Book Review

LYRICS, LYRICS, LYRICS . . . and How to Write Them

A Guide to the Fundamentals of Lyric Writing

Jack Smalley


Simon & Schuster, Inc.

206 pages, $7.95

Reviewed by Diana Black

On one of my frequent browsing trips to Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in St. Matthews, I spotted the title Lyrics, Lyrics, Lyrics among the ever-growing number of books on songwriting. Since I had recently sat in on several critique sessions in which several publishers from Nashville agreed that the biggest problem songwriters seem to have is developing a lyric, I figured I had better grab this book fast. Am I ever glad I did.

The author, Jack Smalley, is an accomplished composer, arranger, lyricist and teacher. Thinking back on the process Mr. Smalley uses to examine, analyze, discuss and clarify what he terms as techniques for developing the craft of songwriting, I believe his teaching ability is what makes this book so useful.

The book is divided into six parts: Principles of Lyric Shape; Principles of Lyric Development; Principles of Lyric Style; The Lyric as a Script; final Considerations; and A Summary.

Each chapter in Part One contains helpful tables and summaries along with text on form, meter and rhyme. I have found that in most songwriting books the author begins by using recent number one hits as examples and illustrations.

Mr. Smalley chose to use the old favorite, "Bill Bailey," in the first several chapters of his book, along with the unfamiliar original lyrics. This approach was not in the least condescending, but rather an easy way to enable the reader to assimilate various basic components of lyric writing. More recent mega-hits are referenced in later chapters.

Part Two concentrates on plot headings, story points, setting and universality. Each chapter progresses step by step, presenting methods to develop ideas for successful lyrics while encouraging self-editing.

Part Three is an exercise in understanding various lyric styles such as dramatic, narrative and statements of love.

The author examines the use of a "stylistic approach" to aid in keeping lyrics focused and symbols to make complicated ideas simple.

Part Four looks at what it takes to bring all aspects of lyric writing covered up to this point together in a "cohesive form." Mr. Smalley describes a method of creative research which he admits appears businesslike on the surface but which promises excellent results.

Parts Five and Six, respectively, address aspects not found in other sections and summarizes, in a check-list format, key points already covered.

What makes this book a valued addition to my lyric writing development/reference library? Lyrics, Lyrics, Lyrics is a concise, solid, well-executed attempt to provide lyric writing techniques and methods in an easy to understand, effective format. That alone indicates the author "knows his stuff," but part of the success of this book is that Mr. Smalley took his own advice: he stepped out of the picture and concentrated on developing the reader's needs.