As most of my readers know, at least in some of my books, people actually sing… and the lyrics almost always have sections that rhyme. For some writers, apparently, this can be a problem. I was recently asked to offer favorable comments on a novel in which song and its singers were absolutely essential elements… and I never found a single rhyming line in any of the lyrics, and no discernible meter, either. Needless to say, I did not comment on the songs, and it was a pretty good book otherwise… but it still bothered me, because I expect more of professional writers – their songs should have meter and rhyme. There are some writers who are actually singers of one sort and another, ranging from classically trained opera singers to bar-room balladeers, and so far, at least, I haven’t seen any of them just toss out phrases and claim that they’re songs.
Heaven knows, the song lyrics in a book don’t have to be great, because the lyrics in most popular songs in most cultures aren’t great, and the folk songs tend to be comparatively straight-forward tales with couplet endings and common rhymes… and most have at least a chorus or refrain.
Some writers have copped out by saying, in effect, “they’re speaking another language, and the song rhymes in their language but not in ours.” Oh? Does that mean the author might not be “translating” the other things they’re saying accurately? If you can’t write proper lyrics… don’t. Just have the characters talk about “another folk song with the same old clichés” about whatever is a cliché in that culture. Or say that the singer’s accent or diction was so bad that the character has no idea what the song’s about. And if you really need a song to make sense, find an old folksong or something that isn’t copyrighted and then change the words to convey what you want in a way that preserves the meter and has a different rhyme.
The other thing about song and culture is that, generally speaking, the less technological the society is, the greater the role of participatory song and music in the life of the average person. Passive listening to song and music is a luxury reserved for the rich or well-off until cultures reach the industrializing level. That’s also why folk tunes have rhyme and meter – because when you’re relying on memory to learn songs, rhyme and meter make it far, far easier.
The same is also largely true of music as an organized form of propaganda. While the American colonists used satiric songs as a motivating tool against the British, and Sam Adams used them in rallies, organized and wide-spread use of music was limited by the lack of technology to amplify the music to reach larger numbers and create motivating spectacles. It’s not an accident that the Third Reich was the first government to choreograph public spectacle and music.
Music is always there in human societies, but how and where it is used, and for what, is greatly influenced by affluence and technology.
Just a few thoughts…