Lyrics Are Important As Cold Ice Cream

It's the picture of Italian ice-cream in a sho...

I was in the car on the way home today when I heard a singer/songwriter on the radio sing these lyrics:

I like ice cream when it’s cold
I like old time radio
It’s funny but it’s true
These things I do

The last two lines I’m not exactly sure of the wording, I was trying to remember them because they got me to thinking about writing lyrics and how we need to pay attention to detail.

I’ve been working on music all summer, but not lyrics. I spent the late spring and early summer working on theme music and tracks for one TV series, and all of August on music for another series. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to have my music on television, even if in a small way, and even if it doesn’t amount to much of anything money-wise. The biggest bonus for me was that it got me into writing again. Well, I shouldn’t come to any conclusions, I’ve only started on one song, but hey, for somebody who has had nothing but a dry well to draw water from the last three or four years, it’s something!

And that’s why the above lines struck me today. You should read them again before I go on and see if you can spot the inconsistencies.

Now the first twenty or so years that I wrote (remember, I started when I was 12), my lyrics were the least of my concerns and it showed. They were weak, boring and unimaginative. And when I finally realized that, I got to work at improving them and found a real appreciation for songwriters who could write powerful, effective lyrics. Sitting down for the first time in a long time and writing those first few lines of a new song the other day, I did a couple of things differently. Or, should I say, I returned to my old way of writing. I did NOT do it on my computer. I did NOT use an online thesaurus. I wrote long hand in a lined notebook as I used to many years ago, and scribbled and wrote and scratched out and re-wrote. It made me realize that when I use a word processor, I lose what I overwrite, and sometime what I had deleted would probably have been better than what I subsequently came up with.

I stared at the page and saw the words and phrases that I had scribbled out, and I was still able to read them. Now, of course, on a computer you can save different versions of a lyric, just like anything. But it can be distracting to be saving a document with a new name each time, even if it doesn’t take that long to do. It can block the flow.

Lyrics are important. People in some genres don’t spend as much time on them as in others and would probably disagree with me. Fair enough. But for me, as a songwriter, I think they are critical, and I devote a LOT of time to them. Sometimes I can’t stop.

Look again at the lyrics, I’ve pasted them again below. Can you see what’s wrong with them? I don’t know the songwriter and I couldn’t find the lyrics anywhere on the web, so I can’t credit them to anyone. But here they are:

I like ice cream when it’s cold
I like old time radio
It’s funny but it’s true
These things I do

Two things stick out; one, as picky as it sounds, isn’t it redundant to say that ice cream is cold? Ice cream IS cold. The second thing is that these are things the singer LIKES not what the singer DOES so they can’t be “things I do”. These are the inconsistencies that I would beat myself over the head with until I corrected them. These are lyrics I would have written before I figured out how important lyrics are. They need to make sense!

Read and re-read your lyrics, write and re-write them. Don’t let them go until they’re perfect.  THEN eat your ice cream.

IJ

4 comments

  1. The singer might be saying that he/she likes ice cream when the weather is cold, which would be ironic, and would make sense.

  2. True…it would be interesting to know how many people would hear it one way or the other. I also wish I had the rest of the song lyrics to get a better over all idea of how it works in context.

    Thanks for your comment 🙂
    IJ

  3. Use stream of consciousness exercises. Stream of consciousness writing is where you just write and keep writing and don’t stop: just write everything that comes into your head. This will capture many ideas that change quickly but it can help you find ideas when you’re really lost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × 5 =