General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

When two people collaborate on a song, which usually comes first, the melody or the lyrics?

Asked by LostInParadise (26123points) November 28th, 2018

I heard that when Rogers and Hammerstein created songs, Hammerstein first wrote the lyrics and then mailed them to Rogers to write the melody. This is a rather unromantic vision. I like to imagine the melody writer and the lyricist working in tandem, but this not very likely.

There are other examples of melody/lyrics collaborations, like the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David so beautifully rendered by Dionne Warwick, or the West Side Story songs of Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim. Do the lyrics usually come first, or does it sometimes work the other way around?

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6 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

When I was involved 50 years ago in writing or rewriting a song; the chord progression and melody went looking for lyrics. Luckily we had a someone to write lyrics.

Also rewrote chord progressions for cover work.

rockfan's avatar

Interesting question, I’m not really sure. I’ll have to see if Bernie Taupin and Elton John collaborated this way. I hope not

rockfan's avatar

Another interesting thing to find out is whether a film composer watches the movie first before writing the music. John Williams famously wrote the chase music for E.T. first and Spielberg edited the movie to the music. It’s usually done the opposite way

SergeantQueen's avatar

I really think it depends. For some songs, the music came first like a melody they couldn’t stop humming.
For others, the lyrics. They suddenly got inspiration and couldn’t get them out of their head.
I don’t think duos (at least, the incredibly influential ones), sat down and said “let’s come up with lyrics” I think it varied and was very much by chance if that makes sense?

zenvelo's avatar

I have heard, more with rock’n’roll than anything, that generally the tune comes first, then the lyrics.

In his film biography, Tom Petty described how he would noodle around on his guitar every day, and find a few licks that he liked that he would use as a foundation. Then he’d work on the whole melody, then the lyrics.

Lennon/McCartney wrote the lyrics first but also had a tune in mind. Despite credit as collaborators, they both did the first draft lyrics and melody alone, then got together to polish it.

filmfann's avatar

@rockfan Most often Taupin wrote the lyrics, the Elton put it to music.
Lennon McCartney often ditched the original lyrics. Yesterday started out Scrambled Eggs. Jealous Guy started out Child Of Nature.

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