Music, Me, and Multiplicity

March 4, 2007

I have a question for all of you: when you listen to music, do you mainly listen for the “music” [i.e., the instrumentation, key, modulation, melody, etc.] or do you listen to the music as “poetry” [i.e., mainly listen to the lyrics]? I’m sure most people listen for some healthy mix of the two. But strangely, I’d never given much thought to these two “flavors” of music. And certainly never realized how much of a lyrics junkie I am [okay, that’s a lie {if you’ve ever happened across this blog before}. By that, I mean I never realized how un-lyrics junkie everyone else is].

Some of my favorite songs of all time [don’t ask me to list them, they change on a daily basis] have kick ass lyrics. They’d make some of the best modern poetry you could lay your eyes on. And by gosh, they all happen to be some variety of rock / alternative / folk / pop.

So, pick a song. Any song. Say “Right in Two” by Tool [okay, I can be a little bit of a tool-head {speaking of which}]. I love the song AS SPOKEN WORD. “Father blessed them all with reason. /And this is what they choose. / Monkey, killing monkey, killing monkey. / Over pieces of the ground.” I can’t think of a better summation of the situation in the Middle East than that. And yet, there it is. In a rock song. That I happen to love. It could sound like nails on a chalk board, and I would still love it. [It doesn’t, by the way].

And all of this points to why I guess I don’t really like Jazz and Classical as anything more than background music. And I do love them as background music. Or to listen to while trying to clear my head. But if I’m listening to something as a way to entertain myself, you’d better believe that I’m listening for the lyrics. That’s why I love XTC. That’s why I love Tool. That’s why I love Dave Matthews Band. And that’s why I love Stuart Davis [even if no one reading this knows who that is…]. The lyrics, man. It’s the words! Word.

But some people listen to music, for, well, the music. And I can respect that. I just don’t do it. I can appreciate it. Another reason why I love Tool. They make some of the most kickass rock music. Ever. Guitars wailing. 5/8. 6.5/8. You name it, they’ve done the meter. And they pull it off so well, unless you know anything about music, you’d never even notice.

Here’s an opinion from someone that disagrees with me. He thinks that Americans listen to music too much as poetry. We don’t pay attention enough to the textures of the sound. Maybe. I don’t know. I think it might be a matter of differences in taste rather than superiority of taste. Plus, he defends abstract art. And we all know how I feel about abstract art. [Pokes out eyes with pencil].

Well, anyway, I really would be interested to know what you all listen for when you listen to music. Let me know if I’m a complete weirdo [okay, okay, you don’t have to let me know that] or if I’m just one of many other lyricists out there.



5 Responses to “Music, Me, and Multiplicity”

  1. Mrs. O said

    See I’m torn- I notice for some songs I really think about the lyrics and would probably enjoy them even without the music, but sometimes I just love the melody and have no idea what the words are. I haven’t thought about this enough to be sure, but I think it depends on who wrote the song- some songwriters pay more attention to the lyrics and you can usually tell this. But I will say I probably lean more toward listening to the melody than the lyrics.

    Now, my brother on the other hand, is a “lyric junkie.” But he writes music reviews for the school newspaper at Providence, and writes his own music, so he’s not your “average” music listener.

  2. Dave in the West said

    I like both pretty well.

    I definitely lean more towards the sound of the music because ultimately, that’s what gives me the feeling, but good lyrics really emphasize the sounds that I’m hearing. If there are no lyrics, then I’m just listening for the sound… obviously. If it has shitty lyrics and good sound, that kinda makes me angry because then I don’t know whether I like it or I don’t. If it has good lyrics and bad sound… it usually just bores me, I’d rather read the lyrics.

    If both are good, then as a rule of thumb, I’m listening to Tool or APC :)

  3. Dave in the West said

    And tell deuchbag person that some americans do like jazz… me being one of them.

  4. Brett said

    Hey Dave, first of all, VERY interesting post. I’m probably going to have to steal this topic from you and elaborate it more on my blog. Sorry! :)

    I listen to a HUGE variety of music, from classical to jazz to latin to rock, and almost everything in between. When I listen to music, I am almost always listening to the melodies and the harmonies and stuff. When I listen to music that has lyrics, I listen to the overall sound, that is, the combination of the instrumental parts and the lyrics. I notice the words that make up the lyrics, but I also notice if the notes the person is singing are fitting in with the rest of the song.

    I agree with most of what that guy had to say, but I don’t agree with his comparison between abstract art and classical music/jazz. Abstract art is odd and random looking, while classical music and jazz have obvious structure and form. I mean, you can sit down and listen to classical music and it doesn’t take much effort to realize that it’s beautiful. You might not like it, but you at least have to appreciate its beauty. Anyway, I think that music today is becoming increasingly dependent on lyrics and that good instrumentation is falling to the wayside, to the detriment of musical quality. Take rap for example. I am not being biased, you CANNOT deny that if you take away the lyrics to most rap songs and just listen to the backgrounds, all you will hear is just a simple, dull, repetitive background.

    To me, instrumentation is superior to lyrics. The reason is simple. When you hear instrumental music, you feel emotions. What causes you to feel these emotions? Chords! Chords are three or more notes played at the same time. The pattern of chords in a song is what causes people to feel happy or sad while listening to music. Where do chords come from? The instrumentation, not the lyrics! Lyrics by themselves are just words. Like poetry.

    And yes, I do listen to classical music when I’m not doing anything else. I’m definitely going to have to post more on this. Thanks Dave!

  5. Mrs. O said

    Sorry for filling up your comment section, but my brother radomly called me last night, so I asked him what he thought about the music vs lyrics debate. He actually has a different take. He thinks of the lyrics as an extension of the melody, that can’t be separated from the melody. In other words he doesn’t feel like he can appreciate the lyrics alone without the music. I think he’s more in line with Dave who said good lyrics emphasize the sound. His music reviews are a little over my head sometimes- here’s an example…

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