The Argotist Online
Andy McCluskey is the lead singer, bass guitarist and primary songwriter for the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). He has achieved 60 global gold and platinum album and single awards, has three Ivor Novello Award nominations, and sold over 15 million albums and 25 million singles with OMD. He is a frequent contributor and regular interviewee and commentator for television documentaries, books and radio programmes on musical history and popular culture. His song ‘Enola Gay’ was selected to feature in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
My lyrics are written very specifically to be heard within the context of the
song. I often worried about my words even being printed on the album sleeves as
they were not written to stand alone or be read separately. Therefore, I would
have to say that I do not think of my lyrics as poetry. They are very important
to me, and I am no fan of empty lyrical clichés in songs, but I never
considered them poetry even though I am aware that over the years people have
told me that they have been touched deeply by my words.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
I think that song words are helped by the rhyme. It doesn't have to be every
line, but rhymes are like the essential glue that holds the lyrical metre
together. To me it would be a joke without the punch line. Sometimes,
however, lyrics can suffer because you sense the writer has been
consciously looking through a rhyming thesaurus and is constructing poor
full sentences just to squeeze in the prefigured rhyme as the last word.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as
clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs
can also be like free verse?
I must admit that without consciously realising I have a tendency to write in
couplets, usually two line stanzas. In my band our song structures were
often not very conventional, especially in the very early days, as we used
keyboard melodies as main parts of the arrangement. Usually replacing the
choruses and the middle eight. The lyrics invariably conform to a pattern or
structure because the music is created first. I keep notes for potential song
subjects and titles, which I often research as though it was for a written
essay or educational paper. However, I consciously avoid trying to
construct full lines or sentences so I am free to fit the final lyric into the rhythm
of the music and the melody. I write the words as I create the vocal melody. I
could not imagine how songwriters began with a lyric and create the music
as the foil afterwards. The hardest part of creating a song lyric is actually
the vocal melody. I believe the words are very important but they fail in
their purpose if they are not sung as a great tune in their own right. The
lyric is the top line hook. Poetry does not have this issue. Poetry embraces the
reader in a different way to a lyric because the reader imbues it with their
voice and interpretation. It is actually more proactive.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
Sadly, I have to admit that when I was at school I was not moved by poetry. It
did not resonate with me nearly as strongly as music. In fact, I
seldom read fiction at school and never poetry unless for English projects.
I was a worrier. A very anxious child. I would say in later life that ‘My
world is complex enough without reading about other people's problems’. A
friend who lived for literature was horrified saying ‘You are dismissing
all the great classic works of fiction as “other people's problems”’. It
is only in the last decade that I have started to embrace the power of poetry
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
Many people have found it strange that I am a lyricist but I was not influenced
by poetry in any way that I am conscious of. However, I adored some very
poetical lyricists such as Leonard Cohen. Also, when I was at school it seemed
that poetry was exclusive, ornate, esoteric and very classical. It was not
a language for me. Perhaps it was because I attended a rather old fashioned
Grammar school in the 1970s. I was unaware of more modern and raw poetry
that may have appealed to me more.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
Because they are multidimensional. Beat, melody, harmony, lyrics and singing all
together. Music is more all embracing than poetry alone can be. The human
voice is evocative. The spoken word is strong, but the singing voice has a power
to present words in a very connecting way. Also, there is a massive profit making
industry that promotes and sells popular music. UK sales of poetry last year
were £12m. Music sales were £1.3bn. It's just a bigger machine that has
groomed its audience to be mass consumers.