Write down the lyrics to your favorite songs.
Sometimes, you know all the words by heart. Other times you don’t know more than a few lines, especially if any of your favorite songs are by Tom Waits. Then there are songs where you know most of the lines, pretty much all of them, except for a few mystery phrases that you just can’t quite decipher, even after thousands of late night performances in your underwear in front of the mirror. A little research may be required, but it’s worth it: You’ll definitely get a kick out of actually writing out the complete lyrics of a favorite song and seeing the words laid bare on paper. It’s surprising to see how they can either read like beautiful, layered, masterful poetry. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, the poetry of a ninth grader.
It really is the music that makes lyrics work. “Jump” by Van Halen sounds like a cool rock song. Aztec Camera’s version of “Jump” sounds like an anthem, mood and memory and all the rest of it flowing through your mind as you sing, “Oh can’t you see what I meeeeeeean.”
So make sure to play not just the music — but the right music — in your head as you write down the lyrics.
The web makes it easy to find the lyrics of most songs. Just go to any search engine and type “the name of the musician/band” + lyrics + “name of the song,” and dozens of websites will pop up with the lyrics ready for you to write up. Or, you can just pop in the music and write down the lyrics as the song plays.
With some songs, I must admit, it’s not quite that easy. Two of my favorite songs are sung in languages I do not know. One of the songs is from a tape given to me years back by an ex-girlfriend of some musicians she met while living in another country. It was recorded in a living room. It’s an original piece with some of the most beautiful, haunting melodious singing I have ever heard. The other song is from a movie soundtrack, just a gorgeous song that rattles and shakes even the guarded fibers of practiced poker faced emotions. Part of me is afraid to get the lyrics translated — I don’t want the actual words to alter what these songs mean to me. But there’s also a good chance that these songs will have even more impact once the lyrics are revealed to me. Being a word man, it’s a chance worth taking.