what makes a great song?

Watching my friend, Rachelle, singing this great song got me pondering that pithy, never-to-be-answered-fully question. Is it the melody? Is it the lyric, or subject matter? Is it the way it is sung? Is it the rhythm? Does it make you want to join in? Any of these by themselves may get your attention. But a great song, while containing a unique combination of some or all of these, also has an elusive ‘something else’.

Songwriters will expound on the craft involved in turning a good idea into a finished song. The work of the masters is testament to that being true. Yet even the most revered writers have crafted works that are dead in the water. All the pieces fit, but it wont fly.

There many different categories of song. Pop songs come and go like the weather. Armed with a ‘hook’, they can grab you whether you like it or not. A great pop song is a wonderful thing, cutting across barriers and engaging the ears of millions. A song like Rachelle’s on the other hand will probably never be heard on the radio, but may well affect listeners much more than the latest radio fluff.

Perhaps the most mysterious aspect of songs is their lifespan. This is quite unconnected with quality. A great song will have its time during which it touches listeners and connects with them and events of that time. Yet a week  later it may be meaningless and irrelevant. Other songs span generations and seem to gather momentum as time passes. ‘Amazing Grace’ is one of my favourite examples of this. Written in the 1770s, who could have predicted the extraordinary, vibrant life it would have, and still has.

All of which leads me to believe that while talent and craftsmanship contribute significantly to great songwriting, what kind of a life the end product has is in the hands of God.

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