Discussion: Music and Lyrics

During the Academy Awards show last Sunday, a montage of movie clips honoring the late John Hughes featured a great quote from The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.” In one line, teenage angst collided beautifully with a universal fear.

In comparison, no lyric in Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey” was written with even half the poignancy or acute understanding of the human spirit; I still haven’t read a reasonable explanation of the song’s odd metaphor. And yet, to me, there’s something about the song that resonates with the same raw, trapped-by-the-certainty-of-time desperation as Allison Reynolds’ tearful proclamation, albeit built on nostalgia rather than fear. Like the movie clip, the song makes me feel.

“American Honey” begs the same question I’ve asked myself since I started writing for Country Universe: why am I able to form such strong emotional connections to songs that are lyrically weak? I’m still exploring the answer, but I do know this: while to many people, country music is about naked truth, to me, it’s always been more so about naked emotion. My favorite country songs and artists have a specific, potent way of capturing sentiment and presenting it deeply, tangibly and honestly – and it isn’t always through a story. “American Honey” would be a far better song if its character were fleshed out, but I’m just as gripped by the coupling of its sweet, wistful melody with Hillary Scott’s convincing performance.

The song has an extra layer of believability for me because Scott and I are the same age – in that awkward, early 20s era of life where you’re just old enough to feel the gravity of adulthood, but young enough to feel like you can reach back and touch your childhood. In the nearly two years since I graduated from college, time has flown by faster than I’ve ever known it to, so much so that thinking about it sometimes takes my breath away. Scott’s delivery on “I just want to go back in time” mirrors that exact feeling.

I firmly believe that if a piece of music moves you, it has value. What songs with subpar lyrics have struck an emotional chord with you, and why?

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10 Responses to Discussion: Music and Lyrics

  1. Cory DeSteinNo Gravatar

    I always thought Alan Jackson’s “Sissy Song” was a beautiful song but lyrically it was nothing magical or special. It comes nowhere near to Jackson’s other hits, lyrically. But it was the simplicity of it that really helped me connect to it, and summed up everything I felt with I had lost my grandmother. He hit the nail right on the head with just stating the obvious.

  2. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Kevin’s talked about songs with a certain theme hitting his “sweet spot” before, even if the song is otherwise thought of as trite or predictable. The same thing happens to me. Songs about peace and love (the “hippie” kind of love, not romantic) hit my sweet spot , almost no matter how lame they may be as actual pieces of composition. It’s, honestly, hard for me to be objective enough to discern their actual quality. I don’t even know why I feel such a strong connection to these songs, but I always have, even as a kid raised by parents and grandparents who support every war that the United States has entered on principle of patriotism.

  3. KNo Gravatar

    Interesting discussion, and I’m glad this was brought up. Sometimes it seems like the simplistic songs are overlooked for being too boring or too safe, when sometimes they are the songs that convey the poignant truth about life and emotions.

    Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” comes to mind for me. It got blasted for being too simple, bland and not creative enough- but for the people who have lost a loved one and believe wholeheartdly that their loved ones are going to heaven, this song displays the human emotion and spirituality of that belief perfectly.

    Rascal Flatts’ songs”Things That Matter” and “Why” also come to mind- simple, sweet, but with just enough depth to cover the emotions and lives of many.
    Some Others:

    “There Goes My Life,”
    “The Good Stuff”
    “Tough”
    “Fight Like A Girl”
    “Need You Now”
    “I Know You Won’t”
    “Alright”
    “I Melt”
    “Who I Am”
    “These Are My People”

  4. TomNo Gravatar

    …one of my best-loved albums consists entirely of such songs. alan jackson’s “what i do” album is
    fantastic in its simplicity. i had missed its release for some reason and bought it only years later at a bargain price with no expectations other than adding a missing piece into a collection. but what a little treasure it turned out to be. every song seems to be nothing more than just fitting into its place on the whole thing. an almost perfect case of less is more.

  5. I thinks even though most people think they care a lot about lyrics they don’t respond to them as much as they do to the melody. Sounds have always had way more influence on us than just words and I believe that’s just fine, you just need to be okay with it and accept the fact that we’re so “simple”.

  6. JaneNo Gravatar

    I really love Mama’s Song (Carrie Underwood), even though the lyrics are nothing special. It’s just a beautiful song about mother-daughters, and it strikes a chord with me. Same with Sara Evans’ New Hometown – The lyrics are pretty blah, but the song is still a favorite of mine.

  7. DiamondNo Gravatar

    “That’s What I Love About Sunday” gets me every time. Simple images of people and events I recognize.

    I also like “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” because I had daughters, and it rings true to my experience as a parent.

  8. Lyrics are not music. Think of classical music with no lyrics which evokes so many different feelings. The connection we feel with music is to do with the way the mind processes and reacts to sounds, performing feats of interpretation and memory which evoke elements of recall and stimulation. The lyrics are simply either part of the music or a key into a story. The story of the music might then affect the listeners perception, so that an emotive song which tells a poignant story will ‘strike a chord’ with some and yet be offputting for others.

  9. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    First of all, love John Hughes. Cried during that part of the Oscars.

    As for the topic of this post, gotta go with “Whole Lotta Love on the Line.” Lyrics aren’t bad by any means, but it’s that guitar hook that makes it one of my favorite songs. He could’ve sang “That’s How Country Boys Roll” over this hook and I’d still love it.

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NV1vkSUUzU

  10. I like the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the movie “Beaches”. It touches and reminds me of my mom, my best friend.