The alchemy of song – Writing song lyrics

Song lyrics and writing song lyrics have been in my thoughts this week, since I’ve started teaching them as part of a new programme at Music Lessons Anywhere.

Some kind of wonderful alchemy happens when words come together with music. Read for example these lyrics by James Warren:

Change your heart

Look around you

Change your heart
It will astound you

I need your loving like the sunshine

Everybody’s got to learn sometime

Writer: James Warren
Copyright: Warner/Chappell Music Ltd.

Nice, but I’m not sure it would win any poetry competitions. I can imagine a creative writing critique (don’t you think the sunshine simile is a bit cliched? Isn’t the end a bit limp?) But when sung with music (by the Korgis), it turns into something special. It pleads, invites, persuades, reassures. All this in a song with a grand total of five lines.

I particularly like the key change just before the final line, which seems to signal the possibility of mysterious, instant transformation in thinking or feeling -an effect I also associate with the abrupt melody changes in some of Beethoven’s symphonies (Oi! Stop copying the Korgis, Ludwig!).

At the other extreme, lyrics-wise, is a song such as Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Bob Dylan - Homesick Blues

Image courtesy of:

Dylan crams in as many words as he possibly can – hardly any intro, hardly any repetition, no real chorus. Sung so quickly that in a very early pop video, he uses cue cards to help the listener keep up.

You may know that many people claim Dylan’s lyrics are fine poetry, with or without music. Read them here and see what you think.

November 18, 2015