Tune Saloon: The Importance of a Song’s First Line

I am sure that many of you readers have had to write a paper about some topic or another. I am also sure that, were I to ask, a majority of you would say that the beginning or the end of a paper is the hardest part of the process. For me, personally, I find the introduction and the hook to be the most difficult in essays, but also in songs.

When I was in L.A. at a vocal intensive called VocalizeU, I took a songwriting class that focussed on lyrics. One of the things we talked about was how to get people to hear your message throughout the whole song, from the very first line. This tip inspired me to look at the first lines of some of my favorite songs and see how that line engaged the listener right from the get-go. I had always been told, even before I listened to ONLY country music, that it had the best lyrics. So, I studied those first lines the most. In my research, I found that the songs I liked were able to paint a clear picture of an important aspect of that person’s lifestyle. That detail has to be painted throughout the entire song, but to convince me to actually listen, you have to engage me right away.

One of my favorite first lines is from Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”. The lyrics goes, “Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen / Pour myself a cup of ambition.” The song was originally written for a movie, but it has a vibe that will ring tru for anyone who is following the so-called “American dream.” The second part of this line indicates that she needs ambition to wake her up and to help her start her day, similar to coffee or tea for many people in the morning. If you want to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” you need to believe you can.

As I said, I enjoy lines that evoke emotion by providing a visual in your mind’s eye. A great example of that in a more pop-ish song is the opening lines of “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum. This song came out when I was in elementary school, and I remember singing along to the gloomy tune with my friends, not realizing how beautifully sad the story was. The song explains what it is like to miss someone so much, even though you gave them up, and remembering all the fun times, while realizing that the state you are in now is worse than when you were with that person you were fighting with.

“Need You Now” starts, “Picture-perfect memories scattered all around the floor.” To me, this line is genius! It is so well thought out and crafted. It is so good at conjuring up an image of your memories lying about on the floor in no particular order and in no particular time.

One last song by Craig Morgan, “Almost Home,” has a first line that grips you immediately. “He had plastic bags wrapped ’round his shoes / He was covered with the evening news” describes the life of a certain homeless man whose only home is out on the streets. The poor soul is beaten cold and tired from the struggles he has faced, and is constantly letting his mind return to thoughts of his good ol’ days. The lyrics explain how he yearns for his past and his family life, making the tone feel reminiscent and mournful.