I’ve always been a big fan of Jimmy Webb’s music, and particularly his lyrics. He’s creative, and his lyrics are full of imagery and emotional power. It’s never enough for Webb to simply write basic “I love you” lyrics; there’s always more.
Every time I hear a Jimmy Webb song, it’s hard not to really listen. Every line is important. Songwriters can learn a lot by studying his songs.
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A good case in point is his song “Galveston“, recorded by Glen Campbell in 1969. What you’ll find most interesting about the lyric is that each verse starts as a what sounds like a soldier’s tribute to the city of Galveston, but quickly switches to the girl he left behind.
Webb could have simply written a song about the soldier, and how much he misses the love of his life while away at war. As an inquisitive songwriter you need to ask yourself why the focus starts on the city. What does mentioning “Galveston” do for the lyric?
By giving the city of Galveston such a position of prominence, Webb gives his lyric two points of focus that hold intense emotions and meaning to anyone listening:
- missing a significant other (“I still see her dark eyes glowin’…”)
- homesickness (“Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin’…”)
I put them in that order, even though Galveston is the first point of focus mentioned: when all is said and done, home is about the people.
By making the song about the city (and naming the song “Galveston”), but as much or more about the girl left behind, Webb crafts a lyric that generates a lot of emotion. You don’t need to be from Galveston to feel the emotions the song intends for you to feel.
And considering when the song was written and released — 1969, while the Vietnam war raged on — the lyric of this song would have hit hard. Everyone got this song, and in particular felt the vulnerability of the soldier:
- “She was 21” (so he was probably also young)
- “…is she waiting there for me”
- “I am so afraid of dying”
And for any soldier away at war, the prevalent thought is always: Will I be one of the ones who’s lucky enough to get back home? The lyric of Galveston succeeds in describing the feelings that so many were dealing with at that time — and does it all in barely over a hundred words.
Studying Jimmy Webb songs and especially lyrics is a must for anyone trying to take their songwriting to a new and better level. Check out a list here.
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