A Lesson in Opening Lines, Courtesy of John Mayer

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The opening line is debatably the most important line in any song. If well-written, it will engage listeners from the song’s outset and make them emotionally vested in the story. If badly written, it can cause people to switch off (literally and figuratively) and become completely disconnected from you as the storyteller.

I love John Mayer’s songs – they’ve always had the ability to hook me from the beginning and keep me interested in what he has to say till the very last line. Allow me to demonstrate, via ten of his songs, how a well-crafted opening line can grab your attention and initiate a kind of imaginary dialogue between the storyteller and the listener:

1. I’m not alone – I wish I was. (Something’s Missing)
You wish you were alone? Why, John? Why would anyone wish they were alone? Please explain your predicament to me!

2. I was born in the arms of imaginary friends. (Half of my Heart)
Amazing imagery, John! I need to listen to the rest of the song in order to try and understand what it represents in your (real) life.

3. Gravity is working against me. (Gravity)
Me too, John. Let’s have an in depth discussion about our existential crises. You go first.

4. Lightening strikes inside my chest to keep me up at night. (Heartbreak Warfare)
Wow. Pretty sure I felt that lightening too.

5. Too many shadows in my room, too many hours in this midnight. (In Repair)
Tell me more, John. What’s haunting you?

6. Just when I had you off my head, your voice comes thrashing wildly through my quiet bed. (All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye)
That sucks for you, John! Who is this woman you’re singing about, and what are you going to do about her voice’s impromptu nighttime visits?

7. Check your pulse, it’s proof that you’re not listening to the call your life has been issuing you. (Great Indoors)
You’re right – I’m really not living up to my potential. What else can you tell me about myself that I was having trouble understanding?

8. I’m so alive, I’m so enlightened. (New Deep)
Dude, what’s your secret?

9. I work in the dead of night, when the roads are quiet and no one is around to track my moves. (Assassin)
Sounds pretty clandestine (which definitely makes me want to know more). What exactly does this “work” entail?

10. I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore. (In Your Atmosphere)
That’s a very bold statement. Why not? What have you got against the LA?

Obviously, I’m attempting to put into words something that happens on a completely subconscious level, in order to make a point. The point being that an opening line is important, and can be the difference between a great song that people want to listen to till the very end, and an average song that loses people’s attention before the first chorus.

What are some of your favourite opening lines? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Photo courtesy of Alejandro De La Cruz on Flickr.

2 Thoughts on “A Lesson in Opening Lines, Courtesy of John Mayer

  1. Ben Bitter on 1 May, 2014 at 8:01 pm said:

    Great thought provoking post! Some of my faves:

    “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” (Beatles-”Tomorrow Never Knows)
    “They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known” (Billy Joel-”Summer, Highland Falls”)
    “I’m sentimental, so I walk in the rain; I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain” (Frank Sinatra: “Why Try To Change Me Now”

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