The Importance of Lyrics

Discussion in 'Arts & Entertainment' started by Huayna Capac357, Jul 22, 2011.

  1. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Deity

    Jun 30, 2007
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Sometimes, when I'm discussing music with my friend, we get into an argument over Radiohead. He says he finds them incredibly boring because he can't understand their lyrics and the ones he can make out are impossible to understand without having a ton of background. I point out that Sigur Rós often write gibberish lyrics and Beck is famous for nonsense lyrics. He says that there is almost no point at all in having a vocalist if the lyrics don't make sense. I would like to know what CFC thinks on the subject of the importance of lyrics and the clearness of a vocalist's annunciation of them. Is a song inherently better if its lyrics make sense and can be heard clearly? Or does it sometimes not matter? Or is it somewhere in between?
  2. Serutan

    Serutan Eatibus Anythingibus

    Feb 20, 2002
    Baja Arizona
    Like anything else to do with music, it all depends on your taste. Some people are in to lyrics,
    and want clear enunciation, others couldn't care less, and the rest fall somewhere in between.
  3. Wolfbeckett

    Wolfbeckett Jerkin' and nonsense.

    Apr 27, 2011
    Depends entirely on the song. Some bands are partially or even fully about the lyrics. If the song actually has a message or story it wants to get across, then yes, it's obviously important to be able to make out the words. Dylan without being able to understand the stories he is telling would be pretty friggin' boring. On the other hand you have Shoegaze and other genres like it, where the singing is used mostly to harmonize with the guitars and the words scarcely matter at all, see for example My Bloody Valentine or Lush. Can't make out a goddamn thing they are saying, and if you finally do understand it it usually makes no sense, but it doesn't matter because that's not what the genre is about.
  4. schlaufuchs

    schlaufuchs La Femme Moderne

    Jun 9, 2008
    Chicago, IL

    Generally what I look for in music is some kind of a display of talent; a complicated guitar riff, soulful soloing, good bass lines, clever writing. If there's nothing else to hold my attention (for example, rap), then yes, lyrics are exceedingly important to me, otherwise, I'm generally content to let it slide.
  5. rugbyLEAGUEfan

    rugbyLEAGUEfan Deity

    Feb 12, 2010
    sydney australia
    Good lyrics invariably improve a good song , and really bad ones can kill a good song . But does a "good" lyric have to completely make sense ? I don't think so . A good lyric does not have to start at point A , pass through point B and end at point C . But it must communicate SOMETHING , and that something can simply be a feeling or an emotion .

    Case in point . Kurt Cobain . I love most of his lyrics but to give literal translations of what he is saying would be tough . But like most skilled communicators , I feel like he is conveying an emotion to me personally .

    At the other end of the spectrum take someone like Hank Wiliams . Very simple , easily definable lyrics . But his sharp insights into human emotion combined with his passionate delivery make him a master communicator .

    Sometimes clever word smithery is enough and emotion is less relevant . Frank Zappa and Eminem come to mind . You also have the great story tellers like Bernie Taupin .

    I'm not usually one to mix politics and rock , but Joe Strummer , Bob Dylan and Jello Biafra are few of my faves .

    Yes , great lyrics can always improve a rockin' toon .
  6. Glassfan

    Glassfan Mostly harmless

    Sep 17, 2006
    ...not to mention, in a completely foriegn language (to most of us). Sometimes Sigur Ros just repeats a word or phrase throughout the tune - yet I like it very much.

    Voice is an instrument, just like a guitar or violin, and it can be coherent or just vocalizing (the girl in Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon).

    On the other hand, true lyrics are like poetry, and have an added impact because it's art. I'm thinking forinstance, of Anne Lennox who sang that delightful tune at the end of Return of the King - you're sad the epic is over, and she comforts you and sends you on your way (to the prequal, The Hobbit, out this Christmas).
  7. shortguy

    shortguy It's a working title

    Mar 27, 2004
    the hook
    I don't worry about lyrics much. I've accepted that most people who make cool rock/pop/hip hop music probably aren't great poets/writers/thinkers.
  8. SuperJay

    SuperJay Bending Space and Time

    Sep 24, 2010
    Or to all of us in many cases - I believe most (?) of their lyrics are in that fictional language "Vonlenska" (or Hopelandic).

    RE: the OP - I listen to a lot of instrumental music; I might say that most of what I regularly play is instrumental or devoid of lyrics. That said, I don't think singing has to be a certain way to be good, or that lyrics have to be clear and understandable to be good. Some of my favorite bands have ridiculous or incomprehensible lyrics (Phish, the Talking Heads) and I've never seen that as being a problem.

    But that's me - I listen to music for the sake of the music, not for the singers. A great vocalist or good lyrics can definitely help create a unique sound or identity for a band - see Maynard James Keenan of Tool, arguably one of the best male 'rock' singers of his generation. Would it be Tool without Maynard? Hardly... but does Maynard have to sing a certain way to be awesome? Hell no. He could mumble his way through "Happy Birthday" and it'd still rock your face off. :rockon:
  9. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Sep 14, 2005
    Thirded on this, with the added suggestion that it also depends on the listener. For some songs, the lyrics are crucial, for others, totally disposable, and for some, it depends the extent to which you appreciate them either as poetry or as a message. It depends on what you want to take away from a song.
  10. Disgustipated

    Disgustipated Deity

    Nov 14, 2006
    Las Vegas
    I listen to a lot of classical, and feel lyrics aren't important to music. But then again, some classical is choral music which I also enjoy. I like instrumentals and music with lyrics equally.

    The OP makes a good point in that the content isn't that important in some cases. If the content or understanding wasn't important I wouldn't like Rammstein as much as I do (and I love their music). But then again, content is important. Would the song One (by Metallica) be as powerful if you didn't understand what the subject was about? I think not.

    In summary, I have no real opinion on this matter. :lol: I can go either way. Comprehension is good for some works, not so important for others.

    Which reminds me, I keep meaning to start a thread on instrumentals.
  11. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Deity

    Jun 30, 2007
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Well, Agaetis Byrjun (and I think Von) is in Icelandic, but () and Takk etc. are in Vonlenska.
  12. North King

    North King blech

    Jan 2, 2004
    Say whaaaaaaaaat? Takk is in Icelandic. Or at least (looking at Wiki), mostly in Icelandic.
  13. azzaman333

    azzaman333 meh

    Apr 9, 2005
    Melbourne, AUS Reputation:131^(9/2)
    It depends entirely on the song.
  14. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Deity

    Jun 30, 2007
    Boston, Massachusetts

    Here, form Wikipedia, is all the songs in Vonlenska.

    Spoiler :
    From Von:

    From Ágætis byrjun:
    "Olsen Olsen"
    "Ágætis byrjun" (Towards the end)

    From ( ):
    All songs with vocals are sung exclusively in Vonlenska.

    From Takk...:
    "Hoppípolla" (Following the Icelandic line "En ég stend alltaf upp")
    "Sé lest"
    "Sæglópur" (With Icelandic at the end)
    "Svo hljótt" (Following the Icelandic line "Ég þakka þér þá von...")

    From Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust:
    "Við spilum endalaust" (With Hopelandic in all the refrains between the lines "Við spiluðum" and in the end)
    "Ára bátur" (Following the Icelandic line "Ég fór, þú fórst" + entire second half)
    "Fljótavik" (Towards the end)
    "All Alright" (Towards the end)

    Other Songs:
    "Nýja lagið"
    "Heima" [DVD Version]
  15. Terrapin

    Terrapin Prince

    Apr 15, 2003
    The Grateful dead solved that problem. They had a poet named Robert Hunter write the lyrics for most of their songs. Later on, I fellow named John Barlow wrote lyrics for Bob Wier, the Dead's other guitarist. It is a bit of an unfortunate conceit that a musician must write his own lyrics.

    There is a great site about the Dead and their lyrics here.
  16. SuperJay

    SuperJay Bending Space and Time

    Sep 24, 2010
    And Robert Hunter wrote some of the best lyrics out there; his poems tell amazing stories.

    Terrapin Suite
    lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia


    Let my inspiration flow
    in token lines suggesting rhythm
    that will not forsake me
    till my tale is told and done

    While the firelight's aglow
    strange shadows in the flames will grow
    till things we've never seen
    will seem familiar

    Shadows of a sailor forming
    winds both foul and fair all swarm
    down in Carlisle he loved a lady
    many years ago

    Here beside him stands a man
    a soldier by the looks of him
    who came through many fights
    but lost at love

    While the storyteller speaks
    a door within the fire creaks
    suddenly flies open
    and a girl is standing there

    Eyes alight with glowing hair
    all that fancy paints as fair
    she takes her fan and throws it
    in the lion's den

    "Which of you to gain me, tell
    will risk uncertain pains of Hell?
    I will not forgive you
    if you will not take the chance"

    The sailor gave at least a try
    the soldier being much too wise
    strategy was his strength
    and not disaster

    The sailor coming out again
    the lady fairly lept at him
    that's how it stands today
    you decide if he was wise

    The storyteller makes no choice
    soon you will not hear his voice
    his job is to shed light
    and not to master

    Since the end is never told
    we pay the teller off in gold
    in hopes he will come back
    but he cannot be bought or sold.


    Inspiration, move me brightly
    light the song with sense and color,
    hold away despair
    More than this I will not ask
    faced with mysteries dark and vast
    statements just seem vain at last
    some rise, some fall, some climb
    to get to Terrapin

    Counting stars by candlelight
    all are dim but one is bright:
    the spiral light of Venus
    rising first and shining best,
    From the northwest corner
    of a brand-new crescent moon
    crickets and cicadas sing
    a rare and different tune

    Terrapin Station
    in the shadow of the moon
    Terrapin Station
    and I know we'll be there soon

    Terrapin - I can't figure out
    Terrapin - if it's an end or the beginning
    Terrapin - but the train's got its brakes on
    and the whistle is screaming: TERRAPIN


    While you were gone
    these spaces filled with darkness
    The obvious was hidden
    With nothing to believe in
    the compass always points to Terrapin

    The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain
    You're back in Terrapin for good or ill again
    For good or ill again...
  17. schlaufuchs

    schlaufuchs La Femme Moderne

    Jun 9, 2008
    Chicago, IL
    Jerk! That was going to be mine! Umm, Black Peter is, in my opinion, one of the saddest songs ever written. It never fails to bring me to tears.

    All of my friends come to see me last night
    I was laying in my bed and dying
    Annie Beauneu from Saint Angel
    say "the weather down here so fine"

    Just then the wind
    came squalling through the door
    but who can
    the weather command?
    Just want to have
    a little peace to die
    and a friend or two
    I love at hand

    Fever roll up to a hundred and five
    Roll on up
    gonna roll back down
    One more day
    I find myself alive
    maybe go
    beneath the ground

    See here how everything
    lead up to this day
    and it's just like
    any other day
    that's ever been
    Sun goin up
    and then the
    sun it goin down
    Shine through my window and
    my friends they come around
    come around
    come around

    People may know but
    the people don't care
    that a man could be
    as poor as me...
    "Take a look at poor Peter
    he's lyin in pain
    now let's go run
    and see"

    Run and see
    hey, hey,
    run and see

    Oh, and you forgot the chorus on the Terrapin Reprise:

    Some rise, some fall, some die all to get to Terrapin!
  18. Glassfan

    Glassfan Mostly harmless

    Sep 17, 2006
    Much agreement. Opera is very fine, until you read the lyrics and find out how trivial it is. It's actually better not to know what they're singing.

    I'd have to say that Barber's Adagio for Strings with the voce Agnus Dei is one of the finest pieces ever I've heard.
  19. SuperJay

    SuperJay Bending Space and Time

    Sep 24, 2010
    @Owen - I can hardly listen to Black Peter sometimes, it's just SO sad.

    Here's a slightly different end of the spectrum. Maynard wrote this song (in two parts) about the death of his mother, Judith. She was a devout Christian during her life and suffered from a disease that left her crippled and in a wheelchair for much of her latter life (approx 10,000 days, hence the title).

    TOOL - Wings for Marie
    lyrics by Maynard James Keenan

    You believed ...
    You believed in movements none could see.
    You believed in me

    A passionate spirit
    Boundless and open
    A light in your eyes
    Then immobilized.

    Fell at the hands of those movements that I wouldn't see
    Yet it was you who prayed for me.
    So what have I done
    To be a son to an angel?
    What have I done
    To be worthy?

    Daylight dims leaving cold fluorescents
    Difficult to see you in this light
    Please forgive this selfish question, but
    What am I to say to all these ghouls tonight?
    "She never told a lie,
    ... well might have told a lie,
    But never lived one.
    Didn't have a life,
    Didn't have a life,
    But surely saved one."
    See? I'm alright
    Now it's time for us to let you go.


    10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)

    Listen to the tales and romanticize,
    How we'd follow the path of the hero.
    Boast about the day when the rivers overrun.
    How we rise to the height of our halo.

    Listen to the tales as we all rationalize
    Our way into the arms of the savior,
    Feigning all the trials and the tribulations;
    None of us have actually been there.
    Not like you.

    Ignorant siblings in the congregation
    Gather around spewing sympathy,
    Spare me.
    None of them can even hold a candle up to you.
    Blinded by choice, these hypocrites won't see.

    But, enough about the collective Judas.
    Who could deny you were the one who
    Illuminated your little piece of the divine?

    And this little light of mine, a gift you passed on to me;
    I'm gonna let it shine to guide you safely on your way,
    Your way home ...

    Oh, what are they going to do when the lights go down
    Without you to guide them all to Zion?
    What are they going to do when the rivers overrun
    Other than tremble incessantly?

    High is the way, but all eyes are upon the ground.
    You were the light and the way they'll only read about.
    I only pray, Heaven knows when to lift you out.
    Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough;
    You're going home.

    You're the only one who can hold your head up high,
    Shake your fists at the gates saying:
    "I've come home now!
    Fetch me the spirit, the son, and the father.
    Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended.
    It's time now!
    My time now!
    Give me my, give me my wings!"

    You are the light and way that they will only read about.

    Set as I am in my ways and my arrogance,
    (With the) burden of proof tossed upon the believers.
    You were my witness, my eyes, my evidence,
    Judith Marie, unconditional one.

    Daylight dims leaving cold fluorescents.
    Difficult to see you in this light.
    Please forgive this bold suggestion, but
    Should you see your Maker's face tonight,
    Look Him in the eye, look Him in the eye, and tell Him:
    "I never lived a lie, never took a life, but surely saved one.
    Hallelujah, it's time for you to bring me home."
  20. Love

    Love Deity

    Feb 25, 2006
    On the island of fun!
    I think it's the cases when the lyrics are too horrible it matters enough

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