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How Important are lyrics to you in Prog music

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 00:08
The specific comment I had in mind (which I had posted earlier) was this:

"But I thought the topic was about how important the lyrics are to the listener in his personal appreciation.  And I am only hypothesizing on what may be the reasons why a lot of people have responded to this thread to say it would not be important to them.  It is not necessary that everything that the musicians consider important would be important to the listener.  Rick Marotta, the drummer on Peg, claimed to have done some specific things which were never captured in the recording he finally heard.  So there's no contradiction there.  If I began to talk about dynamics and expression of a singer, a lot of people might feel they don't find it that important but I do.  And in the same way, if somebody does or doesn't find the lyrics important is entirely up to them, there are no oughts or ought nots there."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Toaster Mantis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 04:31
Originally posted by rogerthat rogerthat wrote:

I gave you a comparison with the things that musicians put into a record that people don't notice or care about.  You haven't responded to that.  But therein lies the answer.  There are too many things happening on an album of music, far more than people give credit for and hence people zero in, subconsciously, on the things that really attract their attention.  And it is not even a rigid set of factors.  It is just a question of what stands out in a track. 


I just don't understand that mentality. Even if the lyrics don't stand out the way the instrumental interplay does, they're still a part of the music and put there for a reason. Hence, they have to be taken into account when analyzing the composition. Otherwise the music would have either been fully instrumental, or the singer would have gone for that weird glossolalia-type vocals like Damo Suzuki from Can does. I know there are instances of a group who wanted to make wholly instrumental music, but were pressured into writing lyrics and including vocals by their record label, but those are probably in the minority.

If there's too much going on to process at once, doesn't the record just then require multiple lessons to absorb everything before you can really form an opinion on it? That way you'd have to listen to the record several times while paying attention to different aspects of the composition and performance, then eventually synthesizing them on later listens.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 04:43
I don't agree.  Looking at it that way, everything from the kind of fills selected by the drummer, the chords chosen by the guitarist, the phrasings of the vocalist are also part of the composition.  Now exactly how many listeners break down the details of all these aspects to round out their appreciation of a composition?  Going by the many reviews, some detailed and some brief I have read, I don't think I have come across a single one of which I could say with certainty that the reviewer had indeed comprehensively considered and critiqued every aspect of the music.  Everybody just zeroes in on what they are biased towards, just as I described.  In which case, everybody's way of appreciating music is also flawed and therefore I couldn't care less if mine is too.


The logic seems to be that just because lyrics are text (which one can understand as long as it's in a language familiar to them), one ought to pay attention to it.  And to that, I say I pay attention if it catches my attention and if it doesn't I ignore it, just as it goes with several other aspects of the track.  Why should I approach it as if it's some maths problem to be solved?  I am happy to take what part of it I can relate to and leave the rest because I only listen to it for enjoyment.  When there are a lot of lyrics in the music, I end up paying attention to it because I have no choice, it's front and centre.  And if it's too clever by half and doesn't express its message directly, I won't try too hard to understand, sorry.  As I said earlier in the thread, if I wanted very clever writing, I would pick up Catch 22 or something like that.  Why in the lyrics of a track of music when I already have the music, the singing and the instrumental rendering to digest.  Music is an aural as opposed to a textual medium.

  If there are only a few lines of verse spread over a 15-20 minute long track (which is very often the case), I don't usually pay much attention because it's not crucial to my opinion of it.  I really think if that the quality of a few lines of verse are supposed to completely make or break one's opinion of a track then that's just inflating the importance of lyrics.    Because by the same token, even a line of badly sung verse should damage one's opinion of a track and there are lot of people who would say that in prog they don't consider the vocals that important to deciding their opinion.  The bass not being high enough in the mix ought to be a deal breaker and we know it isn't.  Even in a genre where basslines are often independent and interesting, people are pretty happy to ignore it if they have to strain to hear it so why should lyrics get such disproportionate importance.


Edited by rogerthat - August 10 2014 at 04:45
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 04:53
Another aspect that hasn't been brought up so far is not every singer has great diction.  Some singers have a kind of hazy pronunciation that makes most of the words not very intelligible.  Some singers slur over particular syllables.  Sometimes, even singers with great diction may deliberately slur some syllables because the resulting effect is phonetically more pleasing to the ears.  In short, listening to lyrics in a song, especially a song with lots of instrumental layers, is not quite the same thing as listening to a speech by an orator or even a bunch of dialogues delivered by actors in a film or play.  Making each and every word perfectly clear to the audience is not always the priority of even the musicians.  That being the case, it is hardly surprising if a lot of listeners also do not prioritise it.  I find it inconvenient and far too self conscious to have the lyrics in front of me while listening.  I don't do it unless whatever I have made out of the lyrics intrigues me to a great extent.  I don't care if a lyricist wrote great lyrics but the singer (often the lyricist himself) did not pronounce the words clearly enough.  If the artist really wanted the listener to understand, he should pronounce every word clearly without any intentional or unintentional slurring.  That by itself is not hard (except perhaps at the top of one's range where vowel modifications may be necessary).  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Toaster Mantis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 04:54
I can understand taking the lyrics only as "setting the stage" supplying some mental imagery which the music is supposed to illustrate, and indeed not all lyrics are meant to have that much metaphorical depth the same way normal poetry would. It's ignoring the lyrics completely I don't really "get".

Then again, I'm the kind of person who's had a holistic approach to aesthetics for as long as I've been interested in the subject and can't imagine a coherent way of thinking about art which doesn't follow that approach.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 05:04
Well, looking at the quality of some or in fact a lot of lyrics I have encountered over the years, whether in prog or other rock music, I am not sure that the artists themselves paid particular attention to getting it right so why blame the poor listener. LOL   For instance, what the deuce is "Jump on the tiger/you can see his stripes but you know he's clean/Oh don't you see what I mean" all about.  Indeed, I don't see what he means and all I know is it makes me laugh.  LOL  But that's such an awesome track of heavy f***ing metal.  Dio at his very best along with tasty riffs.  Why should I pay attention to the lyrics and spoil my enjoyment of a track I love.  If I find something to like in the lyrics, it's fine.  Otherwise, I can do without it, it doesn't affect my appreciation.  I think that's the same thing that almost everyone who said lyrics are not that important to them has said in such or different words.  We get it, the lyrics of Script for a Jester's Tear are brilliant.  That doesn't mean that's the case with each and every prog album.  And I, like most others, primarily listen to prog to hear inventive approaches to developing the music.  It's the unorthodox way in which bands in the genre seem to have approached structure that fascinates me.  If lyrics are great, that's a bonus but why shouldn't I be allowed to like or even love a track where the lyrics just outright suck.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Toaster Mantis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 06:17
Well, that Dio tiger metaphor I think represents seizing a chance for getting out of a rut or dead-end situation... even if it involves taking a risk or looks dangerous. If the lyrics are minimal in their presence. I don't think they can spoil my enjoyment unless they're really bad, but for me that can only mean if they don't fit together with the expression of the songwriting's other components at all.

You also think the entire "unorthodox approach to song structure" appeal of progressive rock can't also apply to the narrative structure of the lyrics, rhyming schemes or use of metaphor? Again it's probably something that comes second place for many songwriters but very often it's a case of which perspective you look at it from. Look at how many people find Jon Anderson or Peter Sinfield's lyrics somewhat kitschy, but others find them very interesting if you analyze them the right way.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 06:39
Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:

Well, that Dio tiger metaphor I think represents seizing a chance for getting out of a rut or dead-end situation... even if it involves taking a risk or looks dangerous.

If that was what was meant to be said, I cannot think of a more clumsy way to say it.  I mean, that's probably one of the most ridiculed lines of verse in metal history.
Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:


 If the lyrics are minimal in their presence. I don't think they can spoil my enjoyment unless they're really bad, but for me that can only mean if they don't fit together with the expression of the songwriting's other components at all.

And the consequence of that is?  If it does not impact your enjoyment, is it significant that it doesn't fit together?  Probably not. You admit that lyrics, unless they are really bad, would not spoil your enjoyment either.  Which is what I or others in the thread are also saying.  


Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:


You also think the entire "unorthodox approach to song structure" appeal of progressive rock can't also apply to the narrative structure of the lyrics, rhyming schemes or use of metaphor? Again it's probably something that comes second place for many songwriters but very often it's a case of which perspective you look at it from. Look at how many people find Jon Anderson or Peter Sinfield's lyrics somewhat kitschy, but others find them very interesting if you analyze them the right way.

Well, you cannot have complexity on all levers at the same time; at least that's what I believe. It's just as how in a performing jazz band, when one guy starts to solo, the rest follow him rather than try to go off on tangents on their own.  Same is the case with composition.  In prog rock, rhythm may be complex in terms of the time signature being employed or the manner in which changes are effected.  But the actual patterns, i.e., the fills are often minimal and unobtrusive.  Even Bruford's playing (one of the busiest in prog along with Peart) is never as flamboyant as say a funk drummer.   The vocals may involve significant technical skill but the rendering is not usually highly embellished or ornamental.  For instance, Annie Haslam is in all probability more technically accomplished than Mariah Carey but she hardly uses melismas at all (and seeing as she can trill on an F# in the fifth octave, she would quite easily be able to if she wanted to).   Steve Hackett surely does not lack skill but he rarely goes off on attention-seeking shred bursts.  The approach in prog is or at least was to lay a complex foundation but focus the rendering on only building the parts steadily and gradually rather than attracting too much attention to any of the individual components.  

Such is also the case by and large in prog lyrics. The important thing is not what Sinfield or Anderson's lyrics actually mean.  The important thing is that they create a pleasing phonetic effect in the context of the composition.  Dean has already made this point but it's still worth repeating.  The primary role of lyrics in a composition is to create a pleasing aural effect because, again, music is primarily an aural medium.  Words can and are often fitted to create a sound.  That is why meaning gets compromised at times and that is why listeners too often do not place much importance on the meaning of the lyrics.  So, yes, if put to me that way, I would say I would like to hear lyrics that create a pleasing sound and consider that important.  I don't like it if say the singer is forced to sing a painful consonant like an 'm' in a high note sustained for a considerable length of time.  Only a singer can truly understand how painful that is to perform but at any rate it is painful to listen to.  Lyricists take care to place vowels or consonants that can be modified into vowel sounds at such junctures. An r preceded by an a, for instance, is very helpful (say the word far) because it is enough to sing the a and lightly touch the r and listeners can infer the r.  

I don't think it's a coincidence that the lyrics-heavy Marillion create more lucid music than Gentle Giant or National Health.  If you actually had such heavy lyrics wedded to GG-like complexity, it would be very difficult to keep pace with all moving parts.  Is it possible to break down each part and analyse each in a discrete manner?  Sure.  But is it desirable?  Not for me, personally (if somebody else wants to, they can, it's a free world).  I'd like to believe that the composition exists to be listened to as a whole and if I have to shut off attention to everything else to focus on one part of it (in this case, the lyrics) then something is wrong.  That is perhaps why I do not hold Anderson's lyrics in the same regard as Waters' for DSOTM.  You don't have to make any effort to get what Waters is trying to say and at the same time, the lyrics are not expressed in a dumbed down fashion either.  It's just very straight up and direct and Gilmour, Waters and Wright took care to pronounce every word clearly and impart the appropriate amount of weight as well.  Lyrics should work in consonance with the other aspects of the composition.  It should not require dedicated effort to appreciate.  A budding lyricist may of course study the lyrics in great detail as an exercise in self improvement just as a budding singer or musician would look at every nuance utilised by the performers carefully.  But it is not necessary at all that every listener is required to look at lyrics in that much detail; surely only as much of those that enhance their enjoyment should suffice.  


Edited by rogerthat - August 10 2014 at 06:41
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 06:43
If Sinfield, when discussing his lyrics for Bucks Fizz's Land Of Make Believe, can claim that "beneath its TRa La la IS a virulent anti Thatcher song... Oh yes it is..." then quite frankly anything is possible and there is no metaphor that is too subtle if you can analyse them in the right way. However, it helps considerably if the lyricist draws a map and produces his own set of accompanying study-notes otherwise you're just guessing.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 06:44
Originally posted by Dean Dean wrote:

 However, it helps considerably if the lyricist draws a map and produces his own set of accompanying study-notes otherwise you're just guessing.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nogbad_The_Bad Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 08:09
I don't listen to music as an analytic exercise, I listen to it for pleasure and unless the lyrics are particularly strident and enunciated (such as Leonard Cohen) they tend to just become part of the overall palette of the music and are enjoyed in that context.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 08:24
Originally posted by rogerthat rogerthat wrote:

 The important thing is not what Sinfield or Anderson's lyrics actually mean.  The important thing is that they create a pleasing phonetic effect in the context of the composition.  Dean has already made this point but it's still worth repeating.  The primary role of lyrics in a composition is to create a pleasing aural effect because, again, music is primarily an aural medium.  Words can and are often fitted to create a sound.  That is why meaning gets compromised at times and that is why listeners too often do not place much importance on the meaning of the lyrics.  
This.
Look at how successful British-American modern music has been worldwide, to people who very frequently do not understand English. Most of my prog-lover friends in Spain had little or no knowledge of English when we were young. I myself developed my love for Prog before I had a decent level of English. And yet we would all sing our loved songs out loud, just phonetically, without knowing what we were actually saying (or rather, trying). If lyrics were so important, people would concentrate in the Prog from their native country or language, and that is clearly not the case for most non-English natives.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PrognosticMind Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 08:30
Originally posted by rogerthat rogerthat wrote:

 Such is also the case by and large in prog lyrics. The important thing is not what Sinfield or Anderson's lyrics actually mean.  The important thing is that they create a pleasing phonetic effect in the context of the composition.  Dean has already made this point but it's still worth repeating.  The primary role of lyrics in a composition is to create a pleasing aural effect because, again, music is primarily an aural medium.  Words can and are often fitted to create a sound.  That is why meaning gets compromised at times and that is why listeners too often do not place much importance on the meaning of the lyrics.  So, yes, if put to me that way, I would say I would like to hear lyrics that create a pleasing sound and consider that important.  I don't like it if say the singer is forced to sing a painful consonant like an 'm' in a high note sustained for a considerable length of time.  Only a singer can truly understand how painful that is to perform but at any rate it is painful to listen to.  Lyricists take care to place vowels or consonants that can be modified into vowel sounds at such junctures. An r preceded by an a, for instance, is very helpful (say the word far) because it is enough to sing the a and lightly touch the r and listeners can infer the r.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 08:48
Originally posted by Gerinski Gerinski wrote:

Originally posted by rogerthat rogerthat wrote:

 The important thing is not what Sinfield or Anderson's lyrics actually mean.  The important thing is that they create a pleasing phonetic effect in the context of the composition.  Dean has already made this point but it's still worth repeating.  The primary role of lyrics in a composition is to create a pleasing aural effect because, again, music is primarily an aural medium.  Words can and are often fitted to create a sound.  That is why meaning gets compromised at times and that is why listeners too often do not place much importance on the meaning of the lyrics.  
This.
Look at how successful British-American modern music has been worldwide, to people who very frequently do not understand English. Most of my prog-lover friends in Spain had little or no knowledge of English when we were young. I myself developed my love for Prog before I had a decent level of English. And yet we would all sing our loved songs out loud, just phonetically, without knowing what we were actually saying (or rather, trying). If lyrics were so important, people would concentrate in the Prog from their native country or language, and that is clearly not the case for most non-English natives.

I also listen to music, including prog, of other languages that I don't understand. In such cases, I have often found the phonetic effect of the words pleasing, without understanding a single word of it of course.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Toaster Mantis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 12 2014 at 14:00
Could be that I've just got a very formalistic way of approaching art, even when I don't know that much of the relevant field's academic theory, that it's hard for me to not listen to music in a different mindset. Maybe that's a side effect of studying art history at university? (minored in that, major in philosophy)

I'm actually kind of afraid to study more music theory than I already know, because I'm worried I'd then only be able to appreciate music that in composition and performance fits neatly into perfect mathemathical patterns. Encountered a couple people like that, after all.
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