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Your Lyrics Aren't Nearly As Important As You Think They Are


Matximus

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I definitely think "Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?" is far superior in craft and story telling to "Bridge over Troubled Water." "Bridge," of course is a song of profound importance to a lot of people. And we may even think that elevates the song -- or at least that it demonstrates that the writer had tapped into a deep vein (no drug allusion puns intended) of uncertainty and yearning in the pop masses.

 

But I'll take the excellent craft and self-contained greatness of "Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?"

 

 

Mind you, I thought it was the height of insipidity when I was a kid. But I also thought "Bridge" was insufferably stupid. So, you know... ;)

 

 

EDIT: I had to look up what that "sail on, silver girl" line is from. Surprised it was from "Bridge," actually. Shows how much attention I've paid.

 

That is one truly insipid verse...

 

Sail on Silver Girl,

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

Damn, that's just stupid.

 

Simon has written some great songs but he's written a lot of total dross, too. For me, I'd say the stuff that works is mostly way back as far as I can tell but I totally tuned out around the time of his second multi-culti back up band album, the one after Graceland... I actually liked Graceland at first (I mean, damn, the talent on that album was great and he or whoever put it together deserves huge credit for finding those folks) but the more I heard, the more I did, mostly because the songs they were all performing struck me as so slack in the writing department.

 

 

Am I giving Max a run for his money in the tickin'-everyone-off front yet? I'm really not trying to... but sometimes if I don't really edit myself and just say what I really think, it comes off as a bit, shall we say, pointed.

 

 

PS... lots of fun factoids about "Bridge" here: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=247

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I differ with you on the powerful message stuff...It's just a bit shmaltzy for me... but I agree it's a powerful song. And great. And the sentiment is deft, given that it's aimed at teenagers. I'm lucky that I haven't had to ask that kind of question in... well... a while...

But yeah... synergy...I guess that's what I've been getting when I got to thinking about Daylight.

I'm fascinated by Will You Still Love me too... and have spent way too much time trying to understand why it works - even before you mentioned it in your post. I've been on a girl-group kick for a month or two. I can't believe how good some of that stuff is...

What I found fascinating is listening to some other interpretations of Love Me? that just fell so flat. An example, for me, is the Ben E. King version. That guy is probably one of the greatest singers to ever live - his version of Will You Still Love Me struck me as kind of a dud. I was so disappointed - I downloaded it thinking, this is going to be the best thing sever. One of the best singers singing one of the best songs... So I don't know. Got me thinking about how the success of it had something to do with that moment that they captured it in the studio... I don't know.

But, you know, Like A Rolling Stone has undoubtedly some of the best most striking lyrics in a song ever... bullet-proof structure....the way it keeps circlilng back without getting boring... and apparently they butchered it for something like 14 takes - like utterly unlistenable takes - after getting it right in the first or second try... so you know... back to that synergy thing you're talking... it's all about making something a living breathing thing I guess.. .

I don't know... that's why I like songs.

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That's funny.... You should have seen what I was writing about Paul Simon before editing myself, actually... I was getting carried away but then was like... yeah, taking shots at Paul Simon knowing the demographics of this forum... I'm just gonna call him a genius and leave it at that...specially with what we talked about few months back about being polite and all..

 

I do think he's a genius, though. But a lot of his stuff ain't aging that well... I'm not sure why.

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That's funny.... You should have seen what I was writing about Paul Simon before editing myself, actually... I was getting carried away but then was like... yeah, taking shots at Paul Simon knowing the demographics of this forum... I'm just gonna call him a genius and leave it at that...specially with what we talked about few months back about being polite and all..


I do think he's a genius, though. But a lot of his stuff ain't aging that well... I'm not sure why.

Yeah... he's a funny guy. I give him big props for some of his stuff but then there's other stuff that doesn't do much for me and other stuff still that stabs a couple of buttons on me.

 

Simon's casual and uncredited appropriations of others' efforts has been a real issue for me.

 

Like the "Scarbourough Fair" credit thing -- it took until 2000, apparently, before Simon finally addressed the issue and made some sort of apologetic gesture to Martin Carthy who had taught him his arrangement of the traditional song (of which there were scores of different versions handed down orally and in writing) -- only to find the same version and arrangement of that song pop up as the centerpiece of S&G's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album, mashed with a rewrite of a '63 Simon song, "Side of the Hill" -- but with the only credit listed to Simon & Garfunkel, and no mention of Carthy's arrangement or the traditional origins.

 

As the song probably conservatively made millions for S&G -- while Carthy continued playing pubs, it was a sore point for Carthy -- and for many in the UK folk scene, where Simon had initially been welcomed in by many -- with Davey Graham (another ex-Simon friend) even teaching him "Anji" (sometimes spelled "Angie") which also appeared (correctly credited -- possibly only because it had already appeared on a commercial album) on a S&G album. After the "Scarborough Fair" issue, though, he got a cold shoulder from most folks in the scene for many, many years. Quite justifiably, in my mind.

 

And then there's Simon's appropriation of Edward Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Corey" -- for which Simon also took sole writing credit for according to official credit listings as reflected at AllMusic. Yet the song is clearly a very close adaption of the original work By Robinson.

 

These were not the actions of a naive youngster who didn't know any better. Simon had been a professional songwriter in the legendary Brill Building before S&G and there was no way he didn't know what he was doing.

 

Really, that stuff really rubs me wrong.

 

 

 

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Big ideas often must be wed to a big story.


You can view Hamlet as a bloodbath... or you can listen to (or read -- but, dang, this is stuff that is mean to be heard -- and watched) to the
ideas
between the plot exposition (it's a play and significant action must happen off stage) in that fervid torrent of words.


Of course, Hamlet is, first, a
story
-- and that's part of Shakespeare's lesson to us if we're willing to pick it up. For folks to really engage with ideas, they must often be tricked into a receptive state of mind -- like Scheherazade trying to prolong her life by weaving a set of stories that her would-be executioner husband won't be able to put an end to -- Shakespeare -- and other great story tellers sucker us in with story elements designed to engage us and put us in a receptive state. What happens then determines if someone is simply a good storyteller -- or if he or she transcends into greatness.




Don't get me wrong, I love Shakespeare, and in the end of the 80s, early 90s performed in a Shakespeare troupe every summer. We like to think that Shakespeare is some high brow literature, when it ain't. It's sex, drugs and rock'n'roll applied to an story that's more inclined to politics and favouring the lineage of whomever noble family is in power (as not to get thrown in jail, etc).

He did have a knack to make it sound good though.

(That vid reminds me when I was first playing with POVray a long long time ago, I actually was attempting a project to take scenes from Shakespeare, try to make it look as real as I could except that the roles were done by robots... I managed to do the grave diggers scene from hamlet after a few months, and I'd let my 486 render sections of the image for days... so in the end I gave up after that one image).

I think song writing is the same, we shouldn't put it on a pedestal as some higher art form. It's of the people, for the people. That being said, lyrics? They call be truly silly, or meaningless, but still make a good song.

Myself, I often prefer deeper lyrics but I can also appreciate more shallow ones -- except for that song that has the line something in the order of "na, na, everyday, like my ipods stuck on replay" ... that song just bugs the heck out of me.

Honestly, I'm not really sure where this thread is going overall :wave:

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I totally agree that Shakespeare was a master showman who was writing to the crowd, not the elites. The action at times would make Harold Robbins look sedate and dignified -- but as you say, he made it sound great -- but he also wove in a lot of what I would have to suggest are profound insights into human nature. Now, maybe he was something of an appropriator, himself, as has been suggested... we all stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before. And, I forget who it was who said it, but I've always enjoyed the pith if not 'wisdom' of the small men plagiarize -- great men steal (or whatever it was) aphorism. (But I'm still annoyed with Paul Simon. :D )

 

But, one way or another, Shakespeare really reaches me.

 

And that was far from automatic. We had this English teacher whose goal it was to be (just about) the only voice of culture in my potatohead high school and she made us really go through Shakespeare. She saw it as a prep for college (this was one of the schools only college prep electives -- it was one of those back-to-basics super conservative school districts -- where it just happened at least 5/7 of the school board was on the take to suppliers and contractors but that's another story... we can swap stories of '486s and crooked school boards some other time... :D )

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Hey guys ;

my first post in this forum !!


I think that basically with any kind of story telling ( or most attempts at entertaining of humans) you are walking the line between boredom and confusion . Lyrics are only one element ; and you can get away with more simplistic lyrics if the other elements are really super engaging and/or maybe if those same elements are "challenging" in that they are novel. .

So for example : the POLICE really had such cool vibes going in the groove of " walking on the moon" that they could get away with somewhat cheesy lyrics ....................



Giant steps are what you take , walking on the moon
I hope my legs don't break, walking on the moon




If all the parts of a song are novel and challenging, then you have confusion and should then quite frankly dumb down or simplify some other elements.


Somewhat like a cook who gets carried away with many spices when only one and a pinch of salt suit the other ingredients well ...


That the theory.:cool:

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Good to see you, flatfinger!

 

Some great points and a great example. I'm really not much of a Police fan but I've always thought that tune had a pretty pretty intoxicating sound.

 

But I don't think I ever explored the lyrics -- or if I did, I clearly blocked it out.

 

Those are pretty dumb lyrics to put to such cool sounding music.

 

(And I think Stink could write some good stuff. I think the song about stalking his really good -- and doubly amusing because so many people thought of it as this nice love song -- and "Don't Stand" is a great little pop ditty about a serious subject done with a knowing hand.)

 

But that couplet above is just stooopid. :D

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Too much thinking of
should/is/was
(mostly
was
) to set the stage for
could
here. The greats aren't great for doing any of that kind of thinking when writing. There's no sense of it in their music. It doesn't carry that water-testing vibe. It's just honest, basic writing about
stuff
. Your writing is either embraced by the masses (good) or not but analyzing it will only turn you into an analyst.


Over-working is what it comes down to and that can turn writing into a chore if not down right exhausting. If the goal is to write great songs then that burden will be a long carry. Ease up, free your mind, forget about construction and word play, definitely dispense with the weights and measures of your influences and write for yourself. And never, never try to write masterpieces. You can't. No one can because they're not songs. They're labels.

 

 

Agree and disagree. To be great, much must be innate. I don't think anyone would argue with that.

 

But understanding why things work (and don't work) in song is empowering. I have become a better songwriter, both in my own mind and in how people respond to my work, since I starting analyzing songwriting in more depth a few years ago. You will not convince me it is a coincidence.

 

Having more tools is only a good thing, assuming you know how to use them. And if you didn't you probably weren't going to be a great songwriter in the first place.

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Well, when I think about the songs that have changed my life, it's usually the lyrics that I think of. Yeah, there are some melodies that just make you stop and think, but words are how we say something specific.

 

 

I wholeheartedly agree. There are only a handful of songs that have had a profound impact on me without the lyrics being a major part of that. "Stairway to Heaven" and "Stash" by Phish are the only ones jumping out at me right now.

 

That said, I don't think that is evidence that Max's point is incorrect. Limiting based on profundity only narrows the field even more and naturally selects out those songs with weaknesses.

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LMAO! Did you intend to call him STINK, Blue?

:D :D :D

 

Oh, gosh, no!

 

It was totally a typo.

 

My muscle memory often jumps ahead of my brain (kind of like auto-complete) and it's often far from right. (But you can't tell that limbic system any damn thing, y'know? It just goes on its preter-conscious way as though the little man in the control room shouting orders is as powerless as The Great and All-Powerful Wizard of Oz's little man behind the curtain.)

 

 

Even though I'm not crazy about the Police, I respect Sting's talent and intelligence quite a lot. And I think that version of "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("Mack the Knife") from one of those Hal Wexler comps (I think it was) dedicated to Kurt Weill was really good.

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Re: Walking on the Moon...I'm not bothered by that stupid couplet quoted above. It goes by without notice IMO. It's ok to be stupid if attention isn't drawn to the stupidity.

The problem is when you notice the stupidity as the song is playing and you're not even looking at a lyric sheet. And Walking On The Moon has it - in the bridge/B section:

Some may say
I'm wishing my days away
no way
and if it's the price I pay
some say
tomorrow's another day
you stay
I may as well pay


Now this is really conspicuously dumb IMO - Mr Stink has painted himself into a compositional corner having to rhyme every single "-ay" syllable he can think of. I think, with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, it still works but hearing all those 'ay's drives me nuts and completely pulls me out of the illusion the song has been weaving for me.

I'm extremely tolerant of substandard lyrics. I don't care about half of the things that seem to bother people on this forum. But when they stick out like this it gets hard to enjoy the song.

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Wow... those lyrics really are dumb.

 

I've been resisting looking up the whole song but, damn, how could a smart guy like Sting (did it again, actually, just now but caught it this time) pen lyrics as thoroughly boneheaded as those -- and then saddle a cool looking tune on an album with them.

 

That's the kind of stuff I wouldn't even bother writing down. And I'm not exactly Leonard Cohen.

 

Damn. Maybe I'm going to have to re-evaluate my estimation of Mr Sumner...

 

 

That said, think about it -- freakin' thing was a hit.

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Well it's not always a good idea to take things too seriously !!!! I don't think " Walking on the moon " was intended to be serious ... cool groove and just fun to listen to ...( there's even some quasi-yodeling in it !!) sort of a pulp song for quick audio pleasure.:love:

Remember One of the things about music is to let yer hair down and relax ( unless it's death/DOOM metal:mad:!!!)


Sometimes the best jokes are STUPID Double entendre
!!



This just in........ ;

A woman has been arrested for attacking a law enforcement officer with a sex toy............................



The good news , she'll probably get off!!


................................................................................................................


Another cool example was when Bob Segar had the line " they do repect her but(t) they love to watch her strut!!!





I remember being very entertained by Dr. Dimmento !!

Try singing this to the melody of " four leaf clover"





I'm looking over my dead dog rover
who I hit with the power mower......:lol:



Room for Serious songs and not so serious songs ; no ?????

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For sure... but it bugs me when you hear a cool track and then you listen to the words and they're simply insultingly dumb. It's an insult to the song, to the listener, and to the muses.

 

And I'm really only partway kidding.

 

 

But, especially when there's a cool mood to something, it's just seems a waste and a shame to glue such stupid lyrics onto it.

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I do believe it was Mr. Cohen, who rhymed "Orange" with "Door Hinge"... Stroke of genius.
:)



I normally don't quote my own quote, but I decided to google the orange/doorhinge thing:

"I gave my darling child a lemon,
That lately grew its fragrant stem on;
And next, to give her pleasure more range,
I offered her a juicy orange.
And nuts, she cracked them in the door-hinge"

William Shepard Walsh, attributed the rhyme to W.W. Skeat back in 1892.

Google is wonderful, and what I've been mistakenly attributed to Mr. Cohen goes back a lot farther...

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Re:
Walking on the Moon
...I'm not bothered by that stupid couplet quoted above. It goes by without notice IMO. It's ok to be stupid if attention isn't drawn to the stupidity.


The problem is when you notice the stupidity as the song is playing and you're not even looking at a lyric sheet. And Walking On The Moon has it - in the bridge/B section:


Some may say

I'm wishing my days away

no way

and if it's the price I pay

some say

tomorrow's another day

you stay

I may as well pay


Now this is really conspicuously dumb IMO - Mr Stink has painted himself into a compositional corner having to rhyme every single "-ay" syllable he can think of. I think, with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, it still works but hearing all those 'ay's drives me nuts and completely pulls me out of the illusion the song has been weaving for me.


I'm extremely tolerant of substandard lyrics. I don't care about half of the things that seem to bother people on this forum. But when they stick out like this it gets hard to enjoy the song.

 

 

Interesting. That is probably my favorite part of the song, particularly the repetition of "ay".

 

The lyrics certainly don't stand up under the bright lights, though I'm not sure that was ever Sting's intention.

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I don't know, when I listen to something I would say lyrics are at least half of what I listen for, and they're effectively 90% of everything I do whilst making music. (User raps and listens to rap) But in a generalized musical sense I would still maintain that they're pretty important. Look at David Bowie, for instance. I don't think he would be half the artist he is without his beautiful lyrics.

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As important as lyrics are to me personally, I do recognize that they are not really as important as the music -- generally! -- in pop songs. Shoot, I can listen to and enjoy catchy Latin music all day and have only the vaguest idea what they're singing about -- that High School Spanish doesn't really help me out much.

On the other hand, a country song is about the story. The lyrics are more important there, probably more important than the music. So it's genre specific, in large part.

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