In a song, everything is sound. So, before we even perceive the content of lyrics – the literal meaning and the emotions attached to that meaning – we get a feeling from the sound of the words. Those words may say something that’s coherent and substantial. But they also may not – and that might not matter to you if enjoy the song enough.
On a fully orchestrated recording – something with more than just a guitar or piano, say – unless we’re listening very closely or the vocal is very loud, lyrics tend to penetrate our consciousness gradually.
At first we might only get them as sounds – and if they sound good, we’re happy not knowing what they mean… for a while at least.
Or we might only catch certain words here and there in the song… and if they’re evocative to us in an interesting way, we connect the dots and make up our own story of what the song’s ‘about’.
Then there’s the situation when, after listening with pleasure for a period of time, you read or listen closely to the lyrics of a song you love and realize that they’re idiotic! Or worse. (This can feel like the song-listening equivalent of waking up hungover next to someone who looked pretty good the night before, but in the cold light of day…)
It’s not that bad though, because in songs, words are music. We’ll always perceive them at least partially as sound, without literal content. That’s natural, I think.
It’s also worth remembering this when writing. I’m not encouraging bad lyrics or lazy writing. But as easy (and undesirable) as it is to write cliche-ridden or incoherent lyrics, it’s also easy to get so hung up on the ‘meaning’ of the words on paper that one forgets that the sound is part of the meaning.
Even if that part can’t be explained, it still exists and it’s part of the whole experience of a song. All great lyricists’ work seems to me to contain this respect and feeling for the power of the pure sound of words.
Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:
And please share on facebook etc. by clicking these tabs –