Today’s blog is the first of several where I write the lyrics for a song. I can’t guarantee how they will turn out, because I am writing them as I write this blog, but it should at least be fun 🙂
The idea for this song is an old one – a broken hearted person drinking his life away. There are many songs in this category. The recent country song ‘Drunk on a Plane’ does a humorous take on this subject. I want to go for a slightly more serious tone, though I didn’t want it to be morbid – somewhere between ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart’ and ‘Margaritaville’
When starting a song, my first questions to myself are what do I want to say, and who am I trying to speak to. This song is for anyone who has ever had a bad breakup and can relate to how crushing those feelings can be. It is about how burying your feelings can lead you to a bad place, but one you are only trapped in for as long as you choose to be.
With that as my seed, I started brainstorming. These are my raw notes; I didn’t cut out the bad ideas 🙂
Way down in whiskey town I've been lost more than I've been found Ain't seen my girl for a year or so OR I've been living like crap for a year or so Ever since I saw my baby go But I've found a new home On Whiskey road I know where I want to go I don't need to cry any more My hear will never mend that's for sure There's only one place left to go OR I've always got someplace I can go They write the blues for sad souls like me Who turn their self loathing into misery Even though I know there's a million girls or more I only think about the one that had to go OR the one who left me My heart would surely mend if I let her go I won't need to cry any more It's my own damn fault that's for sure Don't feel the pain, I don't feel a thing When I get to remembering It's all I know Whiskey Road
At that point I felt like I had an idea of how the story would unfold.
* Man loses girl and turns to drinking to dull the pain
* Man is sure his pain will never end
* Man realizes he could ease his pain by letting go and moving on
* Man decides he isn’t ready to take that step yet
‘I’ve been living like crap for a year or so’ sounds interesting. the word ‘crap’ is a bit shocking, and might grab the listener’s attention. I change it to ‘feeling like crap’ to set up the conflict as an internal battle. I decide ‘crap’ is too strong, and go with ‘I’ve been living in hell for a year or so’
‘Whiskey Road’ is a nice metaphor to represent numbing oneself. It’s not too direct or too vague. I can do a lot of things with Whiskey Road – I can go there, I can walk it, I can live there, I can die there.
A lot of the ideas end with ‘Whiskey Road’ so I decide to introduce the hook in the first verse, rather than wait for the chorus. This is a fairly arbitrary decision, but it means I will be repeating the phrase often. I want to use it slightly differently each time, and probably drop it in a few places just to avoid too much repetition.
Now I get down to writing my 1st draft. At this point I also came up with some chord changes and a melody, but I won’t go into those since this blog is about lyrics. The 1st draft still has a lot of issues, but it gives me a structure and enough to start wordsmithing. The notes explaining my thoughts on each line are at the bottom. These will be my guides when I start rewriting. See if you agree.
Note: I am not aware of universally accepted definitions of ‘verse’ and ‘stanza’ in songwriting. I use the term ‘stanza’ to refer to a 4-line group (a paragraph). A verse is one of the sections of the song where the lyrics change each time through. The chorus is usually the section that repeats and contains the hook (though the chorus here doesn’t really follow that definition). In any case, verses and choruses can be made up of multiple stanzas. In this song I have 2 stanza’s in each verse, and 1 stanza in the chorus.
I didn’t decide on a rhyming scheme up front. What came out naturally as I wrote the first few lines was an AABB scheme. The first stanza of the 1st verse is actually AAAA, but I was thinking of it as AABB. That gives me freedom to play with the first two lines later. The second stanza is AABB. The chorus is also AABB. That might need to change, as varying the rhyming scheme in the chorus is often necessary to get the right amount of contrast between the verse and chorus. But not always, so we will see how things go.
Also, you will see a lot of soft (or near) rhymes. For instance, lines 3 and 4 rhyme ‘home’ with ‘road’. They have the same long ‘o’ vowel sound (an assonance rhyme), but different ending consonants. I use a lot of soft rhymes of various types.
[Verse 1] I've been living in hell for a year or so Ever since I let the girl of my dreams go But I found a new home On Whiskey Road Now I don't feel no pain; I don't feel a thing And when I get to remembering I just go home To Whiskey Road [Chorus 1] My broken heart will never mend, that's for sure But I don't want to cry any more So I found someplace safe where I can always go Oh, Oh, Whiskey Road [Verse 2] Don't remember what I did today I smell like something I don't want to say This lonesome road Will steal your soul They write the blues for fools like me Who turn their love into misery And won't let go Of Whiskey Road [Chorus 2] It's my own damn fault, that's for sure My heart will mend if I let her go There's a million girls in this great big world So why am I still walkin' Whiskey Road [Solo] [Bridge] I only think about the one who got away I've got to give her up someday [Chorus 2] I'm still walkin' Whiskey Road
Some things I know I need to fix:
Line 2 – ‘girl of my dreams’ is too cliche and soft
Line 6 – ‘get to remembering’ – the rhyme is a bit forced, but I like it
Line 9 – ‘my broken heart’ is cliche. ‘that’s for sure’ sounds forced
Line 10 – ‘crying’ is too overt, need something a little more internal
Line 14 – ‘smell’ is colorful, but very lowbrow
Line 16 – ‘steal your soul’ is too cliche, not really on point. The road isn’t the thing that steals your soul
Line 17 – I like the internal rhyme (blues, fools), though it does make the line stand out too much
Line 23 – ‘million girls’, ‘great big world’ – how many cliches can you put in one line
Line 25 – ‘one who got away’ is intentionally cliche. Maybe too much
Line 26 – ‘give her up someday’ – She left, there is nothing to give up. got to move on, got to let myself move on.. something