365 Days of Songs (1985)
The Cult, “She Sells Sanctuary”
As a professional songwriter, I urge you not to look at the lyrics at this song. Really, you don’t need to—hey, get back here! I said don’t—
Ahhhh shit, you looked at the lyrics. I told you not to! Now you know how absolutely dumb these lyrics are! “Oh, the heads that turn/make my back burn”? Seriously, Ian? And what does that have to with “The sparkle in your eyes/keeps me alive”?
And I’m sorry, did you say, “the world turns around?” No shit! Thank you for the science lesson! And what was that? “The world brings you down”? I had no idea! I needed to hear that at least 20 times to realize how the world absolutely bums you out.
Hey, I kid. I love The Cult. This song is an absolute classic. Indelible riff, great melody, and the sound of this record… just fantastic.
Which goes back to what I said before: the lyrics are a vehicle for the melody. You can write the dumbest lyric, but if you have a great melody and the words are the right fit, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying. The meaning isn’t in the words themselves, but the marriage of words, melody, and performance.
And these lyrics aren’t as dumb as I make them out to be. They’re simple. Simple is fine. And I can’t stress this enough—lyrics don’t have to make any kind of literal sense to work. How many songs did Lennon and McCartney write when they were tripping their balls off, and you can’t make heads or tails of what they mean, but they work?
These lyrics work. They’re what that melody needs, and that melody is sitting on top of a great riff, chord progression, and rhythm section. I’m not saying don’t work on your lyrics; but I am saying that a lot of times, the sound of the words is a lot more important than they’re meaning. The meaning of the song is the weird alchemy where all these elements come together as a whole. When it works, it feels like a mystery you never really solve, and in a way, never want to solve.