Because there are so many lyrics posted on my website, I thought I’d explain the types of lyrics I tend to write often, and they overlap with one another. Here’s my list of the various themes and why I believe I write them.
Philosophy: I saw something that made me understand a little bit about my path as a songwriter. It said to the effect that “all songwriters are a kind of philosopher.” I agree with this because I do see my philosophy in the lyrics I’ve been writing. As a theme then, I think it’s important to note what my philosophy is as opposed to what it isn’t. One of those basic philosophies I have about writing is coming up with an original title if possible. Sammy Cahn wrote a long time ago about this particular subject and he said he would never use someone’s title if he could come up with his slant on the theme. This example is made clear in the analogy of why he would rather use, say, “My Kind of Town (Chicago)” rather than “Chicago ” because that one would be confused with “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”. As far as my philosophy, I can safely say I find comfort in the well-crafted, well-known cliche. I know that sounds funny, but it is evident in my lyric, “Life Is a Big Cliche’,” where I flat out write a lyric that explains through the use of a bunch of cliches to say why I think this way. Another thing that makes me think about this philosophy is that a songwriter’s personality will show through in his or her songs – possibly even when you think it’s a “character song.” This is because it is believed that even in character songs, a writer’s views are going to be somewhat represented in the song. I have to say though a lot of songwriters do write well-crafted lies, which align with a greater truth about human nature. If you write like a human who has real feelings, people will relate. I’m not sure that an automatic lyric writing program can write effective human emotional songs.
Common Phrases: This is something I picked up on early. I was noticing a pattern in songs I was hearing from the Tin Pan Alley days, specifically Irving Berlin. The reason why he was SO great at writing songs, was that he would listen to people, day after day and he would use little phrases he liked from his generation. My belief then, is that alone made him stand out and others followed suit. People who hear a song with a phrase that’s commonly used, otherwise known as a cliche or slang relate to what’s being sung and that is what helps propel the song to higher consciousness. If you hear someone say something you commonly say but in a way that fuses it with a lesson, then you learn something from that phrase. I know some would say that using common phrases isn’t as effective as coming up with your own, I think that a mixture of both the common phrase or even something that isn’t used as much as people would find it interesting gives the song authenticity when done right. I never understood why people who teach songwriting don’t emphasize that the most popular songs use current phrases of the day. That’s what a good song does, it mirrors society and everyone who is a part of it and then, the language used is the argument. Don’t write stuff people won’t recognize, write stuff that people WILL or at least will find as interesting as you do when you hear it. I love those phrases that come to me instantly, like the moment I heard “Lake in my hair,” and while it has been written about, I hadn’t heard that one before and decided to put my spin on it. It makes for a great way to write, always taking a phrase and using that as the centerpiece of a new story. It makes the song relatable.
Humor: Before I started writing songs, my FAVORITE radio show was the Doctor Demento Show, where it was filled with zany, crazy songs written purely for entertainment purposes. I don’t think those songs were really meant with any intention of making it on the Billboard Top 100 but just to be on the show. “Weird Al” Yankovic changed all that. His parodies and original songs became legendary in our day and he’s still around, still poking fun at the popular songs while writing even better original funny songs than he was doing back then. Before Weird Al, the other person I admired in Novelty songwriting was Ray Stevens. Ray’s “The Streak” and “Gitarzan” were on my cassette that I’d play in reading lab on a cassette player instead of paying attention to my work in 4th Grade. My Dad was a fan of Tom Lehrer, another songwriter I am awed by still. His songs are so biting yet so well crafted, it’s just incredible that he stopped performing and writing regularly. He ended up teaching at UCSC, where my Father once worked. When you look at the lyrics I write, you will see humor or weird lines in the songs. This is not an accident. I took the advice of Tom when he wrote, “Write just a little different from the rest.” That’s what I intended to do, and I think I succeeded with that advice. I don’t want to write lyrics like the rest of them. One writer/performer I admire right now is Tim Minchin. His style reminds me of Tom’s in some ways because there are skewering lines that are so courageous, so incredibly direct, I just love it. Humor is one of my major cornerstones and believe me, I do love outrageous songwriting. It’s such a rush to write a funny song. I know that in the world of Songwriting, novelty songs are not well respected but I think they should be. They make us laugh, forget our worries, and bring good cheer to our lives whether we’re on the road and need a good chuckle or on the train after a really hard day at the office. This is why I love injecting my songs with humor every chance I get.
Americana: I consider songs that are considered Americana to be a catch-all style. I think of a different kind of Americana music when I write in what I believe the style is and will remain to be. According to a lot of the Americana music that’s already out there, there seems to be a thought that it is of Roots/Folk origin. My position on this is that Americana songs capture an American Nostalgic feeling. I think of Piano songs from the Great Depression and the folksy songs that came out of those early hopes and dreams of the suffering people back then. Love was all they had. Love of each other, and the desire for better lives. Whether it’s a song I think suits a piano-playing singer style or a singer/songwriter style, I think the most important thing about an Americana theme is that people relate to it because it brings back a specific memory for them. Whether it’s falling in puppy love as a teen, or catching feelings for someone in one’s twenties or thirties, it’s pretty clear that the stories I love writing in this genre of music are those that deal with the events you tend to go to when you’re that age or the kinds of friends you make as well as the young women you date. I think of the All-American experience, you know, the diner, the malt shop, the bars, or even the cafeteria at school. I think of Football games and sports one plays. I think of the experience of growing up as an American, not necessarily of the White or Black experience or any Gender or Sexual Preference. Of course, I’ll be biased to the experiences that I had and continue to have. Some influences I’ve discovered I have within this style of songwriting tend to be Composer Randy Newman, Singer/Songwriters David Wilcox, Bob Franke, and John Gorka, and a whole lot of current Country Artists/Writers like Garth Brooks, Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, Midland and so many others. I’ll even through in Harry Connick, Jr. into this category because he comes up with some classic songs that deal with American thoughts, American stories, and true reflections on relationships and how we all interact with one another.