Do you attribute it to whomever wrote the lyrics, or to who actually sings/speaks them? Or it is simpler/more correct to just use the name of the band/group?

What about a cover song? Can you quote the covering singer/group if you prefer them (for whatever reason), or must it always go back to the original singer/writer/group?

The context is irrelevant (to me); whether I want to use a quoted lyric as something to relate to my personality (yearbook quote, online profile, etc.), or if I needed to include it in something formal (research, presentation, etc.).

  • 3
    I think this is better asked over on Writing, who are more focused on questions which are covered by style guides than the nuts and bolts of the English language. In re: the cover band, no. You must quote the originator; it's not fair to give credit to a parrot who echoes some profound statement he heard.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 15:33
  • @DanBron: Apologies, wasn't aware of Writes (nor did I read the Help page :( ). Can a mod migrate it there?
    – istrasci
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 15:59
  • 1
    You can always flag for moderator attention if you'd like a question migrated.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:00
  • 5
    It's on topic on Writers, but please edit in something about the context. Are you using some lyrics in a work of fiction, or quoting them in the context of an academic study of some sort, or what? Thanks. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:18
  • I'm happy to migrate this if you make the changes that Monica suggested.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


The context does actually matter. For something informal, such as an amusing poster, you would put the group or singer. For example, "When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me ..." you would attribute to The Beatles. However, in other contexts you would want to attribute it to the writer, Paul McCartney.

Putting the name of a cover performer is quite acceptable in informal contexts, particularly if the cover version is more famous than the original.

  • I addressed most of it in my own answer. Here, let me just say that Let It Be is a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That's how they signed it, that's how you attribute.
    – Divizna
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:03

I'm afraid the only answer to this question given so far is absolutely wrong.

Song lyrics should always be attributed to their actual author, not a performer. Just like you wouldn't even think of attributing a quote from a play to an actor instead of the playwright, you shouldn't attribute Where Have All the Flowers Gone to Marlene Dietrich or Joan Baez or any of the dozens of other singers, you need to attribute it to Pete Seeger.

If you quote,

I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord
but you don't really care for music, do ya?

then you don't attribute it to John Cale or Rufus Wainwright, you attribute it to Leonard Cohen.

In some contexts, such as performing it live at a concert, the author's name may go unmentioned, but the authorship should never be misattributed. A cover version being "more well known" than a recording by the author themself (if it exists at all) is no excuse. It's still the same song, you aren't attributing the arrangement and performance, you're attributing the lyrics.

If you include a song quote in a published written document, then you generally should give both the title of the song and the name of the songwriter.

  • Hmm, but now these two answers both claim to be correct. How do I know who is truly correct? What informational sources do you each base your answer upon?
    – istrasci
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:44
  • @istrasci To repeat myself, "you aren't attributing the arrangement and performance, you're attributing the lyrics." I'd think it makes sense to attribute them to the actual author of those lyrics, don't you? That's also how they're always attributed in a booklet of an album, or in any respectable songbook (with the difference that booklets and songbooks also mention the composer of the tune).
    – Divizna
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:58

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