Saturday, May 05, 2007

Song Sung Eww

Anyone wanting to make a go of screenwriting must have Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s Wordplayer website bookmarked. Virtually a one-stop-shop for everything you ever need to know about story content and screenplay format, in his Points for Style screenwriting column, Terry Rossio talks about Lyrical Style.

People tend to think of screenplays the way they think of novels. In truth writing a script is much more like writing poetry. The form and structure are paramount, and the goal is to convey as much information as possible in as compact a form as possible. Not only does every word count, every syllable counts.

Song lyrics are one form of poetry. I prefer to think of screenwriting as song writing. Consider the following line, for example, as if it were the first line of a screenplay:

The screen door slams. Mary's dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch
as the radio plays.

Springsteen fans will recognize the opening line to Thunder Road. But it reads quite well as a descriptive passage. If a screenplay began with such a simple, evocative line, I'd know I was in good hands; I'd be hooked. It conveys setting, tone, character, situation, with an incredible efficiency.

Not all song lyrics are as poetic. Recently BBC 6 Music launched Taxing Lyrical, their quest to find the worst music lyrics ever committed to song.

People voted in their droves and now the results are in, leading to their Top 10 worst lyrics of all time:

10. Black Sabbath - War Pigs

Generals gathered in their masses,
Just like witches at black masses.

09. Human League - The Lebanon

Before he leaves the camp he stops,
He scans the world outside,
And where there used to be some shops,
Is where the snipers sometimes hide.

08. Duran Duran - Is There Something I Should Know?

And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door,
Don't say you're easy on me you're about as easy as a nuclear war.

07. Oasis - Champagne Supernova

Slowly walking down the hall,
Faster than a cannonball,
Where were you when we were getting high?

06. Toto - Africa

The wild dogs cry out in the night,
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company,
I know that I must do what's right,
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

05. U2 - Elevation

I've got no self control,
Been living like a mole now,
Going down, excavation,
High and high in the sky,
You make me feel like I can fly,
So high,

04. ABC - That Was Then But This Is Now

More Sacrifices than an Aztec priest,
Standing here straining at that leash,
All fall down,
Can't complain, mustn't grumble,
Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble.

03. Razorlight - Somewhere Else

And I met a girl,
she asked me my name,
I told her what it was.

02. Snap - Rhythm Is A Dancer

I'm as serious as cancer,
When I say Rhythm is a Dancer.

And the number one choice...

01. Des'ree - Life

I don't want to see a ghost,
It's the sight that I fear most,
I'd rather have a piece of toast,
Watch the evening news.

Did they get it right? Or is there something worse that needs bringing to light?


At 4:45 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Regardless of the lyrics, 'Elevation' rocks. In fact, I'd argue the lyrics match the simplicity of the driving rhythm perfectly, and to 'art' it up with words would be a distraction.

At 5:11 pm, Blogger English Dave said...

I don't want to see a ghost,
It's the sight that I fear most,
I'd rather have a piece of toast,
Watch the evening news.

What??? Seriously? There is without doubt a corellation between screenwriting and songwriting [but lets leave out Bono's attempt] Both are evocative, sparse and poetic.

At 11:57 pm, Blogger Jason Arnopp said...

That Black Sabbath excerpt is a real gem, isn't it? Always a good bet to rhyme words with themselves. Then you can be sure they'll sound the same.

At 6:02 am, Blogger Far away said...

Des'ree was having a laugh - or maybe she'd just read 'Hard-boiled Legs' (children's book):

'What if a piece of toast tuned into a piece of ghost just as you were eating it...

At 11:21 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Yeah, War Pigs is totally ace and skill with that one, the next lines are:

Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerer of death's construction

At 9:27 pm, Blogger Sal said...

Agree with WC - despite the lyrics, "Elevation" is a top song.

No. 1 and 2 are tops for crapness, tho

At 10:47 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

I think any list which suggests Martin Fry is a crap lyric writer is pretty pointless but I could defend them all, really.

At 11:30 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Robin, there's a clip on the BBC website where Fry - top sport that he is - cops to the grumble/crumble couplet but says that he hopes to write something even worse in the future.

Obviously he saw the funny side of it. Des'ree couldn't be reached for comment.

At 12:04 pm, Blogger Jason Arnopp said...

I actually quite like the image evoked by a 'Sorceror of death's construction'. He'd be, like, totally EVIL. ;)


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