I love popular music and always have. For good or bad, pop music is the poetry of our generation. What is the magic formula for a hit song? Lyrics? Music? Voice? Artist popularity? Instruments? It’s all that and less. For those who care, lyrics and music must go together for pop poetry, but one or the other comes first.
I used to listen to the “wall of sound” that made up popular music. I was young.
These days, I pay more attention to the lyrics than the music, though both have a full right to carry the other.
Are the lyrics of Sarah McLachlan’s music less valid without her voice? Does Brook Benton sound more sad because of Tony Joe White’s lyrics than the years of being who he is?
These are slices of life that come to life in word, voice, music, and become the living poetry of generations.
“Hoverin’ by my suitcase, tryin’ to find a warm place to spend the night
Heavy rain fallin’, seems I hear your voice callin’ “It’s all right.”
How do you write like that? How is such a moment carved from a moment of life with such clarity and emotion?
Some lyrics come with subtlety, others hit your over the head with the obvious; a story. Such is the case with Maryanne and Wanda, the best of friends in a story told by the Dixie Chicks.
“Mary Anne and Wanda were the best of friends
all through their high school days.
Both members of the 4h club
both active in the FFA.”
Sorry. No awards there, but that part of Wanda’s young life comes through loud and clear. How do you write such moments?
Ever been to Mississippi? You have if you heard Alanah Myles’ “Black Velvet.”
“Mississippi in the middle of a dry spell
Jimmy Rogers on the Victrola up high
Mama’s dancin’ with baby on her shoulder
The sun is settin’ like molasses in the sky”
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a verse or two of a popular song can bring up a hundred pictures.
From Johnny Rivers in 1964 there’s “hurry home drops.” The picture is painted.
“Last time I saw Marie she was wavin’ me goodbye
With “hurry-home” drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye”
Simple. Efficient. We live in more complex times. Are musical artists, writers, producers as effective at generating the pain, sorrow, and hope of the heart?
Sarah McLachlan carries a voice of purity, pain, and promise, requiring lyrics to match.
“Night lift up the shades let in the brilliant light of morning
But steady me now for I am weak and starving for mercy
Sleep has left me alone to carry the weight of unraveling where we went wrong
And all I can do to hang on, to keep me from falling into old familiar shoes”
My only wish is the ability to pull from the heart such emotion and carry it to others, either written or vocal. I don’t know how they do it.