When You Don’t Know What To Say…… (Part 1)

Sometimes when you’re writing, you can draw a blank.

Sometimes when you’re writing a song, you can also draw a blank.

You don’t know what words to use, or how this melody or chord progression should evolve.  When that happens, people react in different ways.

  1. You step away and do something else.
  2. You step away and listen to other music you’ve written.
  3. you step away and listen to other music someone else has written.
  4. You start to write nonsense words or syllables that will hold the place of better words, when these better words are finally made.

I am reminded of one of the slogans at the fictitious “Faber College” from the film, Animal House.

“When better women are made, Faber College men will be there to make them.”

But to get serious, sometimes the telltale sign that a songwriter had writers’ block can be heard in the lyric that was selected.

One of the best examples of not knowing what words to write, I think, can be heard in a big international hit by a Canadian band.  All I have to write are three (3) words and you’ll likely know what I’m getting at:  Crash Test Dummies

Their 1993 song, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” (see video)

Can you sing the song?  Can you twist your mouth from side-to-side like lead singer Brad Roberts does at 1.32, and 2.53-2.57?  He only does that facial contortion twice but according to Weird Al Yankovich, in his brilliant parody-satire of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” Roberts does it most of the time!

But for me the question is:  What did they really mean to write and sing at these points in the song?  Surely they tried to write something other than “mmm” a few – no, MANY – times.

Would you be able to help Crash Test Dummies by writing the lyrics that SHOULD HAVE been written?

Try it in “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”

“Mmm mmm mmm mmm” happens ten (10) times in the song.  You can hear “mmm mmm mmm mmm” at these ten (10) places in the song:

1,00, 1.03
1.45, 1.47, 1.55, 1.57
2.53, 2.55,  3.03, 3.05

So, by my count, there are forty (40) syllables that need to be inserted into this song.

Surely, the song in its prenatal stage, did not need forty (40) statements of “mmm.”  Please.  Go ahead.  Insert the forty (40) syllables you think Crash Test Dummies should have sung!  How can one waste forty (40) words, potentially, or forty (40) syllables, actually, when trying to covey the three (3) short stories the song’s lyric seems to be conveying?  [If you study the lyrics, you’ll understand the three (3) short stories contained within the song.  Or you can cheat and watch the video as it telegraphs the story conveyed by the lyrics.]

Or do you think that this important chorus should have consisted of only 40 statements of “mmm?”

And why should the syllable, “mmm,” which must be sung with a closed mouth, win out over “better” and/or more-suitable-for-singing syllables?

By more-suitable-for-singing syllables, I am referring to:

“lar” (the Boston pronunciation of “lah”)
“far” (Boston for “fa”), etc.
“nar” (the Boston for “nah”)


Are you ready to begin the rewrite?


Mmmm, Mmmm will now become:

(Insert your lyric)____________________________________________________

Mmmm,  Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm will now become:

(Insert your lyric)____________________________________________________


Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm will now become:

(Insert your lyric)____________________________________________________


I look forward to your answers/rewrites in the comments below!

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