Sunday, 21 February 2010


Now, all those in favour of having the song lyrics printed on the CD/Vinyl cover, please raise your hands . . .?  Ah.  I thought so.  Some of you actually like that.

For me, I have a number of objections to that.  The first would be, that if a lyric isn't enunciated distinctly enough to be intelligible, then that's the way it is.  It's part of the whole song.  If, for example, I ever found out what Joe Strummer is actually saying at the end of "London Calling", I think I'd probably be disappointed. Right now, in my imagination, he's exhorting us to hark to some post-apocalyptic message, which could probably never live up to the vagaries of my mind.  As has been noted, misheard lyrics are often better than the reality.  The National's singer's style is often half-mumbled, and all the better for it.  Same for Tindersticks.  Some of Liz Frazer's finest moments would look faintly ridiculous in the cold hard light of the printed word.

But there's another objection, which is that lyrics don't stand up as poetry.  It would be like trying to compare a car to a bicycle.  Sure, they can both convey something, but the whole ethos behind them is different.  Taking the lyrics out of their musical context, I think does them a disservice.

My final objection is that it also has the potential to be insufferably pompous.  "Look at these great words", the cover seems to be saying, "are they not magnificent?".  Nine times out of ten the answer is usually, er, no, they're not.  It would have been better not to have known.

There's some obvious exceptions (Cohen, Dylan, Joni Mitchell), when I do actually want to know the lyrics.  But, funnily enough, those artists have good diction, and I can understand the words without recourse to a book.

You know who I blame for all this?  Yep, prog-rockers.  They're usually to blame for most things.

Mind you, my objections are probably already pretty much outdated.  With downloads at present, there's only the music file, the lyrics/cover art aren't currently bundled up into one format.


  1. Sometimes I like lyrics being there cos the songs are interesting and you want to know the odd word, e.g: the word 'tuinol' in The Old Main Drag by the Pogues.

    And Yes. I was listening to Tormato recently [EPIC] and had a real desire to find out what the fuck the singer is actually blethering about. Outcome: aliens and circus animals.

    But you're right that it's sometimes better not to know, e.g: Pixies.

    You can always not read the printed lyrics if you don't want to know.

  2. True, the odd word can on rare occasions be useful. But, as for not reading the lyrics, I find that very hard not to do! My usual practice is to read every word of the cover/inlay/booklet, whatever it is. To not read the lyrics is asking me to actually possess will power.

  3. I still miss the old gate fold sleeves, the crap band pics, acid inspired art and the purile lyrics. All the great and good did it keeping me entertained for years...except for Led Zep who had no illusions of their lyrical worth. Anyway, like you I have to read everything on the sleeve, even the "thanks to all" lists - worse than any lyric.

  4. I hate to possibly disappoint you, but what Joe Strummer is actually saying at the end of London Calling is ' I never felt more like-a, like-a, like-a....' It's a reference to the fact that he (unconciously?)stole the London Calling melody from 'Singing The Blues' by Guy Mitchell which starts off 'I never felt more like singing the blues' This Quite Interesting fact is alluded to in The Sensational Alex Salmond Band's re-locationing of the said tune:

    carry on

  5. Dunno about leaving it to the enunciation. If Shane McGowan's lyrics weren't printed would anyone know how good he is? To me it's just another aspect of buying an album that I enjoy. I don't like downloads for that reason. Like you I read everything. Why drop that pleasure because of the odd 'walking down the road carrying a heavy load'?

  6. Hi Nello

    The lyrics on the sleeve are not standing alone as "poetry", they are supposed to be either (a) read whilst listening (and therefore very much still "connected" to the music) or (b) used to learn the song should you wish to cover it...

    But then why aren't the chords on the sleeve?

    Maybe that's for another post.

    Enjoying your new blog!