Sometimes when I have nothing to listen to, I dig up an Elton John playlist on YouTube and just admire the songwriting. Sure, there’s been some cheesy stuff over the years (Lion King!) but an unmistakable sincerity runs throughout his catalogue. His long time collaborator, Bernie Taupin, writes lyrics that are deceptively simple but so utterly effective at dragging a tired hand across one’s heartstrings.
I was hanging out with a friend the other day and we were tossing ideas back and forth about writing, and how to really capture the mood in a song. He maintains adopting a simpler way of lyric writing, reducing the metaphors to be more straightforward statements. This both intrigued and terrified me. On one hand, it is a completely reasonable way to write a song that will be understood by a large number of people but on the other hand, it feels like a very intense undertaking. For me, metaphors allow the song to be relatable in a variety of contexts, dependent on what the listener brings to the listener experience.
Perhaps just returning to Elton John for all the answers is best: “If you write great songs with meaning and emotion, they will last for ever because songs are the key to everything.”