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Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

September / October 2021

 

Editor's Lead In
Music Or Lyrics?
Which is more important to you: the music or the lyrics?
Editorial By Greg Borrowman

 

Australian Hi-Fi Magazine September / October 2021

 

  This question came up on a TV show recently (a Spicks and Specs repeat) and it's had me wondering ever since, and thinking about the songs I love and why I love them. According to songwriter, singer and producer Karl Martin Sandberg (stage name Max Martin), who's written almost as many of the number-one singles on Billboard's Hot 100s chart as Paul McCartney and John Lennon (they're the top three writers on that chart), melodies are the most important. They're so important that he uses a 'melodic maths' formula to create his tunes. He used it to create hit songs for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift, NSYNC, Maroon 5, The Weeknd, Katy Perry and others.

Music being the more important of the two makes sense if you think about SigurRos, many of whose songs have lyrics that are sung in a made-up language the band describes as "a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music." And what about the famous "Nah, nah nahnahnahnah nah, nahnahnah nah, na-ah nah" lyric from Hey Jude? Or the chorus from the Spice Girls' hit song Wannabe: "I'll tell you what I want/what I really really want/So tell me what you want/what you really really want/I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really reallyreally wanna zigazig ha."

So far, it would seem that the argument for the music being the more important of the two is winning out or at least it does until you consider the lyric to Paul Simon's song The Dangling Conversation. "It's a still life watercolour/of a now late afternoon/as the sun shines through the curtain lace and shadows wash the room/and we sit and drink our coffee/couched in our indifference/like shells upon the shore/you can hear the ocean roar/in the dangling conversation/and the superficial sighs/the borders of our lives."  That's pure poetry. (Indeed it's so poetic that the lyric to that song has been published in several poetry anthologies.)

 

Australian Hi-Fi Magazine September / October 2021

 

And how about another of my favourite tunes, Don McLean's American Pie? It has both a beautiful melody and an absolutely gorgeous lyric. Amongst my favourite lines from it are: "And the three men I admire most/the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost/they caught the last train for the coast/the day the music died" but I'd be the first to agree that these lines work best when accompanied by the music.

The same would be true of the lyric "Stuck around St. Petersburg/when I saw it was a time for a change/killed the Tsar and his ministers/Anastasia screamed in vain." For my money, Sympathy for the Devil is the one of the best two songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (vale Charlie Watts) ever wrote, the other being You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Yet despite the brilliance of the music for Sympathy For The Devil and the fabulous lyric, I think one of the song's best touches is the addition of the nonsensical words 'boop boo' in the background.

So in the end, it's probably a personal call as to which is most important the music or the lyrics. For me, the teller is that although I often forget the words to songs, I always remember the melodies. How about you?

 

Greg Borrowman

 

 

 

Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

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