Strumming What You Feel Chapter 1 – Understanding Lyrics

  • by

Believe it or not, that is what most writers see when they look at their lyrics page. Do you? We are going to take a set of lyrics and work with them to help you understand the process a little easier. Let’s look at :

“Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows

Ok, this may or may not be one of your favorite songs in the world, but the song itself really has a great deal of rhythmic qualities to it, and almost everyone knows this song.

First, I am just going to post the lyrics :

I was down at the new amsterdam
staring at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
with this black-haired flamenco dancer
and she dances while his father plays guitar
She’s suddenly beautiful
and we all want something beautiful
Man I wish I was beautiful
So come dance this silence down through the morning
Sha la la la la la la la la
Cut up, Maria! show me some of that spanish dancing
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything cause
I want to be someone who believes

Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales and we
Stare at the beautiful women
” she’s looking at you. ah, no, no, she’s looking at me.”
Smiling in the bright lights
Coming through in stereo
When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely

I wanna paint my picture
Paint myself in blue and red and black and gray
All of the beautiful colors are very very meaningful
And you know, gray is my favorite color
I felt so symbolic yesterday
If I knew Picasso
I would buy myself a gray guitar and play

Mr. Jones and me look into the future
and we stare at the beautiful women
” She’s looking at you.
I don’t think so. She’s looking at me.”
Standing in the spotlight
I bought myself a gray guitar
When everybody loves me, I will never be lonely
I will never be lonely, and I’m never gonna be..lonely

I want to be a lion
Everybody wants to pass as cats
We all want to be big big stars, and we got different
Reasons for that
Believe in me because I don’t believe in anything
And I want to be someone who believes

Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrio
Yeah we stare at the beautiful women
” She’s perfect for you, man, there’s got to be
Somebody for me.”

I want to be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more
Funky
And everybody loves you, son, that’s just about as
Funky as you can be

Mr. Jones and me staring at the video
When I look at the television, I want to see me staring
Right back at me
We all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why
And we don’t know how
and when everybody loves me, I want to be just
About as happy as I can be
Mr. Jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars…

Wow…like that it just looks like poetry, right? You have no idea where the chorus ends and the verse begins. Are you starting with the chorus, the verse, the bridge? What? Well, when you attribute chords to the song, like below, you can see SOME structure coming out. MANY MANY MANY artists will write just like that.

They won’t tab their song out, mastering every bit and piece and replaying it to make sure it is right. They just need the simple formula of the key and the chord.

Here are the chords and lyrics together :

Am F Dm G
I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this yellow haired girl
Am F G
Mr. Jones strikes up this conversation with this black haired flamenco dancer
Am F Dm G
She dances while his father playes guitar. She’s suddenly beautiful
Am F G
We all want something beautiful I wish I was beautiful

Am F Dm G
So come dance this silence down through the morning. Sha la la la la la
Am F G
Uh, huh…

Am F Dm G
Cut up Maria! Show me some of them spanish dances.
Am F G
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Am F Dm G
Believe in me Help me believe in anything
Am F G
(cause) I want to be someone who believes

C F G
Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales
C F
Stare at the beautiful women
G
” She’s looking at you. Ah no, no she’s looking at me.”
C F
Smiling in the bright lights
G
Coming through in stereo
C F G
When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely

Am F Dm G
I will paint my picture Paint my self in blue and red and black and grey
Am F G
All of the beautiful colors are very very meaningful
Am F Dm G
(You know) Gray is my favorite color I felt so symbolic yesterday
Am F G
If I knew Picasso I would buy myself a grey guitar and play

C F G
Mr. Jones and me look into the future
C F
Stare at the beautiful women
G
” She’s looking at you. Uh, I don’t think so. She’s looking at me.”
C F G
Standing in the spotlight I bought myself a grey guitar
C F G Am
When everybody loves me, I will never be lonely

G
I will never be lonely
Am G
I will never be lonely
Am G
I want to be a lion Everybody wants to pass as cats
Am G
We all want to be big big stars, but we got diffrent reasons for that.
Am G
Believe in me because I don’t believe in anything
Am G
and I want to be someone to believe, to believe, to believe.

C F G
Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrier
C F
Yeah we stare at the beautiful women
G
” She’s perfect for you, Man, there’s got to be Somebody for me.”
C F
I want to be Bob Dylan
G
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
C F G
When everybody loves you, son, that’s just about as funky as you can be.
C F G
Mr. Jones and me staring at the video
C F G
When I look at the television, I want to see me staring right back at me.
C F G
We all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why, and we don’t know how.
C F G
But when everybody loves me, I’m going to be just about as happy as I can be.
C F G
Mr. Jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars…..

Now, what is wrong with this picture? The chords are there. The lyrics are there. However, the placement is not, nor is the pattern that you want to play! Why is that? Well, what happens at least in MY mind when writing a song is that you are looking for a verse, a chorus, a bridge, and maybe a solo or two. The typical formula.

Nirvana re-invented a very simple concept in almost all of their songs. The formula for them was verse-chorus-verse-chorus. They just played around with mostly the arrangement. What you see above is a perfect example of that. Adam Duritz (lead singer, writer) of the Counting Crows was working in formula here. The breakdown is below :

Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus

To play a song well in that arrangement, you will need to have a very good sense of capturing the audience with story. That is what Duritz did in this song. You are more concerned with the verse than the chorus from the get-go. Now that we understand the formula for this song, let’s look at it again.

What I have done is omit everything except the first verse and the first chorus.

Verse

Am F Dm G
I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this yellow haired girl
Am F G
Mr. Jones strikes up this conversation with this black haired flamenco dancer
Am F Dm G
She dances while his father playes guitar. She’s suddenly beautiful
Am F G
We all want something beautiful I wish I was beautiful

Am F Dm G
So come dance this silence down through the morning. Sha la la la la la
Am F G
Uh, huh…

Am F Dm G
Cut up Maria! Show me some of them spanish dances.
Am F G
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Am F Dm G
Believe in me Help me believe in anything
Am F G
(cause) I want to be someone who believes

Chorus

C F G
Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales
C F
Stare at the beautiful women
G
” She’s looking at you. Ah no, no she’s looking at me.”
C F
Smiling in the bright lights
G
Coming through in stereo
C F G
When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely

Now that you see what is what, you can tell by the way he writes how the progression will go lyrically. Imagine that Duritz is sitting down right now and writing out the words to this song. It doesn’t matter if he wrote the song or the lyrics first. We already have the finished piece in front of us. I have set up below the concept by centering the lyrics. Believe it or not, there is a formula right there by just doing that. It has to do with poetry, which we will discuss later. Ok. Every single line below has a number beside it.

I have counted each and every word in each line for you, but here is the hint – some artists slur their words to make room for more dynamics, or even to allow themselves breathing time. SO – the numbers in black are the actual number of words in each line, and the numbers in red are the ones we count. You do this by saying each and every line in your head, JUST as he sings them. You may want to go back and listen to the song to make sure. I have also italicized the words that I don’t personally count as two, but as one. I have also footnoted each one in order with an asterisk so you can look at the bottom and get my interpretation.

Verse

I was* down at the* new amsterdam(7) (4)
staring at this yellow-haired girl (6) (6)
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation (6) (6)
with this black-haired flamenco dancer (6) (6)
and she dances* while his father plays guitar (8) (6)
She’s suddenly beautiful (3) (3)
and we all want something beautiful (6) (6)
Man I wish I was beautiful (6) (6)
So come dance* this silence* down through the morning (9) (6)
Sha la la la la la la la* yeah (9) (3)
Cut up, Maria! show me some of that* spanish dancing(10) (6)
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones (6) (6)
Believe in me (3) (3) 
Help me believe in anything cause (6) (6)
I want to be* someone who believes (7) (4)

Chorus

Mr. Jones and me* tell each other fairy tales and we(11) (6)
Stare at the* beautiful women (5) (3)
” she’s looking at you. ah, no, no*, she’s looking at me.” (11) (6)
Smiling in the bright lights(5) (4)
Coming through in* stereo (4) (3)
When everybody loves you, you can never be* lonely (9) (6)

Footnotes In Order :

What you are seeing below looks like an instant messege or a form of diction called slurring. Almost all of the musicians you will ever hear will have a certain dialect where they slur words, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes by nature. Below you will see how you can slide words in from the song above.

Some actually just go together without omitting any letters, and some just look funny. However, go back and listen to the song again, and you will see what I mean.

I’s

Atthnewamsterdam

anshedances

Socomdancethsilence

lalalalalalalala

showmesomeodat

dancin

Iwannabe

MrJonesanme

talesanwe

stareatha

looknatyouahnono

brightlights

throughin

youcanneverbe

Like we said, sure it looks funny, but it works quite well. Remember the numbers in black and red above? We got all the red numbers in a much easier format, all of them being 3’s, 4’s, and 6’s. Now, why did we do that? Why are the chords not above the correct lyrics?