No one will dispute the fact that, in most cases, the lyrics are just as integral to the song as the melody is. Just ask Curt Cobain about this, whose lyrics are as poignant and as thought worthy as any have been throughout musical history. And there are many great lyricists, even now, who know how to make a song better by using lyrics that speak to any of us through the music and the melody.
Back in the day, lyrics became an art form unto themselves. Stringing together words to make them sound pretty had always been the hallmark to a good pop song, and you can look no further than The Beatles for this. But some songs took lyrics to another dimension. In some songs, the lyrics transcended the music, and the melody became inconsequential because of it.
Although there are many cases of this, I’ll stick to 3 examples here, where the lyrics may have been the only reason to listen to the tune. Some artists, like Simon and Garfunkel, made their mark because you had to actually listen to the lyrics in order to understand the song. But most artists wrote lyrics after they had a melody that complimented the music. Those were referred to as working songs, and they satisfied the song making process by giving words, any words, to a specific beat or tune.
Pleasant Vally Sunday was written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin as a social commentary on life in suburbia and keeping up with the Joneses, how everyone has conformed and everyone looks and acts the same. This song was actually released by The Monkees, but their version paled to the original version sung by King. The lyrics are as timeless then as they are now, and in this modern world with everyone trying to be different, aka Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, the roots of their own rebellion lie in this song.
If you want pretty lyrics, the song Elusive Butterfly, or Butterfly of Love, takes the cake. A song written by Bob Lind, it is a surrealistic look at chasing the emotion of love. Dreams, canyons and nets of wonder are the hallmarks of this song, and perhaps no more beautifully written lyrics, that tell the story of lost love and something to believe in, have ever been sung before.
Which brings us to Carly Simon. In her heyday, she could go toe to toe with any lyricist that has ever written songs. The beauty of her lyrics came directly from the candid and forthright way that she looked at life, and in the song Anticipation, when she sings the line “I’m no prophet, and I don’t know natures way,” may be the singular best line that has ever been recorded. But that entire song is one big lyrical party, and she sums up the meaning of a romance with a truth and a reality that cannot be questioned, which apples to all of us in any heartfelt relationship that we have ever been involved in.
Like I said, there are many times when the lyrics meant more than the song did, and these are, in my opinion, just some of the best examples out there. But whenever you talk about lyrics that have more meaning or that are more important than the song as a whole, take some herb, start your journey here, and listen to the words that meant more than the melody ever could.
The counterculture and all things relevant to that movement in the 60’s, were showcased in this song by Goffin and King.
If ever their was a prettier set of lyrics than Elusive Butterfly, I have never heard them.
Carly Simon brings it with Anticipation, and those were the good old days when the lyrics mattered.