Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Words and Music

I had this conversation during a very noisy party last Saturday night.  As discos are, the music was too loud for anyone to hear what the other person was saying, so most of it consisted of lip reading, sign and body language.  I’ve been to too many of these over the years, and there is always a consensus, next day, that conversations – long, intense, heartfelt conversations, lasting for tens of minutes – have taken place, during which intimacies have been exchanged, anxieties exposed, hopes and fears poured out … but luckily, it’s all wiped out because, actually, you only managed to hear about one word in ten.  This isn’t to say that communication didn’t take place: indeed, the heard one in ten might have said more than the unheard nine.  But there’s something to be said for those words that aren’t heard.

So, Zoe was asking me about music, and during a lull I was able to hear and consider her question, which was to do with whether you should respond more to the lyrics or the music of a song.  She felt, I think, that most of the time, at least in the music she liked, lyrics were a distraction, if not an irrelevance, and I have a lot of sympathy with this view.  When I listen to a song, very often it tends to be one or the other; the perfect marriage of the two is rare.  Dylan said ‘If I can sing it, it’s a song; if I can’t, it’s a poem’, but that’s a bit simplistic.  Leonard Cohen wrote an eighty-two verse poem which he distilled down to a song called ‘Hallelujah’, and yet at the moment I’m hearing the tune more than the words.

I was about to counter with ‘Come on over baby, whole lotta shakin’ going on’ as a perfect storm, but then the disco kicked back in and words became irrelevant.


  1. I was playing "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" in the car a few days ago, and it has since become an annoying earworm. The words are out 'there', somewhere, but it's the tune that's stuck.

  2. Ooh no, I love words so I love lyrics - there are some genius lyricists around - Tinie Tempah, Eminem - can you tell I have teenagers in the house?!

  3. I start with the music and hardly notice the words. Later, I listen intently to the words. What I'm not good with is background music, because I can't help listening to it if I like it. If I don't, it makes me annoyed. Most of my favourite albums are quite wordy and I listen to them in their entirety.

  4. You're all right! That's why I used the word 'and' in the title, not 'or'. I have more thoughts on this, but it's too late now, nearly bedtime.