But, enough about books … Other things have words, too, right? Like … songs!
If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.
So, today’s question?
What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?
Hmmm, given that I just wrote about 1,000 words on Blood on the Tracks, I better mention it and point to the lyrics I quoted. Of course, Dylan is part of my “musical trinity.” Springsteen and Jackson Browne are the other two members and their lyric talent is certainly part of the reason. And actually close behind is Ben Folds, with and songs like “The Luckiest” (where death in part is an expression of deep love) or “The Ascent of Stan” (asking us baby boomers “how’s it feel to be the man?”).
I think the thing is that many of their lyrics resonate with our own feelings, hopes and disappointments. And for me, it isn’t always the things you’d think would jump out. For example, in “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” the line “Without you I’m a drummer, girl, that can’t keep a beat” always grabs me. Likewise, knowledge can make other lyrics take on deeper meaning. Thus, you get a different take on “Don’t confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them” from Browne’s “These Days” when you know he wrote the song at age 17.
But lyric ability isn’t alone the test. As I noted with the BOTT post, the musical style and voice inflections are what give many of the songs on that album such impact. And it can also be impacted by seemingly minor things. Thus, on “Idiot Wind,” the drummer moves in and out of a gunshot-like beat in conjunction with the lyric “In the final end he won the wars/After losin’ every battle.” Similarly, immediately at the end of the Springsteen line above, drummer Max Weinberg intentionally misses the beat.
Ultimately, it’s kind like the “Rate-A-Record” segment on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Even if the lyrics are great, it ain’t gonna get a high mark unless it’s got a beat.
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you’ll never know
“For A Dancer,” Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky