Reading Song Lyrics - do you do it, how and when?

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Please select whichever option is your preferred or favourite option when curious about lyrics (if you ignore lyrics 99% of the time, and read them 1%, let us know about your approach to the 1%).

Poll Results

OptionVotes
I read the lyrics to songs during a later listen, when I have learned the music 12
I read the lyrics to songs after I know them, but NOT while listening 8
I read the lyrics to songs during an early listen, before I know the songs well 5
I never read the lyrics to songs 2
I try to figure out the lyrics on my own, writing them down 1
I read the lyrics to songs before I listen to them 0


Halfway there but for you, Friday, 7 January 2022 20:43 (one week ago) link

Inspired by this post:

reading lyrics is 100% a bad decision all the time no matter what music you are listening to

There was a 20-year-old thread with nine posts on it on this topic, I figured the issue could sustain further discussion:

reading lyrics while listening or not : blah

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 7 January 2022 20:52 (one week ago) link

I read the lyrics to songs after I know them, but NOT while listening
(unless they start coming up while I'm streaming a song, but even then I'll just track a few lines and visit genius.com later)

i woke up alarmed (morrisp), Friday, 7 January 2022 22:03 (one week ago) link

I almost voted "After I know them but not while listening," but then realized that my answer actually varies from artist to artist. I always read the lyrics to Springsteen songs, usually after listening to the song several times. (The exception being "Thunder Road," which I read first for some reason, which is how I know that the lyrics of "Thunder Road," read as a poem, have exactly the same arc and impact as the song itself.) I specifically avoid reading the lyrics of Rolling Stones songs, and if I read them by accident I always regret it. (I listen to the lyrics of Stones songs, but I figure if I can't make out a lyric of theirs after repeated listening, it's meant to stay mushy.) Most artists I listen to the lyrics but don't bother looking them up unless I have a reason.

Lily Dale, Friday, 7 January 2022 22:10 (one week ago) link

Growing up in the LP era, I thought printed lyrics were part of the experience, like "for this album to have full effectiveness, please sit down and read". I remember being perplexed by the written lyrics to "The Crunge" off Houses of the Holy at age eight or nine. I was actually startled when Peter Buck said, sometime in the 80s, "if I buy an album with a lyric sheet I just throw it away", to defend Stipe's then-reticence to include one in the R.E.M. records; as if someone had said, "I tear all the photographs out of any book I buy" (in retrospect, Buck said a lot of silly things in interviews, but it reflects a genuine impulse).
Someone in the thread that I linked above alludes to Jarvis Cocker's admonition in the Pulp liner notes not to read the words of the songs while listening. Written language and musical expression hit different parts of the brain, and very "theatrical" songs like Pulp's can strike a note of falsity if you read along.
My preference now is to read the lyrics to songs during a later listen, when I have learned the music, usually when:

- the lyrics seem worthwhile and meant to be understood, but they aren't audible or may be in a foreign language
- I can't process the "message" aurally in real time, like opera or some rap (or Shakespeare onstage)
- I'm undecided about whether I like a record I'm getting to know, and adding the verbal content allows me to tip the scales

Some of this connects with my thoughts about subtitled films. I have wondered if I have a special liking for them because all the reading appeals to the language part of my brain, and if unsubtitled film isn't, in some way, a more "pure" cinema.

Halfway there but for you, Saturday, 8 January 2022 15:13 (one week ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Friday, 14 January 2022 00:01 (six days ago) link

i read the lyrics when i want to know the lyrics but can't hear the lyrics

aegis philbin (crüt), Friday, 14 January 2022 00:57 (six days ago) link

Yeah, at this point, I read lyrics to solve the problem of "what the fuck are they saying there?" So, during a later listen, when I have learned the music. When I was younger and first getting into music, sitting there with the lyric sheet was part of the first listen experience for me.

peace, man, Friday, 14 January 2022 01:00 (six days ago) link

on the toilet usually. well, back when I bought cds.

if i'm listening to a tune, I usually just pull up Genius if I hear three words that sound insightful

I wonder if lyric videos have taken the place of the lyric sheet nowadays. The first video I remember containing large amounts of the lyrical text onscreen was "Can't Get There From Here"; oddly, since as I mention above, R.E.M. were otherwise resistant to printing out song texts.

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 14 January 2022 03:42 (six days ago) link

im kinda like Lily Dale, it depends on the artist & how invested i am in the lyrics

as a kid i used to spend hours hovered over the play/pause button on my cassette deck working out lyrics to songs i’d recorded off the radio

terminators of endearment (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 14 January 2022 03:46 (six days ago) link

Same as crut & peace, man. I used to read album lyric sheets while listening and thought Jarvis could shove it.

two sleeps till brooklyn (ledge), Friday, 14 January 2022 09:29 (six days ago) link

Same, 'later listen' for me - back when I'd still buy albums unheard (i.e. the pre download/streaming era) I'd sometimes read a lyric sheet on the bus back from the record shop but I can't remember the last time that happened.

Gavin, Leeds, Friday, 14 January 2022 09:48 (six days ago) link

If I get curious (like "huh what are they singing there?") I'll look them up or try to parse them on my own. Unless that happens these days I don't usually read lyrics.

Back in the day when lyrics printed on sleeves or in the booklet were de rigueur I figured out early on that I needed to ignore those until I had at least heard the album through otherwise it, not exactly ruined it for me, but those albums also felt a bit off to me (cf. the Weird Al "Even Worse" incident of 1988)

chr1sb3singer, Friday, 14 January 2022 14:52 (six days ago) link

yeah, i really only look at lyrics when i'm having difficulty understanding what the song is trying to convey. never look at lyrics in the first dozen or so listens, if at all. sometimes there's songs that i know front to back and have never once looked at the lyrics.

that being said, i do like it when the lyrics are printed in the album's liners; or are included in the metadata of the files — always a nice surprise when i can look at them on my ipod.

(yes, i still have an ipod)

get shrunk by this funk. (Austin), Friday, 14 January 2022 15:26 (six days ago) link

Just yesterday in fact I looked up the lyrics to Van Morrison's "Linden Arden Stole the Highlights" cuz there is a word he strangles as he sings like "cllffftsstt", which turns out is "cleaved"

chr1sb3singer, Friday, 14 January 2022 15:51 (six days ago) link

None of the above. I usually read the lyrics to old songs I think I know, as I am re-listening to them. With the advent of the rolling lyrics in Apple Music, I have been surprised at how often I have misunderstood lyrics in my life.

jimbeaux, Friday, 14 January 2022 15:54 (six days ago) link

i read lyrics for clarification or if i am writing about the song and can't think of anything to say about the music lol

roflrofl fight (voodoo chili), Friday, 14 January 2022 15:54 (six days ago) link

Voting I read the lyrics to songs after I know them, but NOT while listening, maybe will elaborate later, good posts so far.

With the advent of the rolling lyrics in Apple Music, I have been surprised at how often I have misunderstood lyrics in my life.

I don't know anything about Apple Music, but Spotify has a lyrics feature that is sometimes very wrong.

peace, man, Friday, 14 January 2022 16:10 (six days ago) link

I do catch occasional mistakes, sometimes laughable ones. I didn't know Spotify had a lyrics feature.

jimbeaux, Friday, 14 January 2022 16:13 (six days ago) link

I do find it amusing when the lyric booklet itself has mistakes, which does occasionally happen.

Wheatus's debut album shows the entire band sitting inside an IROC, and then on the line where he laments that this girl's boyfriend "(he) drives an IROC", the lyric sheet wrote it "he drives and I rock"

i don't know that i've ever sat down and just "read" a lyric sheet to myself, either before during or after listening. but definitely have opened them up to "look up" specific lyrics just after hearing them, your basic "wait, what was that?" moment. and in the process, i often notice other bits and get corrected on lyrics i've been hearing/singing wrong for ages.

I Am Fribbulus (Xax) (Doctor Casino), Friday, 14 January 2022 16:26 (six days ago) link

I always thought it was "Prophetess" of love.

jimbeaux, Friday, 14 January 2022 16:30 (six days ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Saturday, 15 January 2022 00:01 (five days ago) link

I expected to hear more from the non-lyric readers, maybe they don't read threads either.

Halfway there but for you, Sunday, 16 January 2022 02:59 (four days ago) link

I was reading the lyrics to Operation: Mindcrime when I voted yesterday.

The sensual shock (Sund4r), Sunday, 16 January 2022 03:03 (four days ago) link


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