Now that's what I call music...

A great lyric can bewitch, baffle or break your heart. Ahead of the Ivor Novello Awards, songwriters reveal the lyricists who have inspired them

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The Independent Culture

Guy Chambers

"Amelia" by Joni Mitchell

There is no one greater than Joni in the female singer-songwriter world. I love so many of her songs, where her poetic words perfectly match the tension and release of her music, but "Amelia" is particularly special:

"I was driving across the burning

desert/ When I spotted six jet planes

Leaving six white vapour trails

across the bleak terrain/It was the

hexagram of the heavens

It was the strings of my guitar

Amelia it was just a false alarm."

KT Tunstall

Bob Dylan

There are very few lyricists whose work translates directly as poetry, and Dylan qualifies. I get lost in his stories, and his words transport you to wherever he chooses.


Alison Clarkson (Betty Boo)

"Tears of a Clown", lyrics by Smokey Robinson

An amazing lyricist, once described by Bob Dylan as "America's greatest living poet".


Allison Pierce

"Graceland" by Paul Simon

Some of my favorite lyrics are from the song "Graceland" by Paul Simon:

"She comes back to tell me she's

gone/as if I didn't know that,

as if I didn't know my own bed.

As if I'd never noticed the way she

brushed her hair from her


Oh dear god, the heartbreak. I well up with tears every time.


David Arnold

"Born Free" by Don Black

I keep thinking about "Born Free" – how the simplest line about the meaning of freedom:

"As free as the wind blows,

as free as the grass grows"

can tell you be everything you need to know in two lines. Don Black knows how people speak and what they hear and how they hear it. That's why his lyrics, while deceptively simple, can reduce a complex idea and make it sound like anyone could have said it.


Don Black

I love snatches of songs like: "This world was never meant for/ one as beautiful as you" by Don McLean; "Someday when I'm awfully low/ I will feel a glow just thinking of you/and the way you look tonight" by Dorothy Fields and "I was never crazy on my own" by Mike Batt.

As far as lyricists are concerned, in no particular order: Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, Dorothy Fields, Tim Rice, Jake Thackray, Oscar Brown Jr, Herbert Kretzmer, Tom Waits, Oscar Hammerstein. I could say to each and every one of them what Bruce Forsyth says every week: "You're my favourite."


Timothy McKenzie (Labrinth)

As for lyricists, I'd say Pharoahe Monch, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Drake. I really like the lyrics to the song "John, I'm Only Dancing" by David Bowie . It's about a guy dancing with someone else's girl, saying "don't worry, I'm only dancing" – but really he has other plans. I think the lyrics to Coldplay's "Fix You" are beautiful too:

"Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you"


Martin Fry (ABC)

"Land" by Patti Smith

One of my favourite lyrics is "Land" by the incomparable Patti Smith. It's a song from Horses that I'm still trying to decode all these years on. It's a movie that jump cuts through hallucination after hallucination. Poetry that you can dance to. Not too many people pull that off. She manages to channel Arthur Rimbaud and James Brown and William Burroughs all at the same time.


Peter Liddle (Dry the River)

"A Thousand Kisses Deep" by Leonard Cohen

I think Leonard Cohen is my favourite lyricist. The words are effortless – moving and poignant with just the right level of ambiguity. Melancholy, but full of wry humour and wit.

Rhythmically too, I never feel as though a phrase is shoehorned into a song, he has this wonderfully natural way of writing as though he were talking.

The first example that jumps to mind is "A Thousand Kisses Deep" – the lyrics are different on various recordings, sometimes sung and sometimes recited in spoken word:

"And I'm still working with the

wine, /Still dancing, cheek to

cheek./The band is playing Auld

Lang Syne /The heart will not

retreat./And maybe I had miles to

drive,/And promises to keep.

You ditch it all to stay alive,

A thousand kisses deep.

And now you are the Angel Death,

And now the Paraclete.

And now you are

the Saviour's Breath,

And now the Belsen heap.

And turning from

the threat of love,

No transcendental leap –

As witnessed here in time,

and blood,

A thousand kisses deep."


Johnny Marr

"The Thrill of it all" by Roxy Music

I like that it's philosophical in a pop-streetwise way, and has a sense of exhilaration that matches the music, which is very important:

"If you're feeling fraught with

mental strain,/ too much

thinking's got you down again,/

keep cool to the thrill of it all."

I couldn't say who my favourite lyricists are because I've worked with a few and if I leave someone out I'd be sure to get into trouble. Kirsty MacColl was great; Lou Reed.


Steve Sparrow (Morning Parade)

"Flowers and Football Tops" by Glasvegas

This changes weekly depending on who I'm listening to, I have a lot of favourites. One that springs to mind is "Flowers and Football Tops"; James Allan's lyrics really connect with me, in a way sometimes that I think he's inside my head. I'm also into Guy Garvey's lyrics; he has a great turn of phrase and wonderful imagery in his songs.


Adam Anderson (Hurts)

"Oh Mother, I can feel the soil

falling over my head/ and as I

climb into an empty bed,/ oh well,

enough said. I know it's over" is a Morrissey lyric I always liked.

"I'd love to wear a rainbow every

day/ and tell the world that

everything is okay/ but I'll try to

carry off a little darkness on my

back,/ until things are brighter

I'm the Man in Black" by Johnny Cash is another we like.

The further back you go in time the purer the lyrical messages become. I like the uncomplicated directness of many of the lyrics in Phil Spector songs, in Elvis songs etc.

A great lyric can also be so because it is so entwined with the music or the identity of the singer.

Who's to say "I'm a teen distortion,/ survived abortion,/ a rebel from the waist down" by Marilyn Manson isn't profound or poetic?

It's all about whether the words in a song provoke an emotion.


Sir Tim Rice

There are many, but one of my favourite lyrics is from Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues". I really love the words:

"Well I called my congressman and

he said quote:/ 'I'd like to help you

son, but you're too young to vote.'"

Another favourite lyric originates from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's My Fair Lady.

"Ev'ry time we looked around

there he was, that hairy hound

from Budapest/never leaving us

alone/never have I ever known

a ruder pest."

And finally, another favourite that comes to mind is "Love Potion No 9" – there are some fantastic lyrics in there:

"I told her that I was a flop

with chicks,

I've been this way since 1956,

she looked at my palm, and

she made a magic sign,

she said, what you need is

Love Potion No 9."


Steve Winwood

I hate to leave out fantastic records, but I'm sure all the great writers and lyricists would forgive me for saying Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". It's a brilliant song – the lyrics have such depth and mean so much to so many people.


The 57th Ivor Novello Awards takes place tomorrow at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London