The Chicken Or The Egg
The lyric or the tune?
Would it be unfair to say that some songwriters, even those who write great songs, don’t write great lyrics?
Perhaps they believe the music is paramount. Perhaps they are right. But surely great lyrics can make a good song even better. This is a bit of a crusade for us. Let’s not name any names here. Some of our favourite artists don’t write great lyrics. It might be fairer to say that people who have a musical gift don’t always have the same facility with words. Different skills require different departments in the brain.
OK let’s name names! We’ve been blown away by the lyrics of . . . Eminem, Natalie Merchant, Billy Bragg and Emily Saliers (to name just a few). Some of their words work on the page as poems, even without the music.
One fix, if you can’t find a musical mind and a verbal mind inside the same head, is to divide the tasks. That’s largely how Finn (O’Reilly)’s favourite band the Grateful Dead worked. We were deeply saddened when their lyricist, Bob Hunter, passed a couple of months ago. There’s also a lot of attention recently on Bernie Taupin who wrote most of Elton John’s lyrics. He makes an interesting character in the musical, Rocketman.
O’Reilly & Vincent’s songs started with poems that I (Rod) wrote over a number of years. Pieces of writing that I’d worked on for many months but which didn’t really cut it as poems. They were too rhythmic or too rhyming or too tongue-in-cheek to fit with contemporary poetry magazines. Then Finn picked up a guitar and started to sing them. That’s when we realised that they weren’t poems, they were lyrics. A happy accident!
There’s more we could say about how they were written. For us it’s important to be in the same room, locked away from the world with a stack of potential lyrics. The tunes emerge and the words are tinkered with where necessary. Poems don’t typically have a repeating chorus (these days) but songs do and that element often has to be written on the spot.
We certainly are not claiming they are great lyrics. It’s up to others to decide if they like the songs. But it has been a magical and uplifting experience for us to watch the words lift off the page and become songs. Whether it was the chicken or the egg, the lyrics or the tune, we can’t wait to share them with you – soon.