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About this book

This book is unique in offering practical advice on writing song lyrics within a critically informed framework. Part I provides the theoretical underpinning, while Part II covers the creative process, pulling together all the best songwriting advice and offering practical exercises.

Fusing creative guidance with rigorous criticism, this is an essential companion for undergraduate and postgraduate students of Songwriting, Creative Writing and Music. Lively and accessible, it is a one-stop shop for all aspiring songwriters.

Table of Contents

Foundations

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 1. How do we listen?

Abstract
In conducting close critical readings of any text, be it a poem, a novel, a play or so on, we have the opportunity to look at both the text itself and at what lies beyond it; lyrics are no different. This methodology offers great benefits to us in our analyses and in aiding our understanding of the meaning, historical, critical and cultural context of the lyric. You might be asking, how important is this? Well, insofar as the lyricist is a writer just like other writers, I contend that it deserves the same critical consideration.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 2. Author, intention, biography

Abstract
On 23 April 2016, Beyonce‘s album Lemonade was released, with the song ‘Sorry’ (2016). It includes the line ‘He only want me when I’m not there/He better call Becky with the good hair.‘ The reaction on the internet was immediate and widespread, with articles in Vanity Fair, Hello, Independent, NME, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, MTV, Metro, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, NBC News, CNN.com, BBC.co.uk, Daily Express, Daily Star, and Huffington Post (to name just some), all of which ran stories that sought to discover the identity of the ’Becky‘ character. Indeed, a Google search of ’Becky with the Good Hair‘ on 6 July 2017 brought with it 2,480,000 results.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 3. The role of the listener

Abstract
These days we are hard-wired as cultural consumers to look for meaning and significance in everything we do. Electronic media, television, even old-fashioned magazines and newspapers demand it of us, and we consume trivia as ‘news’, however spurious or vacuous it may be. It stands to reason, therefore, that we often look on this surface for meaning and significance in art, too. But this is really doing it a disservice.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 4. Intertextuality and Allusion (the role of one text on another)

Abstract
Intertextuality can refer to situations where the readings of texts are broadened beyond what’s self-contained in the actual text itself to incorporate wider influences (including texts that have been before). ’Roughly, intertextuality is a blanket term for the idea that a text communicates its meaning only when it is situated in dialogue with other texts’ (Gracyk 2001: 56). If we start by looking at the ’text’ as other songs, we can note a number of different ways in which a text can be imported into another.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 5. Perspective

Abstract
Song lyrics offer the writer the flexibility to routinely shift/switch between different points of view in a short space of time without it seeming jarring. This section of the chapter looks at examples of different uses of perspectives in song and the impact they have on the listener. Here, we take a look at the different perspectives songwriters may use in their writing and what impacts they can have on an audience.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 6. Looking at and looking beyond

Abstract
The type of analysis where we look at the song using nothing but what is contained within the music and lyrics is known as ‘close reading’, where ‘the emphasis of the criticism, the analysis of the words on the page, all starts (and often ends) with those words’ (McCaw 2008: 43). Close readers, McCaw argues, ‘work up a reading of the text through a tight focus on the specific details of language, often with no reference at all to anything beyond the text (e.g. the life of the author, the politics of the time of publication, its place in literary history)’ (McCaw 2008: 44).
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 7. Persuasion and Emotion

Abstract
To begin with, I talk the students through the origins of how the song was written, beginning with Paul McCartney’s now legendary anecdote about how he woke up with the melody in his head and spent the next few weeks playing the song to others to figure out where he’d heard it before. So I play an instrumental version of the song, where the melody line is played in piano. The next step was for McCartney to sing nonsense lyrics while he tried to write lines he was happy with, giving it the working title of ‘Scrambled Eggs’. I play the students a recording of this version of the song, which involves a vocalist singing the rather mundane ode to eggs. Once again, the melody is lovely, but the words . . . the words offer no emotional attachment as there is nothing we can really ‘grab onto’ in the song to get emotional about.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 8. Accessibility, Cliché and Formula

Abstract
One only has to look at the controversy surrounding the song ‘Blurred Lines’, in particular the line ‘I know you want it’ to see that the ‘I’ is not presumed to be the voice of the character, but of the artist. Why, then, does this kind of thing not happen to actors? Do we really believe, for example, that Larry David is truly playing himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, rather than a grossly exaggerated version created for comedic purposes? Or that Sacha Baron Cohen is speaking his own beliefs when posing as Borat, Ali G, Bruno, or Admiral General Aladeen’?
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 9. Impact: Subtlety versus Sledgehammer

Abstract
Some songs aim for pure impact to get a reaction, rather than making us think about what we’re hearing. Where someone like Billy Bragg will write lyrics in order to raise awareness of certain issues, send a message and get people taking, others will go for the ‘sledgehammer’ approach; the assault on the senses which can’t be ignored but makes us react rather than think.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

Speculations

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 10. Inspiration and Ideas

Abstract
I have often thought about these lines from T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’: ‘Between the idea/And the reality/Between the motion/And the act/Falls the Shadow.’ (1925) There is something about the way they address the writer. We will talk about poetics later, but sometimes every songwriter might have an underlying idea of what these lines might mean to him or her. Jimmy Webb talks about them as being lines written by Eliot for other writers and asks the question, ‘How do we get through Eliot’s shadow zone and bring our songs to the light of day?’ (1998: 5). How often have you had the perfect song in your head, the great idea, the big hit – you can hear it on the train or lying in bed or walking along Brighton sea front or driving the car – and Tom Waits tells a good story about being visited by the muse while driving (though I have taking it from someone else, and it may be apocryphal):
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 11. Storytelling

Abstract
Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, "Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” (2017)
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 12. The great song title

Abstract
One of the great things in songs is capturing a really good idea. We all know one of them and have moments when we think: I have a great idea for a great song here. For example, I am going to ask the listeners to imagine if things in the world were different. Well, that’s a thought, a wondering out loud – but it’s not really an idea. But then sitting with your notebook (virtual or not) and coming up with a really simple piano riff and a first line with imagine in it, and then writing down a title called ‘Imagine,’ followed by appropriate lyrics about how a world could be different if we did indeed imagine, and the title after the lyric begins to take shape – that’s an idea. Surely we would all put up with scraps of paper, random lines, scorings out, rough words being assembled into some kind of order to come out with the well-organized song they became. Think these through for yourself: What song title really comes to mind?
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 13. Collaboration

Abstract
The story of the solitary genius reached its apogee during the Romantic period and has remained attractive; but in fact writers are not solitary at all. They are attached to each other by skeins of influence and patterns of friendship, critique and review. They are attached, too, to the industry that is the field of literary production—agents, editors, publishers, designers, printers, distributors, reviewers, booksellers, and readers. And they are attached to society more broadly, having been made human beings within their particular culture and time, and with their tastes, knowledges, and predilections established by their personal and communal history.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 14. To rhyme, or not to rhyme: that is the question

Abstract
We have already stated that lyrics are not poetry, though we agree with Jimmy Webb when he says, ‘Not all great poetry is lyrical but all great lyrics are poetic . . . Which is to say all great lyrics use the devices of poetry – metaphor, simile, imagery, alliteration and meter, among others’ (1998: 12). And while rhyme is often associated with poetry (though less so these days, where there is more freedom), it is fair to say that rhyme is first and foremost a musical device (and I maintain this even in the face of up-in-arms poets). Musically, it pleasures that basic of senses, the one we first react to as babies, hearing itself. It’s a mnemonic exercise in recognition, combining music with words to delight us, especially in popular songs, ballads and the like. And combined with a distinctive voice, they develop our memories – and rhyming has a huge part to play in this. Poetry attracts the senses through our reading and sometimes through the recitation, but the song lyric is like no other, because in a perfect situation it comes straight to us through the sense of hearing; and what a delight it is to be able to ‘listen’, especially to something that can bring such enormous pleasure, and even more to someone who brings joy in the delivery.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 15. The marriage between words and music

Abstract
Every song is made up of lyrics and accompanying music – that’s a fact. But the ‘to read or not to read’ music is a question that will never go away, especially between those who do and those who don’t. Jimmy Webb can, John Lennon couldn’t and I don’t need to go further with this idea. The fact is, some people can hear melody and play it, and some can hear melody and write it down, but ultimately there is no right and wrong – though some might add it’s a good job Andrew Lloyd Webber could transcribe the music for Tim Rice’s lyrics. I once heard them ‘sing’ an early song composition on UK television (the Michael Parkinson show, I think): Tim Rice is no Elaine Paige.
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose

CHAPTER 16. Structure and Rhythm

Abstract
One of the simplest things to say about life is that we human beings are used to structure. We get how it works: normally, we sleep through the night, eat breakfast in the morning, lunch in the middle of the day and then dinner before the day ends. That is to say, normally, and songs are the same: normally, there is structure to them. Pat Pattison (2009: 180) calls it the ‘Five Elements of Structure,’ putting it this way, and it is hugely cogent:
Glenn Fosbraey, Andy Melrose
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