The Argotist OnlineTM
Reid is a British born lyricist who divides his working life between London and
New York. He first came to prominence as a founder member and lyricist for the
band Procol Harum. Their first single ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was a world
wide chart topper and has subsequently been recorded by more than 200 artists.
This song has featured in countless films, TV programs, commercials etc and was
most recently voted by radio listeners as one of their favourite songs of the
addition to writing ‘A.W.S.P.’, Keith wrote the lyrics for all Procol
Harum's subsequent hit singles and albums. The band enjoyed an extremely
successful international career for more than ten years.
the mid-seventies Keith moved into other aspects of the music business forming a
personal management, publishing, and production company, and also a record
label. His artists enjoyed a great deal of worldwide success including the
bands: Gonzales (I haven't stopped dancing yet), Sutherland Brothers and Quiver
(Arms of Mary, Sailing), Frankie Miller (Darling), Mickey Jupp (Don't Talk to
Me), Robin Trower (Across the Bridge of Sighs) etc.
the early eighties Keith returned to his first love song writing and moved to
New York to restart his career. He immediately had huge success with an unknown
Australian artist, John Farnham, who's recording of Keith's ‘You're the
Voice’ became and remains the biggest selling record in Australia of all time.
It was a worldwide hit and has been recorded by a great many other artists and
has been used in many TV shows and commercials.
continues to concentrate on his song writing and has had songs recorded by such
best selling artists as: Annie Lennox, Willie Nelson, Sarah Brightman, Jeff
Healey, Heart, Robin Trower, Mavis Staples, Felix Cavaliere, John Waite, Chris
Thompson, John Farnham, Alan Parson's Project and Gary Brooker .
you think of your lyrics as poetry?
I don't think of my lyrics as poetry, but I do try to make them read as
poetically as possible.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
I don't think it's IMPORTANT that songs rhyme, but I do think it's preferable.
It's more pleasing to the ear if songs rhyme. Also if you're collaborating on a
song – i.e. one person lyrics, another person music – you're aiming for a
seamless marriage of words and music, lyrics and melody. If the words don't
rhyme that is very difficult to achieve. Plus it makes you work harder, and
anything that makes you work harder is good.
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?
First of all and most important THERE ARE NO RULES!!! Secondly, it is extremely
important to understand there is a huge difference between a great record and a
great song. For example ‘Fire Starter’ by The Prodigy is a great record, but
my definition of a great song would be something that can be put across with
very limited instrumentation or even sung a capella without any musical
accompaniment at all. And this is where the conventions of songwriting structure
forget songs were handed down through the ages in the oral tradition, passed
from person to person: so they had to be memorable and it's all the devices of
rhyming schemes, hooks, choruses etc. that contribute to making a song
memorable. It also means you have to work harder. If you've just got a guitar
and a voice your song has to be special in order to survive.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
I never read any poetry at school.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
I never really read any poetry until sometime in the nineties; a musician I was
writing songs with told me that my lyrics quite reminded him of W. H. Auden.
Intrigued by this I went into a bookshop in New York and leafed through a
compilation of Auden's and thought Crikey!!! In particular there was a poem
called ‘Refugee Blues’ which I thought so similar to my style that I
actually wrote a lyric called ‘An Old English Dream’ which I based on that
poem. However that is the only time I've ever really been influenced by poetry
in a book. In general it's usually newspaper articles, radio snippets, world
events, or films that influence my writing.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
Well I suppose historically songs were more popular because not so many people
could read and songs travelled more easily than poetry. I think really what
songs have over poetry is the melody and the rhythm of the music which seduces
the ear, then of course the brain kicks in and analyses the meaning and
appreciates the beauty of the words. So if you've written a lyric which has
significance (whatever the subject) it is more easily assimilated in song form
than going to the trouble of reading something of significance in a book of
© Keith Reid