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Songwriters and song lyrics: architecture, ambiguity and repetition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2015

Keith Negus
Department of Music, University of Westminster, Regent Street, London W1B 2HW E-mail:
Pete Astor
Department of Music, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW


This article argues for understanding popular songs and songwriting through the metaphor of architecture, an idea we draw from vernacular terms used by songwriters when comprehending and explaining their own creative practice, and which we deploy in response to those who have called for writing about music to use a non-technical vocabulary and make greater use of metaphor. By architecture we mean those recognisable characteristics of songs that exist as enduring qualities regardless of a specific performance, recording or sheet music score. We use this analogy not as a systematic model, but as a device for exploring the intricate ways in which words and music are combined and pointing to similarities in the composition of poetry and the writing of song lyrics. The art of repetition and play with ambiguity are integral to popular song architectures that endure regardless of the modifications introduced by performers who temporarily inhabit a particular song.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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