First Lines Of Songs Are Your First Hook!

The first line of a song is probably one of the most important things you’ll write when creating a song. It has to grab the attention of the person listening – not reading – listening.  As a general rule, you have about 7 seconds to get the audience’s attention.

When doing critiques, the entire song is the focus, usually making the first line only a small part of the overall discussion. But – it’s your first hook.

So, I thought it would be interesting to pull out some first lines and give them a number on a scale from 1 to 5.

This isn’t a market research study, so we’ll forgo any definitions more complex than use a 1 to represent “would hit the next button,” and a 5 for “wow – listening to the whole thing”.

Go ahead and give each a number, then go to the bottom of the post for my numbers and the song title the line came from.

  1. Today I am a small blue thing, like a marble or an eye.
  2. If I were a boy, even just for a day.
  3. When you’re weary, feeling small.
  4. What’s wrong with the world mama.
  5. By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising.


The Numbers: First Lines Of Songs


  • “Small Blue Thing” by Suzanne Vega: 4 – the first line is a bit outside the literal, but it’s an interesting statement, and I’m willing to stay with it to find out the “why.” Another song with a simile as a first line?  Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On The Wire” – which did OK on the radio in its day.  Similes make great first lines.
  • “If I Was A Boy” by Toby Gad & BC Jean (Beyonce): 3 – it’s compelling because a woman is singing it, so I understand there is some sort of revelation that will happen because of the role reversal, but Suzanne Vega takes it one step further and says she’s an inanimate object – a very risky line and song idea.
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon: 4 – the first line is definitely something most people can relate to because it is very general. However, “feeling small” sounds very personal, so the line works at a very personal level.
  • “Where’s The Love” by The Black Eyes Peas: 3 – I like the question. The entire song is built around answering the question, and the fact that the speaker is asking his/her mother gives the song a sense of concern which may have been lacking had it just been “what’s wrong with the world.” The shortened version sounds a bit judgmental. Adding “mama” helps avoid all that.
  • “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” by Jimmy Webb: 5 – one of the best first lines ever written. It begins a story which immediately opens up the song to answer several questions: Who is the speaker? Who will be rising? Why did they leave? Immediate drama. The perfect first line – you’re pulled in because you want to know what happens.


Songwriting Exercise:

Go through several of your favorite songs and write down the first line (through to the period), and think about how it may or may not pull the listener in. If it doesn’t, how would you change it. If it does, why?