I was recently discussing with some songwriter friends what we most wanted to learn and grow, in regard to our songwriting.
We all agreed, we wish we were more easily able to come up with those memorable lines that just stick with you from the moment you hear them. They're not usually the hook line or the title, they're clever, gut wrenching, funny, unexpected or heart breaking words that can wedge themselves deeply beneath your skin and you'll always nurse them tenderly.
Recently, I played an old Ray LaMontagne song, and just such a line jumped out at me again. It makes me chuckle, but then plays on my mind, as I unpack the depth of what this initially humorous line is actually saying.
A man needs something to hold on to
Jolene - Ray LaMontagne
It's often hard to describe why such a line really moves us. Sometimes trying to explain its power destroys the magic a little. It has little to do with the rest of the song or the overall song message. They can be outside our usual genre or taste in music. A great line can just come out of nowhere and blow you away.
Brandy Clark, country singer songwriter and queen of the tongue-in-cheek dig at the less savoury lifestyles of modern America, arrested my breath with these lines.
He's some stranger's husband.
What'll keep me out of Heaven - Brandy Clark
Her succinct, clever, heart-breaking second line of this couplet, written to match the one before it in style, packs a powerful punch, saying so, so much about this woman's situation and feelings in a short, tight, poignant line. Ugh....brilliant.
There's always a Patty Griffin line I'll be happy to point to as brilliant, though her real talent seems to be in saying so much so easily that it seeps in sneakily, without the instant punch, but with stealth, it works its way into your psyche and moves you just as much as any in-the-gut killer line. But every time I hear the following line, it haunts me.
So tonight, I'll find the key, drive away a little early.
That kind of Lonely - Patty Griffin
And a little snap shot of me at age approx. 19, studying songwriting at University and just discovering the wonders of U2, through their Achtung Baby phase. I became a life-long Bono fan after hearing the following line while my brother watched a video of them on tour.
I was drowning my sorrows, but my sorrows learned to swim.
Till the End of the World - U2
Fantastic lyrics are a wonder to experience and a personal preference. I would love to hear what some of your favourite, killer lines of all time are. Share them in the comments below and let everyone enjoy the wonder of great songwriting.