Sunday, 30 January 2011
Today Peter Ross, writing in the Scotland on Sunday, asks 'why do some songs move us in mysterious ways?'
The reason for his article was to promote a series of events beginning in Edinburgh and Glasgow next month, by Let's Get Lyrical, celebrating song lyrics. Members of the public are being invited to discuss their own favourite lyrics online at letsgetlyrical.com and by filling in cards distributed in various libraries, cafes, shops and arts venues around the cities. I do find the parochial attitude of the organisers quite distressing because they're ignoring a much more varied part of Scottish opinion. It's not lost on us who live outwith the central belt that we are so often ignored because the central belt homes the majority of Scotland's population. It has a very defined culture which isn't necessarily appreciated by those outside of that niche.
My contribution will be via the online facility but choosing is difficult, because for me it's usually the combination of the lyrics and music which make a song memorable. Having to decide upon lyrics alone is like choosing a sandwich filling without a favourite bread. With so many styles of music, I've opted for modern/pop.
Tim Rice must rate as one of the best British lyricists in my lifetime. Not only does he produce quality lyrics but he produces them in amazing quantities. Combine his words with the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber and there's little can beat the results. Of course the Beatles also made a sensational contribution towards modern music but their lyrics were seldom greater than their musical compositions - although many may contradict me. Bernie Taupin - Elton John's lyricist - also deserves a place in my top ten.
Further afield, Abba also produced lyrics and music to suit any mood for many young people in the 70s and 80s and their lyrics always mattered more than the music, which was often similar in composition and rhythm. Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind, Dorothy Field's Big Spender and Johnny Mercer's Moon River rate high on my list.
Selecting one lyricist is complicated particularly when so much quality music was produced in the 60s and 70s, but without spending days digging into my own musical experiences, I've selected Memory from Cats., written by Trevor Nunn and adapted from a poem by the cat lover TS Elliot entitled Rhapsody on Windy Night. Now, that to me is the essence of outstanding lyrics.
The real question is can lyrics stand alone? I think not although some may argue poetry can. But poets aren't lyricists are they? Without Trevor Nunn's intervention TS Elliot's poem would have slipped into history.
So that's my choice. Would I play it at my funeral? I don't think so but that's another subject altogether.