Not a fully thought out OP, as it is based on a conversation I had just earlier today, so I may end up having my ass handed to me by way of dozens of counter-examples. Still, I’ll put forth the premise anyway.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid came up in conversation and I said that Alan Menken has been hit or miss* since Howard Ashman died but that everything they did as a team was gold.
Likewise, everything Andrew Lloyd Webber did with Tim Rice was awesome while everything else he’s done has been crap.
So, in composer/lyricist teams does the “x factor” lie upon the lyricists shoulders?
Myself, being someone who writes both music and lyrics, I can’t imagine the lyricist not having significant influence on the composition of the music. The way the lyrics are phrased- rhythmic elements, rhyme scheme, narrative- will always inform the composition of the melody anytime the lyrics are written first. It would only be in circumstances when the lyricist waits and does no work until the composer to deliver a completed melody that the lyricist could truly be boxed in as “just a lyricist”. The splitting of credits between composer/lyricist is a choice about how a team is going to work together, but it doesn’t necessarily represent what actually goes on in the room when the work is being done.
I almost feel it’s like the way that in the Vaudeville days a great Straight Man was always the factor that made a Comedy Duo rise to the top. Sure, the audiences reacted to the Comic but the Comic could only shine because of a brilliant Straight Man.
What’s the consensus here? Anything to my idea that it is the Lyricist who makes the magic happen in any composer/lyricist team?
*I liked some of the songs in Tangled and I liked Enchanted, but most of what Menken has done since Ashman died has bored me.