As songwriters, we’re in the business of entertainment – giving our listener a moment’s escape from her daily struggles.
Many people – especially city dwellers – think of nature as beautiful, restful, and quiet. The countryside seems like a welcome break from the daily grind. Dim the house lights and sing about the ocean, or about a quiet footpath that winds through the forest… from the stage, you can almost feel your audience’s blood pressure drop.
In a world where trends come and go every year, songs about nature have timeless appeal. In literature, there’s a tradition of the pastoral – a type of writing that romanticizes country living – stretching back centuries. Nature isn’t going out of style anytime soon.
There are at least nine things you could write a nature song about.
Seasons and Changes
In a song lyric you could write about a single season, or about one season changing to another. Winter, spring, summer, fall – whatever seasons your homeland experiences. Each season has its own weather, temperatures, clothing, plants, foods, holidays – and states of mind. For examples, see this list of songs with seasons in the title on Songfacts.
Landscapes & Scenic Escapes
Vast blue-green ocean with gulls wheeling overhead. Sheltering trees overhanging a footpath, birds singing from the cathedral of leaves above. National Geographic built its success in part on beautiful panoramas of nature. In a lyric, you can describe beautiful scenes like this. Be sure to write in lots of sensory details: what does the landscape smell, feel, sound, look, and taste like? For examples of scenic songs, I refer you to John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and “Country Roads”.
Nature is beautiful, but it also offers its share of dangers and challenges – think of climbers braving the dangers of Mount Everest. There’s no shortage of tales to be told about people pitting themselves against nature – whether that means sailors steering a ship through a storm or a lost hiker finding her way back to civilization through the forest.
Storms, heat waves, droughts, blizzards, dust storms, tornadoes – people love to talk about the weather. This category of song can be about sunny skies, total disaster, or anything in between. For examples of weather songs, see “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival or “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.
Flowers, Trees, and other Plants
Some lyrics use wildflowers, tall old trees, or other plants as a central image. For an interesting song in this category, see “Nothing but Flowers” by the Talking Heads, a cheeky song written from the perspective of a person who can’t adjust to life in nature.
Humankind has long had working relationships with dogs, horses, mules, cows, and cats. For one great example of a song that uses an animal in the refrain, see Tom Waits’s song “Pony”.
Bodies of water
Water is one of the most universally appealing images. No matter what culture or time a person hails from, life-giving water is a beautiful sight to any human being. The ocean symbolizes eternity. The river symbolizes time. Lakes and ponds have traditionally been gathering places for both animals and human beings alike. Check out “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin.
Ecology & the Environment
Many songwriters have used song lyrics as a place to voice opinions against industrialization, in favor of natural order. Sometimes these are scientific arguments, but more often they’re aesthetic or emotional. For examples, see “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell or “Another World” by Antony & the Johnsons. See also the black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room.
Skies and space
Since humanity’s beginnings, every culture has looked to the stars for meaning and guidance. We’ve used the stars to predict changing seasons, animal migrations, and other vital survival info. We’ve made sense of the sky by inventing memorable constellations. We’ve used the stars to navigate during uncertain times. The sky and its stars turn up again and again in song lyrics, including “Up on the Roof”.
Creative Commons photo by atoach