For 8 years now, Michael Leahy has been watching the lyric scene, the people that write them and “the trouble they make” as he puts it. “Song lyrics are an endless source of news, amusement and debate,” he notes. “They have the power to move, inspire and seriously irritate people.”
The enduring popularity of song lyrics is easy to track. The term “song lyrics” often ranks in the top 10 search results on the web. Lyric music sites are also amongst the most popular. But Leahy questions their usefulness. “They were originally set up by people just pasting their lyrics into the sites,” he says. “And most have not grown beyond this basic function.”
It’s practically impossible to find out who wrote the words, for example. Just recently, ‘You Raise me Up’ achieved Million-Air status from the American rights organization BMI for having being played one million times. It has been recorded by Celtic Woman, Westlife and most recently Josh Groban. “If you visit the lyric sites, you’d believe that Groban wrote the song, rather than Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland. It’s amazing that these sites don’t even credit the writers. Imagine a site devoted to guitar solos that forgets to mention who plays the guitar!”
The recent trend towards licensing lyrics is a good one, as it provides more accurate information about the writers and publishers and finally provides a little revenue for the people that wrote the words.
Other surprising places where lyrics turn up are in anthems. Britain’s “God Save the Queen” has a sixth verse that is never played, as it basically thanks the Queen for quashing the Scots. Florida recently had a heated debate about their state song, “Swanee River” – written by someone that had never seen the river and changed the name to suit his meter! Post-fascist Spain avoided any possible trouble by not having lyrics at all, which is why Spanish football teams look so quiet before matches.
Then there is the question of their value. In a recent auction, some handwritten lyrics of Jacques Brel fetched $170,000. Lyrics by Lennon/McCartney and others are other regular money-spinners.
Leahy, who had a number of hits in the nineties with 2 Unlimited and CB Milton, sees lyrics as a fundamental part of a song’s success. “The tracks that really last, the ones with legs, are nearly all songs with great melodies – and unforgettable lyrics,” he says. “It’s the difference between something you whistle and something you play at your wedding - or funeral!”
When words hit the headlines, www.a-lyric.com probably the only news site dedicated entirely to song lyrics, covers them.