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Are Songs Poetry? - Yes

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Are Songs Poetry?  -  Yes
 Are songs poetry?

That’s a broad question and something that my late friend and poet Christo Heyworth had an ongoing gentle debate with. It was concerning the songs of the Moody Blues, both Christo and I being ‘experts’ on their work. I was ‘yes’ because I find the lyrics to most of their songs poetic, depending on the writer, and all of their albums contain a poem by the late Graeme Edge, drummer and a founder member of the band. Graeme’s poems were performed or recorded as the spoken word set to music and often by Mike Pinder. Graeme’s poems which became actual songs include ‘I’ll Be Level With You’ from the Octave album. I showed Christo my prized copy of one of Graeme’s poetry books. As for songs being poetry, he was a definite ‘no’. I couldn’t persuade him otherwise, but we had some great conversations about it at poetry evenings. We discussed other things too, like the paintings of L.S.Lowry and Christo’s visits to poetry events in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Christo was always excellent company with lots of interesting topics to share. I wonder what he might have thought of my other poetic song choices.

The lyrics of The Smiths, Morrissey, Oasis, Liam and Noel Gallagher, I can read as poetry. Their creative use of language appeals to me and really makes me listen. Liam’s ‘Paper Crown’ and Morrissey’s ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’ are just two examples of what would be a very long list. I was about sixteen when I first saw Raymond ‘Gilbert’ O’Sullivan on Top of the Pops singing ‘Nothing Rhymed’. There he was, an odd looking bloke with an over-sized cap, sounding a bit like George Formby. He captured my attention with the poetry of his words.

Not all songs can work as poems but poems can work as songs, and I don’t just mean The Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow – I can still recite the part I had to learn by heart in the first year of high school, but I’ll spare you that. I will complain that schools don’t include learning poetry by heart or even reading a whole book, from what I can gather. Anyway, that aside, Robert Burns wrote ballads and sang them, ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, two that come to mind.

Radio DJ and musician, Mike Read, wrote music to accompany some of John Betjeman’s poems. Quote from Wikipedia, “…Thirty of these songs were recorded by artists including Cliff Richard, David Essex, Gene Pitney and Marc Almond for the 2006 various artists’ album Words/Music, and subsequently re-released in 2008 as a double CD titled Sound of Poetry. Read’s production of the musical ‘Betjeman’ based on the above has occasionally been staged for charities, including the Royal Marsden Hospital and Children with Leukaemia.”One of my favourites is David Essex singing Myfanwy.

With an apologetic nod to Christo, though I'm sure he wouldn't mind and would even expect it, I'll finish where I started with the Moody Blues. This time, John Lodge with 'my song', and to me, a poem.

One More Time to Live  -  John Lodge

Look out of my window
See the world passing by
See the look in her eye

One more time to live and I have made it mine
Leave the wise to write for they write worldly rhymes

And he who wants to fight begins the end of time...
For I have riches more than these
For I have riches more than these

Tell me someone why there's only confusion

Tell me someone that this is all an illusion
Tell me someone

Tell me someone

Tell me someone why this talk of revolution
Tell me someone when we're changing evolution

Tell me someone
Tell me someone

Changes in my life

Changes in my life

Changes in my life

Look out on the hedgerow
As the world rushes by
Hear the birds sign a sigh

One more tree will fall how strong the growing vine
Turn the earth to sand and still permit no crime
How one thought will live provide the others die
For I have riches more than these
For I have riches more than these

(From the album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971)

Thanks for reading, Pam x

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