        I mean, it is, certainly, one of my favorites, en toto; the melody iis exotic and ingratiating, the vocals, arrangement, and performances in combination with that melody give it the right, languid exoticicism.  But the lyris are little more than placeholders. It all works. But it all works in spite of vague, slapdash lyrics. 

        I would put the song in the class of other ingratiating pop hits that don't have a lot on their mind but have a nice melody and production concept/style/packaging to put them over. Certainly I don't think it rises to the level of craft of something like Michelle, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, no matter how fond I am of the song.


         

        I disagree. I think it works due to the lyrics as much as any other component. Vague? Sure is. And yet... it has a way of circling into itself like an Escher sketch. While everyone else was more akin to a fictitious but realistic Piranesi architectural sketch, Lennon was busy creating stairways that fedback into themselves. Nonsensical and yet making sense.

         

        Strawberry Fields feels anything but random. To me.


      • bee3
        bee3 commented
        Editing a comment

        blue2blue wrote:

        First, who on earth said "Strawberry Fields" was the best Beatles song? Really. Who would say such a thing?

        I mean, it is, certainly, one of my favorites, en toto; the melody iis exotic and ingratiating, the vocals, arrangement, and performances in combination with that melody give it the right, languid exoticicism.  But the lyris are little more than placeholders. It all works. But it all works in spite of vague, slapdash lyrics.

        (Now, I will admit that there seems a certain artfulness in how the vague bits are put together that is, perhaps, suggestive of the state of mind that Lennon is trying to suggest.)

        I would put the song in the class of other ingratiating pop hits that don't have a lot on their mind but have a nice melody and production concept/style/packaging to put them over. Certainly I don't think it rises to the level of craft of something like Michelle, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, no matter how fond I am of the song.


        Well, yeah... everybody knows Happiness is a Warm Gun is the best Beatles song.


    • #7
      In college I had a bootleg cassette of the Strawberry Fields demos (along with some Let It Be outtakes iIRC) and I thought it was a fascinating window into John's songwriting process. I also had about 90 minutes of Good Vibrations and Smile outtakes that were very illuminating as well.
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      • Lee Knight
        Lee Knight commented
        Editing a comment

        I'm going to refocus on that OP. For better or worse, when I write lyrics, I have a melody and groove going in my head. And that in turn suggests a rhyme scheme, and that in turn suggests a form, and that in turn suggests a blueprint or template for which my lyric will live. I get to fill it in! Between jamming in my head and letting that template evolve and present itself to me... the basic idea of my lyric has taken shape from a foggy cloud of an idea, a little spark, into a more tangible entity and a spark with bite. Tangible to me only at this point. Even though it is a hard to pin down combination of attitude, "backstory" only I'll know, style of speech, intent... for me, it now is this thing.

         

        And my gig, if I choose to accept it, is to try to get someone else to feel this thing. And so I workshop with you stinky Petes. And each one of you has his or her idea of what a great lyric, a great song, a great artist is. Some things that I love, a lot of you despise. And contrary to popular belief, I don't love everything. Lots of stuff you guys dig are just not for me. I'm interested, but the boat is not floating.

         

        So this thing in my head? You haven't heard it yet.

         

        So then, what's the use of workshopping when everyone isn't on the same page? Hmmm? The answer? Because I get to be the filter for my stuff. And you, yours. We get to be judge, jury and executioner for every idea offered up to us in kindness.

         

        WE get to choose.

         

        Sometimes our different perspectives become personal dogma. And we want to "share" our rules, uh... ideas. We get trapped into believing we know the true way and light, because we've managed to negotiate our share of writing obstacles and by golly, I made it past that lot of pot holes intact, so here's what I know. And pardon me for saying so but I'm RIGHT! We all believe it to a certain degree.  

         

        Why aren't they taking my awesome advice??!? Don't they realize how much I'm helping them right now?!?!?

        And all the while the writer isn't moved by your insight but by another's that you really don't see the value in and what the hell are they thinking!?! "The story needs to develop! Where's the development?!?!? A real person would never say that! That syntax is bassackwards! The prosody is off, you need to either rework the lyric or the melody to get it sound natural!!! That's too abstract!"

         

        What are you? Deaf? Blind? But the writer has things he likes. And this direction, perceived flaws and all, are where he wants to be sometimes. Workshopping, to him, means grabbing the suggestions that further his idea. An idea that never appealed to the guy giving the suggestion is the first place maybe.

         

        Full disclosure, this is not directed at anyone but me. The finger of blame has turned upon itself.

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