The Evolution of a Song

Alex's GuitarWhat makes a good song? Is it the catchy lyrics? The clever rhymes at ends of sentences? Or maybe it’s the music – slow ballads that bring out emotion; fast rocker’s that make you want to dance along with the beat.

There are many things that can make a particular song appealing to an individual. Some songs are targeted for a specific audience – written with intentional purpose to please their specific ears. Typically, those are the songs that one person may absolutely love, while another may despise. I’ve certainly had those types of experiences. My family and friends often introduce me to new music that they are really into. Sometimes I’m able to enjoy it as much as they did; other times, I’ve walked away regretting I wasted 4 minutes of my life listening to garbage.

So the question becomes… what makes a great song?

To me, there are several factors:

1: It has an ability to cross all genres.

A truly great song will appeal to almost everyone, regardless of his or her taste in music. A well-crafted tune has an innate ability to stretch across the boundaries of genre-segregated music and bore into the listener. If the words are poetic in nature and meaningful, then the music is almost secondary. Don’t get me wrong; the music has to compliment the lyrics. They must work in perfect unison to get the full effect. However, a great song often overcomes a “genre label” and appeals to most ears.

2. It has an ability to connect with the listener.

A great song will be able to hit you in a way that nothing else can. It could bring up specific memories from your past, cause heart-wrenching pangs in your gut, or give you that elated, cloud nine feeling. The great ones have this ability. There have been songs that I listen to simply because I’m emotionally distraught, and I know that the words and melody of that song will comfort me. Sometimes I listen to songs so that they can take me back to a time in my life that I want to relive through my memories. Often times the songs lyrics are telling a story – the listener becomes so engrossed with the tale that they are moved in some emotional way by the end of the song.

3. It is timeless

True masterpieces are not constrained buy the boundaries of time. These are the songs that, no matter how old, can still produce the same chills you had the first time you ever heard it. You can listen to the song over, and over, and over again and it still means something to you each time. It’s the song that’s the “most played song” on your iTunes. It’s the song you can perfectly quote from memory. It’s the song you literally know every note of every instrument, and you can hum each part perfectly. You can listen to it 1000 times and yet you’re never tired of it.

Those are three simple things I thought of that make a song great. I have several songs on my list that I listen to that fit that category. I like A LOT of songs, but I only truly LOVE very few. My favorite song of all time, one that I think encompasses all 3 characteristics, is called, “When You Come Back Down”. It is sung and performed by one of my all time favorite bands, Nickel Creek, although written by Tim O’Brien. I was lucky enough to hear Nickel Creek and Tim O’Brien sing this together live at The Ryman. If you’ve never heard it, please do yourself a favor and listen to it here:

Nickel Creek – When you come back down

What songs do you consider to be great songs?


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