Read All About It

Lesson 83 Chapter 2 Module 8

Another version of poetry that often gets shrugged off in the study of writing and literature is songwriting and music lyrics.

Just ask anyone who had an internal (or external) meltdown when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature. (It didn’t help when he wouldn’t attend the awards ceremony or speak publicly on it for months, as this is an award many writers strive for their entire life and existence.)

The argument is, of course, that songs aren’t literature.

Which is interesting, as some of the earliest forms of writing that we still have available to us (other than essays and orations that are passed down through schools of study and thought) are nothing more than bar ballads that shared stories.

Since the moment humans seemed to learn that we could make melodic noises with our voiceboxes, we’ve set our communications to music. Countless studies show that we actually retain information that we can associate with a particular song better than words on a page.

Go on, try to remember the alphabet, without singing the song in your head.

So we would be remiss to study some of the greatest writers in the history of literature and articles without taking a lesson to look at some masterful lyricists.

In today’s lesson, we’re looking at three songs that had massive impacts on their audiences not only for their musicality, but for their theme and (life) lessons.

That’s the thing with songs and lyrics: it’s using using the emotional connection we feel to melodic tones to impart a message to the listener.

The first song, Read All About It Part III was written by Scottish singer Emeli Sandé, in collaboration with her friend and mentor, Professor Green, as an updated version of his original hit Read All About It.

The song was debuted at this little international event called the 2012 Summer Olympics in London at their closing ceremony.

The second song, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, is considered by many to be one of the first commercial successes of rock’n’roll music in the United States. A genre that most considered, when it began to rise in popularity with the youth of the 1950’s, to be noise and dangerous lyrics.

Makes you think about Kendrick Lamar’s recent 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music, making him the first rap and hip-hop artist to win the award. These times they are a changin’...

Which brings me to the third song lyrics, from the man I originally referenced above, Bob Dylan.

Dylan is one of the most recognized, awarded, and respected songwriters of the last half-century.

Anyone who has listened to him knows he would have to be. With simple folk-styled music and a raspy snarl of a singing voice, he himself has noted many times that people aren’t showing up to his shows and buying his albums for the musicality.

His draw is the lyrics, the lessons and themes he shares with the world through 4-minutes of attention.

In this song, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, Dylan takes the discarded lines and lyrics from songs he wants to write, and meshes them together into one long call-and-reply styled song (does it remind you of Chaucer’s format a bit? In more understandable English, of course!)

It is basically a bunch of his opinions and ideas on the current state of the world, which was a messy world in 1962 for Americans. He was right there, the voice of the people, trying to unwrap all of it in his own mind.

As you go through these, I urge you to take a few extra minutes and see if you can take a stab at the lesson or theme you find in one of the songs. 

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