Creating Song Lyrics With a Double Meaning

Creating double meaning lyrics usually means finding a first, superficial topic, and then a deeper, more profound one to partner with it.

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Don McLean - American PieRock music is rife with examples of song lyrics that have a double meaning. There’s the obvious, superficial meaning, and then there’s the deeper “I-wonder-if-that’s-what-they’re-singing-about?” meaning.

 

Don McLean’s “American Pie” is full of descriptions and plot lines that represent other things, all loosely woven together to form an abstract narrative about music in general, and specifically “the day that music died.” The images are metaphorical, and the mystical, innovative way that the story unfolds is what indicates to listeners that they are encountering a song with a double meaning.

Some songwriters will write songs that are relatively straightforward, and then spend most of their careers denying that there’s anything more than what you see at the outset. A great example of this is Lennon & McCartney’s “Yellow Submarine,” which was thought by some to be a kind of social or political commentary. In fact, it really was a children’s song with largely nonsense lyrics about a submarine.

For many songwriters, creating lyrics with a double meaning is enticing, because it compels the audience to spend time trying to figure it all out, and there’s nothing quite as exciting as knowing that people are poring over your words, debating and arguing with others regarding what you really mean. The end result is that your lyrics get a deeper scrutiny and fuller discussion, and that’s not usually a bad thing.

There are lots of ways to approach the creating of lyrics with double meaning, so if you’re interested in trying, give the following method a try. It involves creating a first, superficial topic, then a deeper one. And then as a 3rd step, you create a line of lyric that comes close to exposing the double meaning.

  1. Create a first “superficial” topic. The superficial topic works best if it’s a toss-off, “who’d-ever-write-a-song-about-that?” kind of topic. This is the song topic that the listener will notice first and foremost, such as a song about:
    1. the colour of your house;
    2. you got a new hair style;
    3. you bought a new fish for your aquarium; and/or so on…
  2. Choose a second deeper, more powerful and profound topic that represents what you really are writing about. This is the topic that you tease your audience with. It might be a topic that you don’t want to display in an overt way (60s rockers often chose drugs or sex as their “real” topic.) Or it might be the death of a loved one, your view about religion or politics, or some other topic that reflects life’s deeper concerns.
  3. Brainstorm some lines of lyric that pertain directly to your first topic, but could be construed as a possible comment on your second topic. This is where– theoretically anyway — the fun begins. It’s best if you can pull together some sort of a story line or coherent commentary.

Try the following exercise. Take a look at the two topics, and try to create a line of lyric that comes close to exposing the double meaning. I’ve given an example:

  • FIRST Topic: A stop-over at a hotel
  • SECOND Topic: The drug/celebrity culture of California
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together: “‘Relax,’ said the night man, ‘We are programmed to receive./’You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'” Hotel California, (Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley).

Now you give it a try:

  • FIRST Topic: Taking an ocean cruise
  • SECOND Topic: A lifelong friendship that’s coming to a painful end.
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:
  • FIRST topic: Walking through a park
  • SECOND Topic: Walking past a homeless person
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:
  • FIRST Topic: Studying for a test
  • SECOND Topic: Falling in love
  • Line of lyric that pulls them together:

For the line of lyric that pulls them together, remember that this doesn’t have to be the final line of the song, as is the case with “Hotel California.” It simply needs to be a line that comes close to exposing the double meaning without crossing the line – without necessarily admitting the existence of the double meaning. Done well, it can make lyric writing a lot of fun.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  1. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – June 17, 2015 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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