Wednesday, September 26, 2007

At a Loss for Words...

Lyrics in Songwriting Example:
"Here Comes That Rainbow Again" music and lyrics by Kris Kristofferson

I decided to start this Lyrics in Songwriting blog because I'm teaching a music composition class and I noticed that many of my students (who are music majors) have great ears for melody and harmony but are coming up short when it comes to writing strong lyrics. Of course they're immersed in music and performance classes all day long so they're constantly sharpening their musical skills -- but they're not necessarily enrolled in other courses that explore non-musical creative disciplines that would also be helpful to them as emerging artists. It seems to me that it would be extremely beneficial to them if they were also required to study literature and creative writing as part of the music program. But, unfortunately, literature is not a requisite course for most music majors, so here I am starting a blog to essentially 'muse' about lyric writing and study some of my favorite songs to see what makes them tick.

Okay, so the first song I want to talk about is "Here Comes That Rainbow Again" by Kris Kristofferson. It's a 'simple' song, but I've always found that the simplest songs are sometimes the hardest to write. It's basically three chords (I, IV, V) with a modulation mid-way through the song. No bridge. Just Verse Verse Chorus Verse Verse Chorus. Not much rhyming, just on the 2nd and 4th lines of the verses (and not always perfect rhymes at that). Plain and simple yet powerful and very clever. And based on a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.

"Here Comes That Rainbow Again"
By Kris Kristofferson (music and lyrics)

The scene was a small roadside cafe
The waitress was sweeping the floor
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee
And two Okie kids by the door

"How much are them candies?" they asked her
"How much have you got?" she replied
"We've only a penny between us"
"Them's two for a penny" she lied

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
With the smell of the rains on the wind
Ain't it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again

One truck driver called to the waitress
After the kids went outside
"Them candies ain't two for a penny"
"So what's it to you?" she replied

In silence they finished their coffee
And got up and nodded goodbye
She called, "Hey you left too much money"
"So what's it to you?" they replied

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
With the smell of the rains on the wind
Ain't it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again

These lyrics hook me in right from the start. I can actually picture the cafe, the waitress, the truck drivers and the kids in action -- like a slice of real-life Americana. Or a scene from a movie. Simple, yet descriptive and real. Verse 1 literally sets up the scene for me. The second verse starts the action (let's call it Act 1). Great colloquial dialogue. And the best part for me - the words 'she lied'. That's the 'twist' the 'aha' moment when we're clued into the 'secret' that maybe all's not what it seems to be. Love it. Although the chorus is not one of my favorites (sorry) it echos the idea that through the course of the ordinary/tough/drab day, human beings can do wonderful, surprising little things that can literally turn the ordinary into something special. Verse 3 continues the story (Act 2) with an implied 'scolding/accusation' from the truck drivers and a defensive 'mind your own business' reply from the waitress. Now for Verse 4 (or act 3, the finale). The first two lines are descriptive, simple but again, vivid like a scene from a movie. Then the lyrics come in for the proverbial kill - the final twist, the unexpected 'pay it forward' conclusion. There are two things that I especially like about these last two lines. Number one is the phrase 'she called' - it implies that the truck drivers are literally out-the-door (such a 'neutral' phrase and yet what a vivid picture it paints). Number two is the truck drivers' reply which is identical to the waitress' reply to the truck drivers in Verse 3. Perfect resolution, but what else would you expect from Kristofferson?

The Essential Kris Kristoffersson (CD) with "Here Comes That Rainbow Again"

The Essential Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson links:
Kris Kristofferson: The Essential Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson Wikipedia

1 comment:

  1. Hey,
    I totally agree. I constantly have arguments with my friends about the great scarcity of good lyrics in music. Indeed, this example has been cited by myself on numerous occasions due to it's close resemblance to a screen play, setting up the scene, resolving the the conflict, using phraseology from the first verse to create resolution of composition in the final verse.
    Anyway, glad to see it on the net!