Writing Songs of Social Commentary

U2No matter what song genre you’re writing in, at some point you’re likely to find yourself wanting to express your thoughts about your generation, your community, society, or the state of the world in general. Given the unsettled times we’re living in, it’s not surprising that songwriters are turning toward their art to express feelings of solidarity, uncertainty, pride, indignation, or hope for the future. Whatever your thoughts or feelings are about the world, a song is a great way to express them.

What are songs of social commentary?

The words “social commentary” are not, in themselves, either positive or negative. These songs are a means of expressing an opinion, observation, or message, the way you see and feel about things, especially things you feel strongly about. For example, one person might look at a community and see the good that comes from a sense of belonging, while another might see a close-minded group banding together to keep outsiders at a distance. What’s your view? What’s your experience? Your observations may be lauded or they may be unpopular, but it’s still up to you – and no one else – to say what you want to say, to make your opinion heard.

Songs of social commentary are not limited to politics or protest. They can help us define a sense of purpose and place, identify with those who are like us and not like us, chastise and forgive, identify our strengths and our failings, and help us work our way through an ever-changing world.

Most importantly, a song of social commentary seeks to persuade, to convey the songwriter’s observations, beliefs, or experiences in a way that allows the listener to see and understand the world as the songwriter does. In doing so, the hope is that through songs we can understand each other a little better.

THEMES
This list includes a few of the most popular themes that come up in commentary songs. Each theme can be expressed in individual terms: its effect on one person or on the singer. Or painted with a broader brush: its effect on a whole society or the world. I’m sure you’ll think of more themes, so feel free to add your own, ones that have meaning and energy for you. Continue reading

One In Every Crowd – Montgomery Gentry

Talk about an irresistible bunch of fun! This song has listener appeal from the first line to the last. It’s a great Contemporary Country party song with a sing-along hook that’s a killer. Let’s take a look at how it all works together.

 

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:

• Try a sing-along post-chorus for a party anthem!
• Use images to bring a character to life.

• Fake out the listener with your melody.

Read the lyrics here: One In Every Crowd – Montgomery-Gentry

Watch on YouTube.

Recorded by Montgomery-Gentry
Writers: (Ira Dean / Kim Tribble / Eddie Montgomery)

GENRE/STYLE  (What is a genre?)

The genre is Contemporary Country, verging on Country Rock. The song went to #5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. The lyric has a conversational, heartland twang with plenty of references that Country Rock fans will adore. Freebird, Harleys, and six-packs are front and center. Continue reading

Play It Again – Luke Bryan

There are always a whole lotta party-all-night, feel-good songs on the Country music charts, especially in the summer. It’s a theme with tons of appeal for Country listeners.

The songwriting on all these hits is solid, of course, but, after a while you might start to notice a certain same-ness to the lyrics. They all seem to have pickup trucks, beer, and girls in shorts. So, wouldn’t it be cool if you could  write a hit song with this commercially appealing theme and set yourself a little apart from the crowd? Let’s take a look at a  Country hit that does exactly that.

“Play It Again,” the summer 2014 hit song recorded by Luke Bryan, has the required tailgate and girl in shorts but the song brings this girl to life in a way that’s vivid and believable. You get a real sense of both the singer’s character and the girl’s. The song plays out like a series of scenes, fun to watch and easy to get caught up in.

Take a listen to the song on YouTube. I chose a video with lyrics rather than images so you can run your own mental movie while you listen. Notice how the song paints pictures for you.

Artist: Luke Bryan
Writers: Dallas Davidson & Ashley Gorley
The Shortcut numbers below refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).

GENRE/STYLE

The genre is Contemporary Country. (What is a genre?)

SONG STRUCTURE
The song structure is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS Continue reading

I Drive Your Truck – Lee Brice

A good story has long been one of the hallmarks of a great Country song and today’s Country hits are stuffed full of vivid characters and details. But sometimes, in all the clever word-smithing, we  forget that every great story has emotion at its heart. The best songs are driven by the singer’s feelings.

Here’s a Country hit that packs a huge emotional punch, Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck.”  Listen to the song, then read about it and learn how it draws listeners in and keeps them involved. You’ll also find out how you can use some of those same songwriting techniques in songs of your own.


Recorded by Lee Brice
Writers: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary

You can read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers below refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).

GENRE/STYLE: Contemporary Country.  Both lyric and melody have a current style that’s very Country-radio-friendly.

SONG STRUCTURE: 
The song structure is…

VERSE / PRE-CHORUS /  CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS

The chorus begins with the title line: “I drive your truck…” creating a powerful emotional release and memorable hook. Continue reading

You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift says she got the inspiration for this song when she overheard a male friend arguing with his girlfriend over the phone. You’ll see how this idea even ended up in the video. :-) Just goes to show that songwriting themes are all around you. Keep your ears open!

I promise you’ll learn new songwriting techniques from this huge Country/Pop hit that you’ll be putting to use in your own songs for months and years to come. The lyric details and melodic twists are exciting, fun, and an essential part of today’s hit songs in all genres.


Recorded by Taylor Swift
Writers: Liz Rose & Taylor Swift
Lyrics are available online.
The “Shortcut” numbers refer to specific chapters in my book Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.

GENRE (What is a genre?)
This song is a perfect example of the Pop/Country Crossover style that works for both  Country and AC (Adult Contemporary) radio. It reached the #1 spot on both music charts. Why? Well, it has a  melody that features the fun twists you would currently hear in a chart-topping Pop song by an artist like Kelly Clarkson and all the lyric detail you would hear in a Country hit. Read the Melody and Lyric sections below to find out how to use these tools in songs of your own. Continue reading