Google slings song lyrics into search spotlight

The new search trick puts the lyrics right on the search results page -- when it works. And oh, yeah, there's a link from there to Google Play.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Those song lyrics rattling around in your brain may or may not be what the songwriter wrote. CNET

Ever have trouble trying to figure out the right words to a certain song? Google may be able to help.

A Google search of certain song titles now pulls up their lyrics courtesy of Google Play. To use the feature, simply browse to Google's home page and type the name of a song followed by the word "lyrics" -- say, "Let It Be lyrics". In return, Google will post those lyrics to the classic Beatles tune right before your eyes.

But the new feature is a decidedly hit or miss affair, at least so far. I tried searching for a variety of fairly popular songs, both new and old, and only came up with a few hits. In addition to The Beatles' "Let it Be," I found the lyrics to Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." But with other popular songs, such as "Hotel California" by the Eagles, "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson, "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor, "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line and "Piano Man" by Billy Joel, I came up empty.

The feature is helpful not just for the songs you love but for the songs whose words you can't always understand. Years ago when I first heard the song "Karma Chameleon" by Boy George's Culture Club, I thought they were singing "Karma comedian," and I couldn't understand why they were offering karma to a comic. One infamous example of such a misinterpretation -- known as a "mondegreen" -- comes from people who think that one of the lyrics in the Elton John song "Tiny Dancer" are "Hold me closer, Tony Danza," instead of "Hold me closer, tiny dancer."

But Google hasn't added the feature just to help us all make sure we're hearing the right lyrics. There's also a bit of sales and marketing at play. The lyrics for the songs come from Google Play. In fact, there's a link to "Full Lyrics on Google Play" at the bottom of each set of lyrics. Click that link, and Google takes you to its Google Play store where you can buy the individual song or the entire time album that features it.

The feature had been in beta test mode for months but just launched in the US last week, according to TechCrunch. So over time, Google is likely to increase the number of songs for which it will serve up lyrics.

Another issue with the new feature is one that could affect third-party lyrics sites. Many websites already offer you the ability to search for the lyrics of popular songs. If Google beefs up its new feature to include a wider catalog of tunes, then some of these third-party sites may not stick around. Google has a history of expanding its search results to point to its own products and services, which can sometimes undermine the little guy.

A Google spokesperson sent CNET the following lyrical statement about the new feature:

There's a feeling you get when you turn to a song and you know that the words have two meanings. Well it's whispered that now if you go search the tune, maybe Google will lead you to reason. Ooh, it makes you wonder...