A good lyric might use clever rhymes. And it might use no rhymes. You might write a lyric that’s long and involved, or you might write one that uses very few words.
Your lyric might be a story. Or the story might be only vaguely implied. You may write about love, or you might write about hate.
These are not the things that play an important role in what makes a lyric great. The only thing that really matters is this: you need to be creating an emotional response in your listeners.
If they aren’t feeling something, your lyric hasn’t mattered to them.
One of the best ways to create emotion is to write a lyric that uses imagery. On one level, imagery is simple: if your words cause someone to “see” the things you’re talking about, you’ve used imagery.
On the other hand, though, imagery can be hard. That’s because the best imagery creates a full picture using a minimum of words.
Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” is a wonderful example of just how simple imagery can be — how it can set a scene. And when you read the last verse, you get a crystal clear image in your mind of the mood he’s trying to set:
And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I.
We’re not all Paul Simon, but his lyrics often serve to remind us that good imagery needs to be simple — needs to use uncomplicated, basic terminology, the kinds of words we’d use in casual conversation.
In his lyrics, the drops of rain weaving paths tell us that he’s sitting and staring out a window. He could have explicitly said that, but the words he uses are so meaningful that he paints an entire, clearly imagined scene with one simple line.
The important point is this: emotion is crucial in a good lyric, and the best lyrics use imagery as a way of maximizing how much they can say, without cluttering their lyric up with long, over-used phrases.
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