When David Bowie released his twenty-fourth studio album, The Next Day, in 2013, a journalist asked him to explain his thinking behind the new songs, each of which featured unusual, cryptic lyrics and surreal imagery.
Bowie responded by sending the journalist a list of 42 words which supposedly provided the framework for the critically-acclaimed album.
Quite a confusing lyrical framework for an album that ended up including song titles such as: ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘Love Is Lost’, ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Next Day’.
Maybe the answer can be found in a 2008 interview with Bowie. In it he described how he often comes up with interesting lyric lines by employing the ‘cut-up’ writing technique used by postmodernist author William S. Burroughs in his controversial novel Naked Lunch.
‘Cut-up’ is a literary technique designed to add an element of chance to the creative process.
It involves taking a finished line of text and cutting it into pieces—usually with just one or two words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged to create a brand new text.
The cut-up concept can be traced back to the Dadaists of the 1920s, but it was developed further in the early 1950s by painter, writer and sound poet Brion Gysin—and then popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Burroughs.
David Bowie explained: “I use it for igniting anything that may be in my imagination … You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them.
“You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this,” he said. “You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”
This technique is also said to have influenced Kurt Cobain’s songwriting. And Thom Yorke applied a similar method on Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A. Yorke reportedly wrote single lines, put them into a hat, and drew them out at random while the band rehearsed the songs.
Here’s Bowie explaining his cut-up technique in the 1975 BBC TV documentary Cracked Actor …
So there you have it … If you want to get all Bowie-esque and create some unusual and intriguing lyrics, simply reach for your lyric notebook and a pair of scissors – and start cutting and pasting!
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With a 5-star rating at Amazon, this book takes a close look at the essential elements that are consistently found in the structure, melodies and lyrics of all hit songs.
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The 40 most common lyric writing mistakes are exposed in this new book by experienced music publisher and music consultant Brian Oliver.
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The book includes a comprehensive checklist of more than 100 potential hazards that writers can measure their own lyrics against.
“SURPRISING RHYMING FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS -THE ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY”
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“HOW [NOT] TO WRITE SONGS IN THE STREAMING AGE – 40 MISTAKES TO AVOID IF YOU WANT TO GET MORE STREAMS” - This book shows how the dominance of music streaming is having a profound impact on songwriting and the structure of songs. Songs that connect in the streaming world are no longer the same as songs that work on traditional media, like radio. Successful streaming now requires a different type of song. This means songwriters who want more plays on streaming platforms need to rethink their songwriting approach in order to meet the specific needs of streaming audiences. This book aims to provide a better understanding of the new building blocks of song structure in the streaming age. It examines essential elements found in the construction, melodies and lyrics of the biggest streaming hits – and highlights the most common errors made when these key components are built into a song. To help new songwriters avoid such mistakes in their own songs, the book provides 40 insightful tips and a comprehensive Checklist for creating more streaming-friendly songs. The book is now available from Amazon as a paperback and eBook, and also from leading eBook retailers like Apple Books, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.