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Ingredients To A Timeless Song

Ingredients To A Timeless Song

For over half a century, people have gathered to watch The Rolling Stones perform their hits all across the world. The teen that first watched Mick Jagger strut across stage back in the 60s are now taking their grandchildren to watch the same world-famous Stones. How is that we all grow up inherently knowing the lyrics to some songs? Obviously, we only hear what our parents hear… but as a society how do we decide what songs become more than a song… and part of our culture as humans?


The secret isn’t in song writing, or the lyrics, or some magical chord progression… although being able to get stuck in everyone’s head definitely helps. Certain types of songs withstand the rust that comes along with being associate with a genre, or era. By speaking a message that relates across time, musicians can create hits that generation after generation will grow up just… knowing!


Now obviously, there’s going to be some biased involved because what my generation was exposed to and what my parent’s generation was exposed to, and what kids today are exposed to are all different. I have no doubt that the internet will dilute the ocean of music available to kids moving forward, and some of these “Timeless classics” will just become “Oldies”. But even still… when we eventually have implants for our brain in the future that’ll play the music for us on command… these songs will still get play.


Why does this Journey hit transcend eras? One of the first badges of a timeless song is story telling. And while the biggest flag that this ultra-hit carries is a singable, emotional, inspiring chorus, none of that would matter if it weren’t for a small-town girl living in a lonely world. The cheesiness factor of being just another 80’s bop with rousing lyrics would spoil the fun of “Don’t Stop Believin”. That’s the difference between “Eye of the Tiger” and this Journey hit. While I love Survivor for what they did for Rocky… you won’t be sing-screaming “Eye of the Tiger” drunk during your mid life crisis. I promise.

Where the skies are blue? Right? Another trait that will net you a timeless classic? Local pride! “Detroit Rock City” will always have a spot in rotation in Michigan. “California Love” will survive through every weekend club in Los Angeles for the rest of time. And right now, somewhere in your city, Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is squeezing every last watt of power out of someone’s uncle’s dusty AM/FM speaker. But probably none is more genre transcending and poised to withstand the test of time than “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although for every play of “Sweet Home Alabama”, there are five people in a concert crowd screaming for “Freebird”, and THAT might carry Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy into the future even further.




How do you reach a wide audience? Break free from being “Just another rock anthem”? Well you can always do what Queen did and shred any notion of a genre and make a “Rock Opera”. Breaking all the rules is risky, but if you’ve got other timeless elements like story telling on your side, you can spin a track into madness and back and still captivate a world of ears. Queen even manages to throw a chorus out the window entirely for this one, while including what are almost different “Scenes” to the track. By the end of this one, you’ve been on a journey of ups and downs and felt a buffet of feelings. It’s a roller coaster everyone wants to ride over and over again.

Ok, so I’ll take back what I said previously about Journey, and how a track can’t be carried by a catchy anthemy chorus without some sort of story to lift it up. The major exception the rule is if you can write a song about partying. Then you make the song repetitive and straight to the point. If you’re a fan of rocking and/or rolling every night, and partying every day, there’s a song for you. And if you can’t manage an entire 24 hours into rock and partying, this song will always be here waiting for when you do cut loose. For the end of time. In every karaoke bar in the world.


Alright, so you can also just have a song that’s only a story, as long as the other ten minutes are guitar shredding and it’s featured on Guitar Hero III as a bonus track that’s famously hard to master. That’s also a good move. Unfortunately, while you may live on in every 2000s kid’s music library, you’re probably also the most skipped song ever.


Being the King of Pop is a healthy way to make sure you’ll be listened to forever. Before the invention of music video’s however, the only way to get a song to be associate with a dance was if the name of the song was also the name of the dance. Michael Jackson took full advantage of the new technology of MTV to make Thriller (which stands alone as a pop treasure) viral for its time. I’ve known how to do the Thriller dance for as long as I can remember. And while kids these days may not know the choreography, you might be shocked as to how many of their ears perk up as soon as it’s after midnight.





Ok so maybe baby boomers only know this song by proximity, but everyone 40 and under very likely knows not only the song… but the lyrics… the signature dance… and at least two of NSYNCs members by name. Really, being a pop song about breakups already puts you on a pedestal. The last (and most recently applicable) ingredient for a timeless song? A group of cute boys and the hysteria of teenage girls across the world. Don’t believe me? Ask The Beetles.


Be The Beetles. This is a hard one to pull off unless your name is Ringo Star or Paul McCartney, but it’s valid advice none the less. Just do your best and remember that love is all you need.

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