5 Lyrical Problems That Can Cause Songs to Fail

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Guitarist-Singer-SongwriterIf you ever do an online search for lists of “the worst songs ever”, or “the corniest songs in music history”, you’re in for a fun time. When we talk about corny songs, we’re usually talking about song lyrics. We don’t usually have songs with a corny melody or chord progression. But corny lyrics can really kill a song. There are lots of things about song lyrics that will come across to most listeners as trite, but here is a list of the five most common lyrical errors that songwriters commit that will consign their song to corn-land.

  1. Forced lyrics. Lyrics should always feel natural, as if it’s the best way the thought can be conveyed. Generally, what we’re talking about here is the pulse of the words. If you find that you’re putting the natural stresses of the text on the wrong syllables in order to make the text work, it will sound bad, and will detract from the song’s message.
  2. Overused phrases or clichés. There are some songwriters that get away with this faux pas, but if you find yourself writing things like “Oh baby, I really need you” as your central message, you’ve got the makings of a corny song. To avoid this, make a list of terms and words that mean the same thing as the cliché you’re tempted to use. You can come up with something!
  3. Forced rhymes. A forced rhyme is one which draws your attention more to the rhyme than to the meaning of the words. (“Saw my wife, she’s the love of my life/ Without her, I’d be in so much strife…”) Just say no!
  4. Over-the-top analogies. An analogy should focus the listener in to the particular emotion being conveyed. An over-the-top analogy just means you went too far, or simply went off the mark. You might think of Starship’s “We Built This City” might qualify here.
  5. Bad grammar. Generally, bad grammar isn’t really the problem. The problem is if it’s forced, or sung by someone who shouldn’t be using that bad grammar. If it somehow feels out of place, you can cause a lot of people to groan and giggle at the same time. I’ve managed to stay above the fray regarding Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, but sadly, this song has issues. The bad grammar of “We-we-we so excited/ We so excited…” just will not work, and I’m sure I rest my case with this one.
So the best advice of all regarding lyrics is to make sure your words are saying exactly what you want and need to say, that you say it using common, every day language, and that you don’t force a lyric in order to make it fit a rhythm.

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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    • Good example, Jeff. I think my favourite bad grammar one is from Paul McCartney’s :Live and Let Die”: “But in this ever-changing world in which we live in…”


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