Songwriter U: Using The “First Person” In Your Songwriting

Since a song is such a short form, songwriters forever face the challenge of transmitting a lot of information into a very short duration of time. Use of voice — whether first, second or third person — is one way of achieving this goal. Third-person songs build their narrative on the use of a character outside of the narrator, a ‘he,’ ‘she’ or character name, such as McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.” Second-person songs are directed towards a ‘you,’ as in Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” The use of first-person is distinct from these and offers many options. Most fundamentally, first-person can be used to deliver a straight-ahead song about the songwriter. McCartney’s “Let It Be” does this from its opening line: “When I find myself in times of trouble ...” But first-person can also be used as shorthand to convey much information in few words not only by what is spoken, but by what is not. In “Norwegian Wood,” Lennon slyly uses first-person to suggest what is happening both through the character’s attitude, and what is left unsaid:  It starts with: “I once had a girl or should I say, she once had me.” In that one line is both…

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