Words And Music

Listening to The Decemberists’ “Calamity Song” got me thinking about how good songs are as much poetry as they are music.  And some artists are great poets who use words that hit you unexpectedly.

Like “antediluvian” in “Calamity Song.”

When was the last time you heard that word?  Or thought it, or even thought about what it means?  But it’s such a great polysyllabic word, and so evocative, and in the song it bounces along with the music so beautifully.

Words can reach out from songs and grab us like that.

In Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Listen,” there is a line that goes, “Call you faithless…”  “Faithless” is a punishing word, and like “antediluvian” not one you hear very often.  It leaps out at you, an accusation, a curse.

Mumford and Sons put Shakespeare on a 21st century rock album with “Sigh No More.”  “Oh, man is a giddy thing…”

Artists like Peter Gabriel and Dave Matthews and R.E.M. use words in the service of art all the time.

In fact, one of my favorite Dave Matthews songs is a complete short story with the persuasive force of a 16th century love sonnet.  There’s a guy and a girl, and they are snowed in at a cabin somewhere.  Both of them are in other relationships, yet the guy makes a convincing case for a one-night stand.  “Desire, see, is creeping up heavy…”  Mmmmmmm, yeah.  Tomorrow, we’ll go back to being friends, Dave.

Are there any songs with lyrics that just grab you?  Songs that surprise you with the words they choose?  Any musical artists that you turn to again and again for inspiration in your writing because they use words so fluently, so expertly? 

Thanks to Amy Garvey whose musical post last Friday set me off down this path.

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4 Responses to Words And Music

  1. Nancy Sima says:

    Hi Maryanne – I wholeheartedly agree, songwriters are extraordinary in how the weave words together. They are truly poets. My go to artist is David Gray. I have his album, “Draw The Line” on repeat these days. Best to you in 2012!

  2. Julie Glover says:

    Great post! Tori Amos’s early songs come to mind as poetic and poignant. Sting’s lyrics have this capacity as well. I also love music standards — like Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer. My college best friend and I used to read CD inserts from cover to cover and deconstruct the lyrics. There is some amazing poetry in music.

  3. “I knew her voice before she spake…” Blind Pilot, Half Moon.

    Anyone know how long it’s been since we used “spake” for the past tense of “speak?” Dictionary.com says it’s “archaic” – no duh.

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