Behind the Lyrics: Keith Urban - We Were
In this new series of ‘Behind the lyrics’ I’ll be taking a closer look at what makes certain songs have the ability to take us deeper than just enjoying the bop! I’ll be looking at top 10 hit country artists, but also other artists where I feel the lyrics are something special, or doing something unique and generally making me say “I wish I’d written that!”.
When I mention the song ‘We Were’ you are probably gonna say Keith Urban. This month I was torn between choosing a Keith Urban or Eric Church song. This was the perfect solution because it’s actually written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, & Ryan Tyndell.
We are all used to the performance by Keith, but I encourage you to listen to the version with Eric singing the second half of the song, also found on the ‘Speed of Now’ album. I actually think it's the better version.
It’s easy to overlook the songwriters behind songs, and focus on the performer. I always like to check out the credits on Spotify and see who did what.
We have a repeating tag line as this month’s songwriting method, but of course with a twist, in that the tag line is at the beginning of the lines, and not the end where you normally find it. The song structure is common to the tag approach too; effectively it only has two sections. The second section feels like a Chorus, but with the title popping up all through the song, and different words in those sections, it might be hard to argue that it's the Chorus.
A quick look at one other important element that holds the song together; you have the acoustic guitar riff right at the start, and we hear it again at least a couple times more, almost resetting you each time and getting you back to the mood at the start - it makes you reflective like the singer is, perhaps reflecting being unable to move on?
Verse 1 kicks straight off with our title, and this two word repetition punctuates lines 3 and 5. I’m including “And still” because they are phrased exactly the same.
Then we see what is one of my favourite songwriting methods; opposite images. The contrast of being only a couple of years short of his fake ID age, to the hundred years from being an acceptable boyfriend in her fathers eyes.
Followed by some clever word play and double meanings with line stepping, and stepping over lines. Magic! We will get treated to this same writing style in Verse 2 but taken even further with the super smart line:
“By the time we knew time was runnin' out, We done run out of time”
Back to the sequence of the song;
We hit the second section and now the title is sung as a backing vocal at the start, fading through the strong evocative images of leather jackets, motorbikes, water towers, and sunsets. Could it paint a more perfect picture of growing up in America as teenagers!
Verse 2 Eric steps up and I feel we are hearing it closer to how it was written. Again great use of the image of a fading song and the stamp fading on your hand. It certainly brought back memories for me of nightclubs and special gigs, and trying to not wash it off for as long as you could, to kind of hold on to some important memory. Anyone one else do that?
For our second time around in Section 2 we get treated to new images (hence not really being able to call it a Chorus). I love the Def Leppard reference. Who would have thought these US country rockers were into a band from Sheffield.
At this point I have to tell you a quick personal story. I was in a cover band with some work colleagues, around 20 years ago. Our bass player was in a band when he was a teenager, but not just any band, the band that eventually became Def Leppard. The twist is that he left before that happened, to go to university to study engineering. The things that could have been!
Back to the song.
I wonder how easy or hard it was to write that last line of section 2:
“I am who I am, I just miss who I was when we were”
It could be a grammar question in an English exam, because something very clever is happening with the same words and tenses in there!
Just before a reprised version of a short verse, we hear the acoustic guitar riff again, grounding us back to the beginning. These well meaning friends say surely you need to get over it now, but that last line tells all. Maybe these two people were meant to be together, and that’s all lost to history. This is a country song, you didn’t want it to end all resolved did you?!
Until next time.
Hugh has over 20 years experience as a songwriter and creative collaborator. Personally mentored by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, and a year at the London Songwriting Academy. Find out more here.