What is a Song?

What is a song? It’s good to ask simple questions now and then, because we learn the edges of things sometimes. And sometimes that’s good.

A song is a blend of lyrics and melody. What about instrumentals? Hmm, it is definitely music, but technically is it a song? Songs are sung. You do not sing instrumentals, except maybe skat. Such a fine distinction.

A song without lyrics is still music, but a song without melody is… poetry.

It is the nature of songs to sing along, and if we don’t know the words, we just plow ahead. In some cases the words we choose are wrong, it doesn’t matter, except to purists. People still fight over the correct lyrics to “Louie, Louie”.

In fact, the melody is often so powerful that the balance between lyrics and melody is shifted. We can say the words, but we don’t spend much time thinking about them. “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I have love in my tummy…”. Okay, maybe there is not much to think about.

Unless it is referencing the neurons linked to the Vagus Nerve, that allows thinking and feeling to take place outside the cranial space of the skull. Wow, deeper lyrics than I had first thought.

I’m revisiting this concept that I first raised a few months ago. I challenged the readers of this blog to read the lyrics of a few songs by Leonard Cohen. I wanted them to be read as poetry. He had been a published poet for some ten years before he turned to music.

If you weren’t familiar with his music, then this might have worked. For me, I couldn’t read two lines before the music was in my head and the melody took over.

I think I missed something.

This month I am recording Leonard for a poetry website. The original poetry is going very well. Recording his songs as lyrics without the melody is not going as well.

I want to bring the power of the lyrics to the listeners. Reading the lyrics with a hint of the melody seems odd, and off putting. Why not just sing the song? Ha! If I only could!

My belief is that there is something additional to be learned by focusing on the words instead of the melody. But the connection to the melody is so strong.

This might be an imposable task, and not worth the attempt. I’m in a quandary. Stay tuned!

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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