When was the last time you wrote a line of lyric that was poignant enough to be quotable?
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But you need to keep in mind that songs that make it to a “worst-songs-ever” list usually get there because of their bad lyrics. By the same token, songs that are highly regarded decades after they are written are often judged to be good in large part because of the quality of the lyric.
In my recently posted article, “A Songwriter’s Yearly Check-up”, I asked the question, “Are your lyrics becoming more interesting and “quotable” than a year ago?” Being quotable means that you’ve struck a perfect balance between being clever or poignant, while being profound without forcing it.
So it begs the question: When was the last time you wrote a lyric that was quotable?
It’s silly to assert that the solution to uninteresting lyrics is to be more quotable. It’s a bit like saying that the solution to being bad at something is to be better. But there is something to be said about trying to find more clever and astute ways of saying things. Here are some tips that might help:
- Make word and phrase lists as you work out a song lyric, and make them long. Write anything and everything that comes to mind that refers, even vaguely, to your song topic.
- Try using metaphors and similes in a way that allows strong imagery to come forward. Don’t force or overuse these or any other poetic devices.
- Read good lyrics and good poetry. Learn the power of words from the masters. Look for songwriters in your chosen genre who are respected for the quality of their lyrics. Don’t try to copy them; just let their words sink in. Your own style will take care of the rest.
- Always resort to common, everyday words. If you can’t imagine the words you use being said by someone in line at the Walmart, you may need to take another look. That doesn’t mean that everyone will understand your lyric. But it does mean that the individual words themselves need to be commonplace.
- Let the climactic moment in the lyric happen during a bridge, or in the latter half of a chorus. There is a natural feel to allowing a song to build up over time, reaching its pinnacle at about the 2/3 or 3/4 point.
Some great quotable lines that might help demonstrate those five points. It may not be clear what the words mean out of context, but you can see the role that imagery, metaphor, and just an interesting turn of phrase plays in making something memorable:
“Wearing feelings on our faces while our faces took a rest” (Genesis, “Supper’s Ready”, from the album “Foxtrot”.)
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done/ Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung” (Lennon & McCartney, “All You Need Is Love”)
“‘Relax,’ said the night man,/ ‘We are programmed to receive./ You can check out any time you like,/ But you can never leave …” (Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey, “Hotel California”)
“Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair” (Tom Waits, “Tango ’til They’re Sore”)
“You could have a steam train/ If you’d just lay down your tracks/ You could have an aeroplane flying/ If you bring your blue sky back” (Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer”)
What song lyric has been meaningful to you? Which song lyric do you wish you had written? Or better yet, what line of lyric have you written that you’re particularly proud of? Feel free to share below.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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