That’s Me In The Footlight

There is a piece by Clive James in today’s Guardian on his lyric writing. It seems fair to say that, although he says of his longtime collaborations that the ‘music came first’, the rest of what he writes here indicates that in his approach to songwriting, the lyrics come first. That is, in a song, what is important for him is the effect of the music on the words. So he talks about how the ‘words were energised by the music’, the words ‘sit so comfortably on the musical notes’, and ‘the way music gave an extra dimension to the simplest words’, and how ‘a set of syllables (was) absorbed by a row of notes’.

Fine. There’s no right approach to composing a song, and doubtless thousands of great songs were composed by putting the lyrics down first. But what he says here got me thinking quite deeply about whether by talking about lyrics as isolated from the rest of the song as performed, we are entering a world of identifiable objects, categories, technical and commercial competence. And then I thought, nah, I can’t be bothered with that. Instead, I decided to note the following:

Clive James’s song on the Guardian website sounds a lot like what you might expect from two former Footlights people who are now pensioners: too clever by half, and half-way up its own arse.

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