Leader: Do you remember the first time?

Lyrics get you young and accompany you through life, offering wisdom, humour and solace. Quietly, they reassure you that what seems like a private pain is often a universal experience. Jarvis Cocker wrote his lyrics, now collected by the publisher Faber & Faber (see page 50), to "create the music I wish had been there for me in my hour of need". Through those awkward teenage years, lyrics can help to make sense of a bewildering world. You can often still recite them, perfectly, 20 years on. Perhaps, as the novelist and lyric-writer Toby Litt describes on page 42, you sing words by Paul McCartney to lull your children to sleep ("To be there and everywhere/Here, there and everywhere").

Despite suggestions that Bob Dylan might have won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, we should remember that lyrics are not poetry - they are words to a song, a "contractual obligation", according to Cocker. The best ones are the simplest, indivisible from the music they are written to accompany. But either form would be lost without the other and recognition of this unassuming art form is long overdue.

This article first appeared in the 24 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The art of lying