Has This Generation Given Up (or Unable to) Write Decent Lyrics?

I wish I could remember where I read this so I could give the author credit: “Every generation has the biological right to believe that the music of their youth is the greatest music ever made.” Extrapolation of that sentiment leads to “What’s wrong with today’s kids? Their music is shit. It was so much better in my day. What happened to music?”

This idea is hardly new. I quote Frank Sinatra from 1957:

Rock and roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperately vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear. Rock’n’roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons, and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd–in fact, plain dirty–lyrics…it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.

Baby Boomers can be just as snobby when it comes to comparing the music of their day with what the kids are into now. But do they (and fans of older music) actually have a point? Check out this post at ScoopWhoop.com and tell me what you think.

Let’s begin with excerpts of 3 songs from the 60s and 70s.

“The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (1964)

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd (1975)

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue sky’s from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
“Across the Universe” by The Beatles (1970)
Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.

And to make my point, here are excerpts from 3 songs from 2016.

“Closer” by The Chainsmokers

So baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover
That I know you can’t afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of the mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain’t ever getting older

“No” by Meghan Trainor

My name is “No”
My sign is “No”
My number is “No”
You need to let it go
You need to let it go
Need to let it go
“Nah” to the “Ah” to the “No”, “No”, “No”

“Work” by Rihanna feat. Drake

Work, work, work, work, work, work
You see me I be work, work, work, work, work, work
You see me do me dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt
There’s something ’bout that work, work, work, work, work, work
When you a gon’ learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn
Me na care if me tired, tired, tired, tired, tired, tired

Great music, as we knew it, is dead. Its soul rests within a minority of millennials, still recovering from the loss of an iconic era. What you read above goes beyond lyrical comparison. Do I need to elaborate the difference? That stark contrast is the unfortunate reality of today’s music scene. And do I believe that this evolution is for the greater good? Hell no.

Since childhood, music has been of paramount importance in my life. It has always been, and will always be, essential for my survival. Calling it ‘entertainment’ would be trivialising its impact; I lived it, soaking in every note, every chorus till it was embedded in my memory forever. I remember how I’d travel to the other side of town to buy new music as a young teenager and return with loads of cassettes. Those were defining moments for me.

Lyrics inspired me to write, and rhythms harmonised my thoughts. I grew up listening to profound creations by songwriters who went down in history as some of the greatest contributors to the world of artistry.

Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The unthinkable finally happened. Who could’ve imagined that songs alone could fetch such an honour?

But times they have a changed. The breed of musical geniuses is now extinct. Over the years, new gimmicks have replaced old methods of artistry. I grieve over what’s lost and what’s to come. The essence of creativity has faded away. Real talent is hard to find. Lyrics aren’t poetic or hard-hitting anymore; they’re nonsensical, shallow, and often derogatory, objectifying rants, targeted at audiences who don’t know any better.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Has This Generation Given Up (or Unable to) Write Decent Lyrics?

  • January 9, 2017 at 10:30 am

    lolol this is fucking cringeworthy. people that cherry pick lyrics to prove some weird argument that music died in the 1970s should have their eardrums popped.

    “Bicycle bicycle bicycle
    I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
    I want to ride my bicycle
    I want to ride my bike
    I want to ride my bicycle
    I want to ride it where I like”

  • January 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with Tylr, you can find crap everywhere and in every time, This is good stuff from today. I’m 50 years old and I’ve seen all kinds, you can’t judge a generation of music by a few silly songs.
    When your legs don’t work like they used to before
    And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
    Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?
    Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

    And, darling, I will be loving you ’til we’re 70
    And, baby, my heart could still fall as hard at 23
    And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
    Maybe just the touch of a hand
    Well, me—I fall in love with you every single day
    And I just wanna tell you I am

    So, honey, now
    Take me into your loving arms
    Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
    Place your head on my beating heart
    I’m thinking out loud
    Maybe we found love right where we are

  • January 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    It does appear that Beat and groove take precident over Lyrical content in popular music.
    The vast majority want to be entertained by music rather than listen to something that makes them think.

  • January 9, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    All current examples are on billboard Hot 100 hits for 2016.
    None of the classic examples made the Hot 100 for their year. The Hustle was a 1975 Top 100 though.
    These are the lyrics- “Do the hustle, do the hustle, do the hustle, do the hustle …..”

    Ironic that the first picture in the article is a bunch of Rolling Stones cassettes. I remember Steve Allen doing this lyric bit on Carson one night (comparing contemporary music to the likes of Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein) he recited Satisfaction.

    Boomers have given up, the current generation is doing fine. Plenty of great new music out there.

  • January 9, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Not all 2000-2017 music is terrible. But most of the popular songs most kids/tweens/teenagers/people in general tend to listen to are. MOST. Consider that there’s other genres in the world besides pop. Glass Animal’s pop, r&b, alternative blend produced a song called ‘Season Two Episode Three.’ Here is the chorus: (Leftover breakfast, cereal for lunch. She’s broken but she’s fun. My girl eats mayonnaise…
    From a jar when she’s gettin’ blazed.) Although it’s simple, it tells the sad story of a man who’s concerned about his girlfriend’s sudden lazy, druggy nature. Reread the chorus and consider this. Maybe, recent music does have depth and meaning, but we’d just have to dig deeper into the purpose of the lyrics. UNLUCKY ME, THEN. IF I CAN’T APPRECIATE THE STYLE OR VOICE, I CAN’T APPRECIATE THE LYRICS.


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