With this post we welcome Mick Terry to the IVC family. Mick is a London-based singer/songwriter who’s ultra-melodic, debut album, “The Grown Ups” is a must-have for any fan of the classic pop genre. In the piece below, Mr. Terry offers his astute thoughts and advice on the art of crafting the perfect, pop lyric.
Rhyme is on My Side
Lyrics are king in my book. Compared to a poem, they are like the archetypal cooler, older brother. They get to hang with the pretty melodies, make out with beautiful chord progressions and there’s absolutely no chin stroking required whatsoever. Lots of folk will wax and wane about jumping out of bed to record that killer melody that came a knockin’ at 3am, but how many of us would do the same for a clever couplet?
People like Elvis Costello are true masters of the pop lyric. He is equally adept at melding tales of mercenary soldiers (“Oliver’s Army”) to classic pop hooks one minute and then killing you softly with a heartbreaking lament to lost love (“Alison”) the next. In isolation, some lyrics can seem one dimensional, banal and even plain cheesy, but a great vocal performance can make you believe almost anything. If you delve into the back catalogue of Scottish minimalist popsters, The Blue Nile, the lyrics can appear abstract and, almost, flat. However, the band’s vocalist, Paul Buchanan, manages to deliver them with such poignancy and emotion that they instantly become three dimensional. As they say, one man’s nacho cheese is another man’s caviar.
Brother Can You Spare a Rhyme
Don’t be afraid to use your favourite quotes as inspiration. Case in point; Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Take a listen to The Pretenders’ track, “Message of Love” and you’ll hear Chrissie Hynde applying her famous vibrato to that very line with such conviction that you’d never guess it wasn’t part of her original lyric. There’s no shame in taking a little lyrical handout along the way. Which leads me on to…
The Rhymes They Are a Changin’
Next time you’re in a bookshop (remember those, kids?), steer clear of the best seller displays and head over to the music section. If you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one: The rhyming dictionary. When I first became aware of this, now, invaluable tome, I kind of dismissed it as a form of cheating; the songwriting equivalent of doping if you will (precious youth alert! ~ Ed). Boy, was I wrong. I can, honestly, say that it totally changed the way I approach lyrics and it’s never out of arms reach whenever I’m writing. They are relatively inexpensive and make the perfect substitute for socks on your Christmas want list.
Rhyme Does Pay
Above all, remember that your lyrics are there to serve the song and never underestimate their pulling power. Your audience may interpret your words in a completely different way to you, but that’s all part of their charm. So, the next time you hear someone say, “That is such a great line,” imagine how great it would feel to reply, “I wrote that.”
-Posted by Mick
Mick Terry is a London-based singer/songwriter. His debut album, “The Grown Ups”, was released in 2010 and he is currently knee deep in Ampex 456 tape working on the follow up. Mick also hosts the monthly “The Living Room Scene” songwriter circle shows in London.