Good Lyrical Writing
by Adam Huddleston
Very few of us smelly humans walking the face of the earth dislike songs of one type or another. The combination of music and poetry (the definitions get blurred at times) stirs something inside us. It can elicit a myriad of emotions and good lyrics play a major role in that.
Now, what makes a particular arrangement of lyrics good? The answer to that is as varied as the many forms of music. It’s all a matter of taste. To explain, let’s look at a few of my favorite examples:
- The Statler Brothers recorded a country music hit in 1965 entitled “Flowers on the Wall.” One of my favorite lines is in the chorus. “…playing Solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one.” If you realize that a standard deck contains fifty-two cards and that all are needed to complete a game of Solitaire, you’ll see the level of futility the singer is attempting. It’s a simple line that implies quite a bit.
- REO Speedwagon had a number of hits over the 1970s and 80s. One of these was “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, a power-ballad from 1984. The line, “And even as I wander, I’m keeping you in sight. You’re a candle in the window on a cold, dark winter’s night” while errs on the side of cheesy, still contains sharp imagery and word flow.
- The last example is more of a movie line than a song. Near the beginning of “Mary Poppins”, Dick Van Dyke’s character Bert states, “Wind’s in the East, mist coming in, like somethin’ is brewin’, about to begin. Can’t put me finger, on what lies in store, but I feel what’s to happen all happened before.” It’s a quote with a slightly dark undertone and gives the remainder of the movie its sense of magic and wonder.
While most of these lines are lyrics from songs, we as writers should strive to inject the same emotional power in whatever medium we are working in.