Lessons on Lyrics

The first installment of a series on songwriting, this month’s “The Art of the Lyric” can help you get started with your own lyrics.

The Art of the Lyric Supplements

Here is a recording and the lyrics to the chorus of “Help!” by the Beatles, as referenced in The Art of the Lyric.

The Beatles – “Help!”

Chorus Lyrics
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

October 2016 Hear the Music – Contains tracks referenced in the reading: “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by Joni Mitchell, “Boondocks” by Little Big Town, and “So Good” by B.o.B.

Lyrical Examples

Lyrics serve a variety of purposes in songwriting. When talking about lyrics, what might first come to mind is a singer-songwriter style: a ballad, or a series of verses that contain a range of literary devices. You might think of celebrated lyricists Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or the duo of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, one half of the Beatles.

But lyrics can be so much more than that! They can be spoken rapid-fire in the context of hip-hop or rap; they can be barely spoken (but still meaningful) in some of today’s more ethereal pop; or they can be the hook of your favorite dance hit.

In this song by War Paint, the lyrics illustrate the song, but also serve as placeholders for the vocal effects—creating more of a texture than a simple vocal melody line and message.

In this song by Swedish pop star Robyn, both the lyrics and the melody of the hook are key to conveying the song’s message and emotional effect:

This song by the Roots uses lyrics in a more poetic form to illustrate a story. Especially because the lyrics are rapped, the rapper relies on word choice, delivery, and rhythm to convey the message of the song, without employing melody. (Note to teachers and parents, the album’s sticker for ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content’ does not apply to this song in particular):

Out of these three examples, which lyrical style best fits what you would want to write?