September 23, 2014

Making the Scene in Song

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

One thing country songwriters have a knack for is getting a story off the ground.  A descriptive opening line pulls the listener into the scene from the get-go and evokes the spirit of what's to come.

A close look at hits currently on the charts gives writers solid examples of how to start things off with a strong visual impact. For instance, here are the opening lines from some of the current Top 40: 

It was a perfect day for the end of May, they say a record high (Eric Church, "Cold One")

They roll the sidewalks in this town all up after the sun goes down
(Sam Hunt, "Leave the Night On")

She had a cross around her neck and a flower in her hair (Luke Bryan, "Roller Coaster")

Baby, when I look at you with them baby blues cuttin' right through me... (Big & Rich, "Look at You")

Well, I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet
(Maddie & Tae, "Girl in a Country Song")

Take it on back to where the grass was greener (Chase Bryant, "Take It On Back")

Well, take a look at what's left in that sunset, fireflies popping like the Fourth of July (Parmalee, "Close Your Eyes")

There's a postcard picture at the back of our minds
(Brothers Osborne, "Let's Go There")

Well, I won two dollars on a scratch-off ticket, so I went back to the counter and I bought two more with it (Brad Paisley, "River Bank")

Each of these set-em-ups paints a mental picture, an invitation to step out of wherever we may be and experience that sunset, that memory, that day in May.  We see the girl in bare feet, with baby blue eyes or a cross around her neck. 

Whether we're writing a song, a poem or a novel, starting with a strong, evocative opening line is the quickest way to draw the audience into our world.  We can thank the early country songwriters, whose imagery of blue moons of Kentucky and walking after midnight created a lyrical legacy that continues to work eight decades down the country road.

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