Maybe I am old school, but this is what I truly believe.
Having grown up in Dartmouth, NS as a teenager during the 70s, there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do for entertainment, so most young males in my age group would spend the majority of their time listening to the great music being released in that decade. Besides, buying and collecting LPs and amassing a diverse large collection of music was something of a measurement of teenage social status for us.
Some of my fondest memories during the early to mid 70’s was coming home from a record-buying venture with newly purchased LPs, carefully peeling the shrink-wrap off, then proceeding to seclude myself in my bedroom with the headphones on & listening to my newest LP wares. For me, the seduction of the LPs’ 12 x 12″ graphic art was enough to captivate me endlessly, whether it was expansive painting on Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew cover or the exotic menagerie on Santana’s Abraxas or any of the Roger Dean, Hipgnosis, Cream designed ‘surrealist’ album covers. They were endlessly mesmerizing! 90% of these albums came with lyrics printed within the inside cover art design or on a lyric sheet included inside, most times being printed on the sleeve containing the LP. The times when lyrics were not included was generally regarded as a bummer.
Lyrics are what I would consider the ‘inner connection’ that the listener experiences with the music – When one is TRULY listening to the music, following the lyrics and immersing themselves in the accompanying artwork can be quite the experience. Perhaps this is one reason why so many young adults are now turning back to LPs instead of CDs or digital files. They are seeking some of that same experience.
But all of the above is no reason for lyrics to be imperative with every release.
My reasons for this declaration are simple:
1. The listener is denied part of the experience of listening to popular music. If that part of the experience is taken away from the music fan, then it becomes just another reason to consider the music disposable.
2. Lyrics engage the listener to read and use their imagination (Thank you MTV, MuchMusic and Video Games for spoon feeding our kids with images, pre-determined stories for the music and denying them the ability to form their own imagination).
3. Lyrics help tell the songs’ story. Sometimes the story and purpose of the songs’ story can get lost in the recording process and without printed lyrics alongside, it can often be indecipherable. I guess if I were a songwriter, I would want my fans and listeners to understand the words and “hear” the meaning of the song. I truly believe a song is more than just chords, melodies, riffs and hooks. A song is personal and has a story with it.
Record companies, labels AND artists need to ensure that the music fan can develop an experience & connection with their music and the only way to do that is through interaction with the fans/consumers (this is happening thanks to the Web and events like “Record Day” at retail stores in Canada & USA), good music, quality packaging (INCLUDING LYRICS) and accompanying live performances/tours. If you give the people what they want (and deserve) then the labels will find that their sales will increase and could, possibly, be something more of a reflection of the old-school days, which is something I know that many in the business wish for.
Finally, a few wise words for the young music enthusiast – don’t be afraid to use your own imagination when listening to music. Don’t rely on YouTube postings or record company produced videos to provide you with manufactured images/stories. Most times it has nothing to do with the songs’ story. Using your imagination when reading and/or listening to lyrics will only enhance the songs’ power to you. It is the ultimate gift of ‘Sound & Vision’!