What comes first? Music or lyrics?

So there you are eating a fried egg sandwich. It's delicious. You know where the egg came from right? Sure you do. A chicken. But what came first eh? The chicken? Or the egg?

Too many questions for a meagre brain like mine, but it got me thinking about how songwriters approach their songs. Do they write a set of lyrics first, or come up with a killer riff and write to that? I always imagine those who write their lyrics first tend to wear flowing silk robes and dance through an enchanted forest in slow motion, holding their tablet in one hand and a quill in the other. That sounds a bit weird doesn't it? Hmmm.....

I'm a music man first / lyrics later. When I'm spanking my plank (now now. Don't be disgusting! You know I mean playing my guitar!) and jamming around the neck coming up with an idea, it's the music that gets me first. I "la la" a lyric over the chords and dream up a melody line which may or may not change later on down the line. Once I've got the main riff / melody sorted out I start recording - building the layers of musical gorgeousness until I reach a point where I can't go any further. That point is when it needs lyrics. It's then, and only then, that I'll sit and write about something.

The latest song I'm writing lyrics to is called "Coming of Age". I came up with the riff weeks ago and have been layering the track with guitars, percussion and keyboards etc. As usual I got to the point of no return - the point where I need some lyrics and I sat down this afternoon with my pen and a bit of paper to write. "What the F**K shall I write about" I thought?

I decided to do what you should do in EVERYTHING you write about - that is "Write about what you know". So this song is about the molecular measurements of the nuclear gravity that surrounds Neptune's outer gases....


I wrote about how when you're young you think you know everything, but yet, you know nothing at all. I wrote about my woman - how she is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life. I combined the two and got my lyrics. I love the power of being able to phrase the lyrics exactly as you'd like, bending words around musical phrases and leaving gaps for guitar fills (which will appear much later on).

Once my lyrics are recorded, now is the time when the canvas is clear to fill in the gaps - the guitar fills. One of my favourite songs is Dire Straits "Sultans of Swing". The way the guitar fills on that track 'answer' each line of lyric is brilliant and that's my kinda style baby.

Maybe one day I'll write a poem and set that to music. It's how Bernie Taupin and Elton John have been doing it for decades - and pretty successfully too! I imagine it must be like this with them -

Bernie : "'ere you go Elton. Bash some **ckin' tune around these babies!"  / Elton "Oh Bernie, you know how to please a girl!"

So whilst you're eating your egg sandwich, have some thought for the poor songwriter who has to decide whether he/she should take a stand on what should come first - the music or the lyrics!