Does a song really need lyrics to be a good song? No I don't think so, not at all!
Whilst words in a song can add to the emotion, imagery and meaning of a track, it is definitely not necessary that words are present for a song to have quality. I believe that the music bears more weight in whether a song translates than the lyrics do - that the sound is more important than the lyrical content.
Mainly because, well, music is a form of language - it does not need a verbal one alongside it to be effective! The two features, word and sound, whilst interconnected and interwoven, address different means of expression and communication. Lyrics do talk, but music is a language in and of itself.
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All I have to consider is the multitude of songs I enjoy, and that many others enjoy, that have no words in them at all.
In considering this topic I recalled a concert I went to a few years back by a wonderful pianist - Ludovico Einaudi. The emotion projected throughout the room, without a single lyric uttered, was unreal. I'll never underestimate the power of sound - to present heart, to give meaning, to affect one's spirit, with music alone.
Le Onde. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3u-IMopPBa8
Divenire. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1DRDcGlSsE
I Giorni - I just really like that there is an image of a hippopotamus.. the entire way through.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2K7D-uMH2g
Clearly music can be extremely touching without a voice present - instruments are voices enough.
This explains the power of classical music - some of the most beautiful, stirring, moving songs of all time have no words, no voices, no singing...
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tr0otuiQuU
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E6b3swbnWg
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvNQLJ1_HQ0
Classical music has also proven itself to be ridiculously successful - some of the most well-known, sampled and referred to music of all time is classical music. There is an innumerable amount of classical compositions that have surpassed the classical era to still be admired and revered today, even with modern musical counterparts.
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The popularity even still of Wagner’s The Ride of The Valkyries, Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, Rossini's William Tell Overture, Beethoven's Fur Elise (to name only a few) is a great indicator of the power and influence of classical music to transcend generations.
Not to mention the countless film soundtracks that have made use of classical music - to convey the plot and where it's heading, to evoke particular emotions, to enhance the feeling of a scene or even to provide a quirky twist, with a jarring of styles and contexts.
This continued use of classical music beyond its era confirms its ability to stand the test of time; connecting to people of different time-periods, generations and contexts, through music alone.
Dubussy's Clair De Lune (the third movement of Suite Bergamasque), composed in 1890.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvFH_6DNRCY
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Waltz, composed in 1876. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CShopT9QUzw
Beethoven's Ode To Joy (the final movement of his Ninth Symphony), completed in 1824.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wod-MudLNPA
Beyond having no lyrics at all, I enjoy songs whose words have no meaning for me (being that I cannot understand them)...
Jimmy, Renda-se .. Just to be ironic, the 'lyric' video.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lrW1wyjAg
Ca Plane Pour Moi, one of my favourite songs of all time and I don't understand a bleedin word.. there's no need!
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32SkxLCZz_o
... And songs with even just a single word...
TAKEELAAA. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyl7GP_VMJY
With all of this talk though, I am not saying that lyrics aren't important. They add extra depth to music, and give an element of great relatability and connectivity between artist and audience. There are songs that just would not be what they are without their lyrics, and that I wouldn't feel so attached to were their words not so meaningful to me.
This again goes back to my ‘unity’ argument - the need for the parts to be on the same page - that the music and lyrics are working to the same end. If Adele sang about a love for shoes rather than humans the heartfelt music would certainly bear less emotion ("nevermind I'll find a new pair of shoes")... Surely Yesterday would not have been as successful if the lyrics stayed as "scrambled eggs"... There's just not the same profoundness there.
The two factors (music and lyrics) are simply different - they work within (and without) each other as features of a whole work of art, so both are extremely important. My point though, is that I just don't think a song's efficacy is in its written words, but in the way the words are conveyed - the melody of their projection, the soul of the music alongside them, and the meaning in this interconnectivity... Often it is the lyrics that touch us, but it’s their relationship with sound that really makes them sing.
As a nice way to sum all of this up (and to hopefully add credit to my argument), here is a video I did not make -
From 'The School of Life' YouTube page. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GeM-E8gMzk