There are many songs with such great hummable music, but are weaker in lyrics. There are also some songs which have great lyrics but are weaker in music. And, there are songs with good music and good lyrics but are sung pathetically by the singer. While we all would agree that it is music that gives our ears the feel, rhythm, vibrancy etc because music has the power to lift each word of the lyric. However, lyrics give the message of the song. Lyric gives a song its heart. Thus, songs are all about combination of magnificent lyrics with great music composition and we get those master pieces.
One such great inspiring song with soothing music and wonderful lyrics is Cliff Richard’s superb number “Travelling light” the lyrics are wonderful with simple guitar chords and just two-three instrument orchestra.
“Travelling’ Light” remained at No. 1 for five weeks, and was the chart topper in 1950s. It sold 1,600,000 copies worldwide. It was also a number 1 hit in Ireland and Norway. That was the magic it created and remains one of the evergreen tracks even today.
I want to mention one beautiful, soft yet heart touching song from Bollywood here. It’s from Film Anupama (1966) ‘kuch dil ne kaha.’
This classy song expresses the intense feelings of a lady; they are complicated to some extent. Her emotions and feelings are about her contemplation, it is a peep into her desire, fears and her inhibitions. Kaifi Azmi has done such a wonderful job; hats off to Kaifi Azmi for understanding woman’s heart. Hemant Kumar has composed the expressive lyrics without slipping a single note; the song is beautifully set in Raag Bheempalasi in style of Bandish. The singer is Lataji. She has sung this song so poignantly. On screen, Sharmila Tagore has given face to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice. This song oozes a class. This song has it all – touching lyrics, classy tune, melodiously sung by a classy singer and beautifully shot as well.
There is no one single answer whether music is important or lyrics in a song. Sometimes we have seen that a striking melody along with a peppier beat of orchestra can help compensate for weak lyrics. You can find yourself humming the tune. Similarly, evocatively good lyrics with a strong message line can help compensate for a weak tune. I am sure, some lyrics you can’t seem to get out of your mind. Like this song from film Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid “Raindrops keep falling on my head.”
The song is a metaphor for life’s problems, obstacles and challenges; the song explains that there’s no time for sulking and complaining or cribbing about the problems. One just got to move on with life by enduring the challenges with perseverance.
The meaning of the song basically consist in words, they give the song thoughts, emotions and feelings. You might not like a song but its lyrics might be inspiring. Melody also has a great power to uplift the emotions in the song. Sometimes, a particular raga lends a new life to a song. It reminds the listener of certain things, it can make them nostalgic this is how ragas have power to gives lyrics a different stance. And, there are some cases in which the person does not understand the language in which the lyrics are written, so the only way to reflect on the song, to listen to the melody.
The above point can be explained in the sound phenomenon. It is subjective, based on our brain’s understanding of the transducer’s (microphone, radio, transistor) output, our own life experience, and our own preferential ways of deriving knowledge. We try to derive meaning of the words with help of the tune. Don’t we? This is what scientist/philosopher Gregory Bateson has to say on languages “There is no objective experience. All experience is subjective….Our brains make the images that we think, we “perceive”.
I would like to mention another song to clarify my point; it is from film Prempujari (1970) it is phulon ki rang se, dil ki kalam se’ written by poet Neeraj. It is a romantic song, very well composed and soulfully sung by Kishore Kumar. The song is themed on evergreen Dev Anand, like him the song is also evergreen. Though the film didn’t do great business at box office, the songs became a super duper hit.
The song’s lyrics are really splendid and touch the heart. It’s yet another brilliant score by muci director Sachin Dev Burman. The song is composed mainly in Raga Pahadi and mixed with some other ragas. Pahadi is a popular raga based on folk music. As its name suggests, it originates from the mountainous region of Himalayas. It resembles two other ragas which exude the rich cultural heritage of folk music; one is Mand from the Rajasthan region and Pilu from the Hindi heartland. It is a light raga and resembles more like a ‘dhun’. This song is so very versatile and expressive that it can be understood by anybody.
Though other parts of the music may give the general feeling or tone of a song i.e. light and happy, or sad and gloomy, romantic and passionate the whole purpose of lyrics is the message itself. If the lyrics don’t provide some form of message then they might as well be either in a language you don’t understand or not exist at all. Although, the music is subjective part of a song which may not be enjoyed by all; therefore, many songs have been redone to fit those other tastes.
Some songs have so much other sound from the instruments that you can’t really hear the words, thus not understanding what the song is about; other songs have the lyrics sung so fast that you can only make out a word here and there. There are also songs that use such poor pronunciations which are misunderstood by listeners. What hooks us – the listeners is the rhythm, interesting grooves, unique melodies and the apparent passion conveyed with various composition and recital techniques. Sometimes lyrics can be overpowering and other times music can be overwhelming.
Pop music puts more of an emphasis on melodies and song-structure, in pop music the lyrics don’t matter all that much; same goes with instrumental jazz and some rock music. But there are songs in classical style in which a huge emphasis is laid on lyrical structure.
Personally, for me, lyrics are most important in a song. Of course great musicians are of the mindset that to compose a good song, they need to first start with lyrics. The musical world is filled with lyrics lovers who like words, ideas, themes which a good poetry can present. Poetry has been one of the all time greatest expressions of art in world history. For a good song there is a definitive order of priority and rank of what is important lyrics or music. Both are important and vital to a great song; after all music must exist to put the lyrics on display!!