I was listening to some of my old school music the other day and one song that particularly caught my ‘literary’ attention was “Cats in the Cradle’ by Harry Chapin. Most of us know that song is a classic but have you ever wondered why some songs stick with us and touch us down to the depths of our being? It’s because they are able to take a complex situation and relate it in a simplistic yet incredibly powerful way. If you have not heard the song, go download it and listen to the words. It’s been decades since it was recorded but every time I hear it I still get chills as I contemplate its meaning. Awesome stuff. We as writers need to capture that kind of feeling for our readers. It’s imperative that we do so in fact if we want to keep them coming back.
Another song I feel does this is also ‘old school’. AWB’s “Queen of My Soul.” That song personifies music as a woman he loves and vows to never leave. What genius! And again, very simplistic. One of the most talented songwriters who has successfully employed this technique over the years is Stevie Wonder…and he being blind makes it all the more amazing. Much of his work in the early 70s — particularly the ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ and ‘Inner Visions’ albums — displays incredible insight with a literary bent.
These songs and their respective artists are just two examples that prove you do not need to overwrite to get your point across. If songwriters can relay such powerful messages in just a few minutes, imagine what you can do in an entire work?
So listen to the words of your fav songs; not just the tune. You can learn a lot from lyrics.