The Power of a Bad Song


I was just telling a co-writer the other day about how I’ve written some stinkers over the years. I always get a kick out of running across an old not-at-all-awesome lyric. I’ll come across a piece of paper with one of my furious scribbles, and the first thing that pops into my mind is, “What were you thinking? That’s terrible!”

Such is the case with a song I started when I was seventeen which I had to record recently.

I was a sophomore in college, and I was pledging a sorority. (I know. You don’t see it, do you? I am an Alpha Gamma Delta. It’s totally true.)

Our pledge class was told that we needed a class song. I was pledging with my high school friend, Kristin, and she and I decided to take the song I’d written for our high school graduation and change it to make it fit for the pledge class. (I found out later that they hadn’t meant we had to write a full-on song. They’d meant for us to make up lyrics to a popular song. Oops.)

The song was called, “When I Say Friend.” The hook is, “When I say friend, I’ll always think of you.” I’m not even going to go into all the parts that I wouldn’t write now (teardrop? Gheesh.) For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture the lyric I wrote all those years ago:











I got an email from an Alpha Gam a few weeks ago asking me for a recording of this song. “When I Say Friend,” has been passed down from year to year, and my chapter is still singing it. They wanted a recording because a music therapist from hospice wanted to play comforting songs to a young woman, Toni, who was dying of breast cancer.

“When I Say Friend,” was one of the songs they asked for.

Toni was younger than I and we never met. I knew her name, and I knew she had been fighting breast cancer for years. I also knew that her husband died unexpectedly last September leaving her with the two boys.

I sat down at my piano that day to record, “When I Say Friend,” and the professional writer in me kept getting embarrassed at the lyric. Then, I would think of Toni dealing with the betrayal of her body and the weight of leaving her boys, and I sang. I remembered the spirit in which I wrote that little song all those years ago.

At seventeen when this song was started for my high school graduation, I was making a promise to my friends. Truth is, it was the best promise I knew how to make at that age.

As it turns out, with all it’s imperfections and naievete, it’s still about the best promise I know how to make to my friends today. I’d write it differently, but I’d still mean it.

Toni Gusic Saylor was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 19, 2003. She died at the age of 37 on September 11, 2012. 

Songwriters, write your songs with the passion of where you are in your experience. Write what you know exactly as you know it. Write your truth. Be excellent.

Songs have a way of finding their place. Even the bad ones.

RIP, Toni.

4 thoughts on “The Power of a Bad Song

  1. I’m glad you didn’t change it, because to us, as we learn and craft and re-craft we see the errors. Our listening audience hears the emotion, and the intention we wrote the song for. For them, it is flawless. 🙂

  2. Glad you posted this. I recently wrote a song based on the book of Hosea called Redeeming Love. One day I felt compelled to send the lyric to a friend. She writes back in minutes saying,
    “Yes. I make the same stupid choice on repeat. Always APPEARS different. Morphs for where I am on that particular day. And this song? One of several blessings He’s allowed to whisper His unfailing, unwavering, unending love for me…
    Unreal, Deb. Just blows me away. THANK YOU FOR SENDING THAT TO ME. What, may I ask, prompted that?!”

    I respond in this way, “The same One who always prompts…the Spirit. Just heard a whisper in my heart say, “Send Kelly Redeeming Love.” So I did. I had no idea why. I merely obeyed and glad I did. He pours love out on me by giving the song, then through me to show you how much he loves you. He is absolutely good!”

    My point is this, a few weeks later, I had the song critiqued. The responses were varied, but I heard, “What exactly are you trying to say?” The song to them was fair at best. It didn’t matter, because Kelly knew with one read through what it was saying. God’s words, straight to her heart…
    “All your bridges burning
    You feel this is the end
    Then He calls your name
    And brings you home again”

  3. This is so powerful. I am so glad that in his grace, God allows things which we would deem “crappy drafts” to bring hope & comfort to someone in need. Thank you for sharing your story B!

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