While further pondering the points of overlap between poetry and lyrics, I realized that in my previous post I had failed to cover an important idea: sound lyrics.

That is, lyrics that are written almost exclusively for the way they sound. Let’s start with an extreme example:
Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah!
Roma-Roma-ma-ah!
Ga-ga-ooh-la-la!
Want your bad romance.
            If you can understand that, stay away from me.
But, of course, Gaga doesn’t use those odd vowel sounds to convey meaning, she uses them because they play with the ear. Syd Barrett used the same method to craft the lyrics to early-period Pink Floyd songs like “Astronomy Domine.” Alright, you say, but that’s Lady Gaga and Syd Barrett, does anyone relatively sane use this technique? As a matter of fact, yes…
            “Stairway To Heaven” is and for a long time has been one of my all-time favorite songs, but let’s look at some of the lyrics:
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.

 

            As profound as those words might have seemed when I was 15, when viewed with an ice-cold eye they don’t make a lick of sense. But, of course, Robert Plant doesn’t use those odd sentences to convey meaning—he admits that the lyrics to the song were almost entirely improvised—they work because the sound of the words alone is so evocative. Inspired by a trip to Wales, they strike just the right tone to become something approaching a musical instrument in their own right. Paul McCartney often does the same thing, most famously in the grating “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”

 

            I mention all of this because it constitutes a major oversight on my part. In their sound lyrics, pop songs edge closer to poetry than I had given them credit for. Such lyrics (along with those by greats like Roger Waters or Bob Dylan) hew very close to the poetic tradition. However, I still assert that most lyrics (yes, including most pop lyrics) tend more toward the theatrical than the poetic.
            Thanks for the feedback on the last post and I look forward to treating such issues at greater length in the future.

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