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The Do's and Dont's of Quoting Song Lyrics

The Do's and Dont's of Quoting Song Lyrics

By Brandon Specktor

People have been expressing their feelings with other people's artistic sentiments since the stone age, when Caveman Shemp totally ripped off Caveman Duncan's "three sticks hunting buffalo" in a bittersweet etching on Caveman Brittany's wall. So whether you're signing a yearbook, a status update, a tweet, a thweet (the next big thing,) or a greeting card, song selection is essential to remembering the cultural and emotional climate that surrounded your signing.

Following are A Few General Guidelines For Your Song Quoting Experience:

  • Avoid cliches. This includes "you've got a friend in me," "you are the wind beneath my wings," "I hope you had the time of your life," "tonight / we are young," "follow through, make your dreams come true," "it's hard to dance with a devil on your back," "we won't get fooled again," "we don't need no education," "all you need is love," "in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make," "meow, meow, meow, meow /  meow, meow, meow, meow / meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow," and so forth.
  • Avoid self-pity (this tip applies to real life too)
  • Avoid Gotye (see above)
  • Paraphrase. Don't write out the whole dang song, dingus! You wouldn't quote all 10,000 lines of Paradise Lost, so don't fill a full yearbook page with the first six songs from Watch The Throne, either. Use your genius insight to pick out the essential two or three lines that best convey what you want to say. Brevity is the soul of wit.
  • Farts.
  • Use imagery! A song is a poem with a melody, after all, and the most potent lines of poetry are those that create the most vivid scenes inside our heads. Which lyric do you find more arresting: "live to win / till you die" or, "To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free / silhouetted by the sea…let me forget about today until tomorrow" ?
  • When posting quotes to Facebook or another online medium you might as well include a link to the song. Come on, man. Share the love.
  • When quoting dubstep be sure to italicize your wubs and bold your waughs.

And now, A Few Specific Guidelines For Your Song Quoting Experience:

If you're going to quote The Beatles...

When you choose to quote a band as widely appreciated as The Beatles or Nickelback, you've gotta go deep. Avoid anything John Lennon ever said sober because chances are whoever you're trying to address already has that quote bedazzled on his/her favorite sweater-vest, ornamental throw pillow, or Eveningwear Snuggie. Surprise your audience by modifying a line that even the Beatles don't really understand, like:

"I / ah-I I/ ah-I I / dig a pony. But I dig you more."

or

"Honey, you are my yellow-matter custard / dripping from a dead dog's eye."

or

"Boy, you're gonna carry that weight / especially if we get married and have 12 babbies together as per the nightly vignettes I describe in my dream journal."

John was full of great metaphors.

But remember, there was like, at least three or four other Beatles too! Ringo, the unsung hero of British people hitting stuff with sticks, didn't have many song credits to his name, but his quiet humility and big silly nose make the lyrics he did pen all the more special. Quoting or modifying a Ringo line tells your audience, "What's up. I'm not trying to impress anyone. You come here often? [wet makeouts ensue]" Here's some suggestions:

"I'd like to be / eating the sea / in a neighborhood Red Lobster / with you." (include a gift certificate with quote)

or

"Don't pass me by / don't make me cry / don't make me blue / because I will drench your Facebook wall with passive-aggressive Twilight fanfic if you do."

I'm feeling frisky already.

If you're going to quote an emo song to express your sadness…

Don't. Don't quote an emo song to express your sadness. Just don't do it. It's not sexy, it's not cool, and it's not gonna fill the void inside of you. It's okay to be sad! It's okay to listen to emo music! But instead of exposing your self-pity to the unfeeling ether, just call your best friend or play with your dog. Sing the lyrics to a squirrel or other local woodland creature if you absolutely must put the pain on blast. Don't Face/year-book it.

If you're going to quote "Call Me Maybe"...

Bear in mind that this song has been memed-out to the point of near meaninglessness. If you're going to pull a Carly Rae—either as a joke, or a nonchalant way of giving out your number—you've gotta make it your own. If you write the line "this is crazy," be sure to follow it with something genuinely crazy. For example:

"Hey, I just met you / And this is crazy / But here's a cucumber / Let's make some gravy!"

or

"Hey, I just met you / And this is crazy / But Scientology!"

or

"Hey, I just met you / And this is crazy / But here's an artistic rendering of you and me making out in midair (I'm actually a wizard) over Disneyland, Paris (I'm also very wealthy) while Usher gives us a private concert (Usher Terry Raymond IV a.k.a. "Usher" is my best BFF and he will back me up on that via twitter or hotmail) because you made the best decision of your life and called me. Maybe."

[artistic rendering redacted for inappropriate content]

As long as you hold your song lyrics to the same standard you hold your poetry, your message will be a swimming success. But remember: some artists are more stingy about unauthorized usage of their material than others. If you need to get Kanye's permission to call your friend's ish cray, you can query him here.

What are your favorite songs to sign with?

Topics: Life
Tags: facebook, songs, lyrics, quotes, music, yearbooks, song lyrics

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About the Author
Brandon Specktor

For 22 years, Brandon was a fat kid living in Tucson, AZ, which gave him lots and lots of time to write. He now works at a magazine in New York City, but still loves writing almost as much as he loves muffins.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.