“Funny things happen to words when they’re in songs. They become more profound, or funnier…” said Simon Frith, Mercury Prize Chair of Judges, at the launch of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust’s latest campaign, Let’s Get Lyrical.
I’ve been volunteering at the City of Lit these last few weeks, mailing out bundles of promotional materials and proofing some of the website content. But even if I weren’t working there, I would still tell you to check out the Let’s Get Lyrical website and to think about writing your own story about the song lyrics that mean the most to you. Lyrics are such a huge part of our lives, whether they’re in songs by our favourite bands that we play on repeat, in catchy tunes overheard on the radio or in music added to films for dramatic effect.
The opening event for Let’s Get Lyrical was an evening of music and words entitled Why Do Songs Have Lyrics? Sandwiched between performances by King Creosote and Ziggy Campbell, the audience heard from a panel of musicians, writers and academics about the lyrics that have inspired them and about some of those funny things that songs do to words:
On the lyrics that have inspired them
Kenny Anderson a.k.a. King Creosote: Morrissey is a song writing genius. He tackles subjects head on and his lyrics make sense. Morrissey lyrics on the page look like prose.
Ziggy Campbell: Until I heard Arab Strap, I just listened to music. Arab Strap lyrics were the first lyrics that grabbed me. I think Aidan [Moffat] is an absolute genius. The lyrics to The Shy Retirer in particular are funny and visceral. He nails it at the end.
Ian Rankin told the audience how he was inspired by The Mutton Birds’ The Falls. Read the full story here.
On mishearing lyrics
Kenny Anderson : I put lyrics in album covers so that people know they’re not as bad as they think. Sometimes I am aghast by the way lyrics are misheard. I have a song called Spystick and you can imagine how that sounds in my accent.
Ian Rankin: “I love to see song lyrics written down because if there’s any way they can be misconstrued, I will misconstrue them.” He misheard the Sex Pistols lyric They made you a moron/a potential H-bomb as They made you a moron/ touching your wife’s bum.
Simon Frith: “Mishearing lyrics can be a big problem if you’re a critic. I once wrote a review of Stop the Task Force by the Clash and that got into print.”