Songwriting. It was the original storytelling — before writing — before type, newspapers, magazines, or blogs.
It’s discounted as a storytelling device in these 1500 -2000 word blog post era but they had only a few minutes to convey emotion and tell their story so you’d play their song over and over.
With the death of Glen Frey this week, I was reminded of my favorite line of their songs:
“I was standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.” Take it Easy by Jackson Browne and Glen Frey
Though I’d never been to Winslow, Arizona I could picture that exact scene in my mind.
Does our copy conjure up images in the reader’s mind? Do we connect with their past experiences and emotions?
We content writers can learn quite a bit by studying these lyrics. They had no time, musical space, or enough syllables for extra words like “very” or to ramble on and on without getting to the point. In the early record age the maximum recording time was three minutes.
Below are a few of the lyrics that have visual and emotional power — in five lines or less.
Harry Chapin: Cats in the Cradle
“Well my son turned 10 just the other day,
He said “Thanks for the ball Dad, come let’s play.
Can ya teach me to throw? ” I said
“Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said “That’s ok”.”
Jim Croce: Operator
“Operator, well could you help me place this call
‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eyes
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me”
Paul Simon: Sound of Silence
“In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp”
James Taylor: Something in the Way She Moves
“Every now and then the things I lean on lose their meaning
and I find myself careening in places where I should not let me go.
She has the power to go where no one else can find me and to silently remind me
of the happiness and the good times that I know, and then I just got to go then.”
Ray LaMontagne: Jolene
“I found myself face down in the ditch
Booze on my hair
Blood on my lips
A picture of you, holding a picture of me
in the pocket of my blue jeans
Still don’t know what love means
Still don’t know what love means”
“I found her diary underneath a tree
And started reading about me
The words began to stick and tears to flow
Her meaning now was clear to see”
Bob Dylan: Make You Feel My Love
“I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue,
I’d go crawling down the avenue.
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.”
Willie Nelson: Blue Eyes Cryin in the Rain
“Now my hair has turned to silver
All my life I’ve loved in vain
I can see her star in heaven
Blue eyes crying in the rain”
Alan Block and Donn Hecht: Walkin After Midnight
“I stop to see a weepin’ willow
Cryin’ on his pillow
Maybe he’s cryin’ for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I’m lonesome as I can be”
John Mayer: My Stupid Mouth
“We bit our lips
She looked out the window
Rolling tiny balls of napkin paper
I played a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shaker
And I could see clearly
An indelible line was drawn
Between what was good, what just slipped out and what went wrong”
What’s my call to action?
My call to action is to listen to great lyrics. Read them. Study them.
What lyrics move you? What songwriter inspires your writing?