At least they always seemed that way back in the days when vinyl was king. It was cool to get an album with a lyric sheet and follow along while listening. It made the experience of listening to an album for the first time that much better.
But even then intriguing lyrics didn’t mean much if the music didn’t grab me in the pleasure center of my ear-brain connectors.
And it’s not all about lyrics. Listening to Yes, it was the instrumental passages, which made the albums intriguing. Even longer songs by groups outside of the art-rock sphere like the Who and Rolling Stones would have intriguing passages in longer tracks. I still love hearing the saxophone playing on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” one the top cuts from Sticky Fingers.
Words seem like even less of a necessity due to my fascination with jazz, which has accelerated the last five years. So often the tracks of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk (I have never come across a cut by him involving vocals), Tony Williams and John McLaughlin are instrumentals. And I keep coming back to these tracks again.
Even when there is singing it can just be the sound of singing, which draws me in. This is true for Mel Torme or Barbara Streisand before she tried to venture into pop-rock territory in the 1970s.
Still there is plenty to say for good lyrics. Vampire Weekend can get intriguing when they Ezra Koenig sings about a “Diplomat’s Son,” especially when a final chilling lyric ends the song. What kept me listening to the Who was the wit of Pete Townshend voiced by Roger Daltrey.
Humor on cuts by Don McLean or Joe Walsh or throughout an Eels or Randy Newman album keep me listening and wanting to come back. Rap music is an example where lyrics seem to be every thing.
And the laughs and thought provoking moments Chuck D, KRS One or LL Cool J could bring about revolutionized pop music. So I won’t fret if lyrics repel in a song, as long as they don’t morph into a bad political sermon. But if any artists have something new and compelling to say or if they can just a reiterate a message people need to listen to (see various Gospel recordings) count me in.