This post is directed mainly to my undergraduate musicology students, but I am sure other readers will find it of interest to. This week in our class, we discussed the various ways in which the ‘musical environment’ (the sounds and textures of a piece of music) impact and infiltrate the lyrical content. Based largly on Allan Moore’s thinking in his book Song Means, I proposed three environments to consider.
1.Inert: Where the music has no significant impact on the lyrics of a song
2.Active: Where the Lyrics Support the position of the singer or lyrics (Protagonist in song)
3.Oppositional: Where the Musical Texture actually conflicts with the lyric
The examples for ‘Inert’ arguably include the majority of the popular music we listen to, but Active and Oppositional are more interesting. For Active, I used the following examples
- Annie Lennox ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ (1992)
- Feist ‘The Water’ (2008)
- Joe Cocker ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ (1969)
- ‘Machine Gun’ Jimi Hendrix (1970)
- Zappa: Rhymin Man
Zappa in fact, for me at least uses this technique more than any other, describing it as ‘American Musical Icons’ in his biography. Essentially, all of these examples include the music working in a symbiotic partnership with the lyrics/singer, to substantiate the meaning of the words.
The Oppositional approach is different, as the musical texture actually conflicts with what the listen is hearing. Having recently wrote a book on Sting, I noted this is a technique that he deliberately employs as a songwriter, with his old hit ‘Next to You’ being a great example – essentially a love song juxtapositioned against a punk rock rhythm. This can’t help but indoctrinate the song with a certain amount of ambiguity.
My task for this students is this: 1) provide examples of ‘Active’ and ‘Oppositional’ in the comments of this post. Provide 2) How does this impact the ‘meaning’ in the song?