“Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.”
— E. Y. “Yip” Harburg
Other than Stephen Sondheim, my favorite theatrical lyricist is Yip Harburg. You’ve heard his work—you’ve probably even sung some of it, from the time you were little. Yip—or E.Y. Harburg, as his credits read—wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz.
Yip never met a word he couldn’t play with. And words have always been my favorite toys. So I think I loved him from the moment I heard the Cowardly Lion sing:
What makes the Hottentot so hot?
What puts the “ape” in “apricot”?
You’re probably completing the lyric in your head so I’ll write it down for you:
What do they got that I ain’t got?
Yip Harburg — more than just a great rhymer
My father loved Yip Harburg for writing the 1947 musical Finian’s Rainbow. He loved it because the main characters were Irish immigrants like, well, like some unknown people farther up his family tree. I loved it because Yip made up words and seemed to be having the time of his life doing it. The leprechaun (surely you can’t write a show about Irish people without a leprechaun, can you?) mashed up his words gloriously:
I might be a fowl or fish
But with thee I’m Eisenhowzish
Please accept my propasish
Write better when you write more often. The Bennett Ink 90-Day Writing Challenge—it’s time to get serious.