While it’s one thing to know what an allusion is, applying it to your songwriting is easier to grasp if you can study songs using allusion well. By understanding how songs use allusion to add to the basic song idea, you can bring the tool into your own songwriting process more frequently.
You may recall from the article that goes into detail about this form of figurative language, “Allusion: What Is It?“, an allusion is an indirect reference of limited length to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing it is referring to – it simply suggests it.
The upside of using this type of imagery in your song is that you don’t have to use precious seconds describing something people are familiar with already.
And most importantly, the emotions tied to that thing help deepen the image in your song. And as a result, the emotional tie to your song overall.
It’s a great poetic and songwriting device to have in your tool box.
Let’s look at some songs using allusion well across the pop and country genres.
Virtually every line has an allusion in it (over 100 in the song)
He uses the line “I’ll be there to save the day/Superman’s got nothing on me” an allusion to underscore the commitment level the speaker has for the other person.
The title is an allusion to a line from ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ a poem by WWI poet Wilfred Owen. She read the poem in the 9th grade.
He uses several allusions to get across the type of guy he is not including, “I’ve never been a Cool Hand Luke, the quarterback of the winning team” or “I ain’t no Patrick Swayze, my old boots have never danced on air.”
While the title itself is an allusion, the song uses others to tie the boyfriend with the characters of the book to highlight his immaturity with the line “you’re just a Lost Boy with your head up in the clouds.”
Uses an allusion to set a romantic scene for country fans by referencing an iconic crooner and a specific song “Put on a little old Keith medley/Back porch dancin’ singing with me/I’m No Stranger To The Rain, oh no he ain’t”.
Recalls the high school play we all read to quickly define the relationship between the two main character as forbidden with the lines “you were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles/and my daddy said ‘Stay away from Juliet’.”
(See how I did that there . . . keeping in the spirit!)
Spend the weekend looking for allusions!
STEP 1: Make sure you’ve always got something to write on or talk into to capture those you find.
STEP 2: Select five places to go that are extremely different.
You’ll want to select places where you can either see things you can use for an allusion (e.g., objects, billboards, signs) or overhear things (e.g., conversations, music) that might be used as an allusion.
STEP 3: Write down what resonates with you. Be sure to include what it made you think of and the emotion felt.
For example, if you’re at the zoo and see a red balloon floating across the sky and it reminds you of the French film “Red Balloon” write the image and the reference down. If seeing a red balloon in the sky makes you feel hopeful, note it. How does it usually make others feel? A good thing to find out if the image is a bit obscure.
STEP 4: Now choose one and use it in a song.
You can write a new song or replace some flat imagery in a song you’ve already written.
STEP 5: Are there other songs you have that could use some imagery help?
Circle those lines and note them. Choose one to replace. When you’ve done that, go to the next one. This is a great way to make your older songs stronger and maybe rewrite song ideas to create better songs.
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT ALLUSION:
Do you want another songwriting exercise that helps you create songs using allusion?
Check out “Allusion: What Is It?”