Finding Just the Right Word by Mike Turner

There’s no question I’m my own worst critic. I write and re-write, edit and re-edit, to find just the right word to convey the story I’m trying to tell; get just the right timing and phrasing down to match the melodies I compose. In this essay, I invite you to a visit to my lyric-crafting world.

I’m envious of those who have the ability to pump out a fully-formed lyric on the first draft, in ten minutes flat. I know those people are out there – I’ve met a few. But I’ll never be one of them.

Let me give you an example. I spent months working on a 3-chord rocker, basically about a guy begging a girl to have sex (which, truth be told, is what about 80% of male-written rock songs are about). It’s intentionally what I like to call a, “lyrically challenged” song – that is, a song with minimal lyrics, relying heavily on the musical and performance elements to carry the song and convey the emotion. In fact, this is one of the few songs I’ve written, that started, not with lyrics, but with a chord progression and musical “hook”, with lyrics added later.

Anyway, I spent two days or so sweating over one word in a couplet and I thought showing the process to you would give you an idea of the warped levels my writing and editing can reach.

The couplet went through multiple versions until it came down to these two versions.

[version 1]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will combine

[version 2]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will entwine

Version 1 “sang” a bit better in the melody.

And yet, I’ve gone with version 2 in the final. Why, you may ask?

Well, if you go back to some of my earlier blogs on this site, I think it’s very important that we put something of our authentic selves, in everything we write. Part of that, for me, means that I make an effort NOT to write anything in my songs, that I don’t personally believe. Obviously that can’t be a hard and fast rule – I’ve written songs in which the protagonist murders someone, and I’m not a big believer in murder and violence (27 years in law enforcement will do that to you – and in those songs, I try to make sure the protagonist pays a price for their transgressions). But whenever I can, I try to write things that, in their underlying meaning, reflect my worldview.

And, while it’s a subtle distinction, that’s what’s happened here. It has to do with something I believe about relationships. We’ve all heard about two lives, hearts, souls becoming one, etc., etc. My wife and I, by contrast, believe that while as a loving couple we mutually support and encourage each other and work towards mutually beneficial ends, we should not and do not surrender our individuality by coming together in love and partnership.

Now, as I say, it’s subtle – but to me, the word “combine,” used here in the context of the song, infers a merging of two souls into one – in direct opposition to what I believe. The word “entwine” by contrast, to me expresses the joining of two souls, curling around each other in a mutually supportive way.

One my argue with my definitions – as I said, it’s a subtle (but to me, important) distinction – but what counts here is what the words mean to me. Why? Because they’re expressing what I believe. They’re part of my authentic self that I’m injecting into the song. Even if the words might not make a difference to my listeners reading them on the page, they would sense SOMETHING inauthentic if I chose to sing the word that I don’t really believe with – and they’ll sense SOMETHING authentic in my performance when I’m more invested in the word I do believe in. So, “entwine” it is.

I’d also point out that I just like the word “entwine” a little bit better – it’s not a word you hear every day, particularly in song; where “combine” is pretty common. I like the little extra “oomph” that the more unusual word gives.

Imagine going through this type of analysis for an entire song, and it becomes easier to understand why I can take weeks or even months to come to a “final” version of one of my creations. Clearly this isn’t the only way, or even a preferred way, to write lyrics – just ask the folks here who can turn out 10-minute masterpieces, or who can post 3 new lyrics a day, every day. My hat’s truly off to them. But that’s not the way I’m wired, that’s not the way I work, and I won’t “release” a song until the words I’m using, convey the message I’m trying to convey.

Anybody else go through this type of inspired lunacy?

Oh, and for anyone interested, here’s a link to a work tape of the final version of “Come On”: https://youtu.be/5k3d2Lx2rHw

One Response to Finding Just the Right Word by Mike Turner

  1. Neil Harvey 23rd March 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    For what it is worth I think you are right on the line – I’m afraid The Wurzels have stopped me ever wanting to hear the word “combine” in a song again! And thanks for the article(s) always a good read.

Leave a Reply