Rhymer-extraordinaire Bob Dylan explained the delicate and singular mission of song rhyming in the first installation of this series: “You can still stay in the unconscious frame of mind to pull it off, which is the state of mind you have to be in anyway.”
That is a singular mission, unique to songwriting and few other human endeavors, the attempt to consciously stay in an unconscious state. It is, as Richard Thompson said about this craft, “a handshake between the two sides of your brain.” That is where songwriters live, at the intersection of art and craft. Using craft to shape the art, while allowing for an artistic usage of craft.
Almost all the songwriters I’ve interviewed have explained that songwriting is more an act of following than leading. Songwriters work in two directions at once, forward and backwards. The form itself leads one forward to a new rhyme and backwards to link to the preceding one. Backwards to find that essential truth of the form which already exists in time, and forward in time to set it down, to preserve it.
Examples abound of songwriters following as much, if not more, as leading. Look at The Beatles’ “The Word.” Its key line is a perfect inner rhyme: “Have you heard the word is love.” Certainly when Lennon & McCartney wrote “The Word” (and they did write it together, according to John), they did not plan in advance that they could rhyme ‘heard’ and ‘word.’ It’s a happy circumstance that came from moving forward in the heady creation of a new song, inspired by music, collaboration and the positive message of love itself, as well as moving backwards –... Sign In to Keep Reading