April 2017 Assignment

Write a spoken word song.

If you want an audience to stop talking and listen, do a song in spoken word.

Structurally different than than the verses that slam poets generally call “spoken word,” songs written in spoken word style are linked to a musical chord structure. Lyrics often rhyme at points where they link to chord changes, and the delivery of the words adds syncopation to the rhythm.

For the purposes of this assignment, we’re not talking about a spoken poem with music in the background (“Horse Latitudes” by Jim Morrison. The Doors 1967). And we’re not talking about hip hop and rap (read this from

The whole song can be spoken, or you might sing part of the song (“One Piece at a Time” by Wayne Kemp. Johnny Cash 1976).

Spoken word songs can be difficult to perform — the spoken lyrics have to link with the chord changes just as do the lyrics in songs that are sung.

But when it’s done well, speaking the lyrics silences the room, heightens the drama and can be a great way to tell some stories, as the following songs demonstrate. Notice where and how the lyrics are linked to the music, and the differences in spoken styles and music.


“Talkin’ World War III Blues” by Bob Dylan, 1964.

“A Boy Named Sue” by Shel Silverstein. Johnny Cash, 1969.

“Hot Rod Lincoln” by Charley Ryan. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, 1971.

“Big Bad John” by Roy Acuff and Jimmy Dean. Jimmy Dean, 1961. (Yes, it’s the breakfast sausage guy — this song’s success helped to finance Jimmy Dean Foods.)

“King Heroin” by James Brown, 1972.