What makes a good song lyric?

I wish I would know what makes a good song lyric. If I knew that I could keep myself busy writing them. I don’t always find it easy to explain why a certain song lyric stays with me and becomes a favourite. Often it is just as difficult to remember or know if it was the words or the music that pulled me in first.

In the late 1980ies I played “The Alan Parsons Project” a lot. APP was a progressive rock band built around Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson that did very well for themselves between 1975 and 1990.

Having gone back to a few of my APP favourites today, I’ve realised that what made me play some of their songs repeatedly and stay with them, was more a concept and theme in their writing than a specific lyric. They have quite a few songs where the lyrics are built up around the concept of time, growing old, looking back at a situation with the wisdom time and distance can give etc. This is a theme that feels close to my philosophical outlook on life.

My first encounter with APP was a song called Psychobabble and, in that instance, it was the intro shared between the piano and bass that got stuck in my head immediately, and even though I do like the lyrics to Psychobabble, the first thing I think about when it comes to that song is the intro.

I can’t always explain why I like a specific line of a song lyric either, but in Psychobabble this one talks to me;

“You’re readin’ my mind you won’t look in my eyes

You say I do things that I don’t realise”

And this one:

“You’re lighting a scene that’s faded to black

I threw it away cause I don’t want it back”

Take a listen for yourself if you feel like it.

https://youtu.be/bDXa4FkAw-4

“Old and Wise” is one of my all-time favourite APP songs. There is no way I wouldn’t continue to listen to a song that starts with the words;

“As far as my eyes can see,

there are shadows approaching me”

I totally understand where the writer is coming from and how he feels in that instance. This is proof that it is easier to take in song lyrics close to what you have experienced in life yourself. Have a listen to Old and Wise if you’ve got the time. It is such a beautiful song that it hurts. But in a good way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4HI1_LTWIk

Another APP favourite of mine is a song called “Ammonia Avenue”. This was a song where I felt the lyrics were so beautiful, but it took me a long time before I even got an inkling what the writer really was talking about. We had to walk in to the time of Google before I got my first clue. It was the sentence: “And those who came at first to scoff, remained behind to pray“, that steered me right. I felt that sentence was taken from somewhere and according to Google it can be found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Later I also found a place on the internet that said that Ammonia Avenue stood for AA, a place to get “clean”. Having read that I have listened to the words with a new meaning. I don’t know if it is the right interpretation, but for me the lyrics started to make more sense after that. Again, this is a very beautiful song with a long instrumental part in the middle that I feel is both different and refreshing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3km9sdwyH8

Finally, a song from APP that I used to love and feel very close to but now, 25 years later, it has lost its deepest meaning for me. The song is called “Limelight”. As I’ve developed as a person and my goals have shifted, I don’t strive for the limelight as a person anymore. I still want to find a way to get my lyrics heard, but personally I like my life to be cosy and very private. My wish to “show them all”, as the writer of the lyric wants to do, has also faded. I still like the song, just as a song and these days it shows me that I have developed and hopefully matured as a person, which isn’t a bad thing for a song to do either.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aUGhE8fquY

Take care until next time and happy writing!

Åsa

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