“What You Give” is a straightforward, emotional explanation of the importance of having love and connection. The lyrics focus on how vital it is to be a generous, benevolent person in your relationships. The message seems to be that if you want love, you have to send it out. In addition, the song lightly touches on how deeply we wish these connections could last forever.
“What You Give” was written after lead singer Jeff Keith’s dog died. Dealing with this death was difficult for Keith, who was often frustrated that people diminished the dog’s importance. In order to cope with his emotions, Keith wrote this song as an encouragement for people to be sensitive to the feelings of others and grateful for their own relationships.
In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these sentimental lyrics in order to discover their intended meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the universal themes that make this song accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s begin!
The lyrics begin by asking the listener a series of questions. We’re told that we should call to mind “the one that makes you happy.” This person is also referred to as “the reason you’re livin’ for” and “the reason for your smile.” Basically, who is the person we love most in the world?
Now, you might ask, “What if I don’t have someone like that?” Apparently, Jeff Keith anticipated this. Instead of addressing it directly, he just lets us know how it makes him feel: “So lonely.” At the same time, he knows he is “not the only one” in this predicament.
The next line reveals the real meaning of the song. We’ve established that Keith doesn’t have the person he loves most, yet he then begins talking to them. To them, he says, “I love you so much, I think I’m going insane.” The conclusion is that this person is gone. The love is alive, but their presence is in the past.
Keith can think of nothing but this person’s “good, good love.” Most specifically, it’s what they “give” that impresses him. This will end up being the main message of the song. Before he gets into that further, he kicks off another verse.
In it, he asserts that “everyone needs somebody.” Keith believes in a “special kind of love” that people need to feel fulfilled, and he thinks of his unnamed companion when he considers this. They are “the only one” he thinks of when he feels the hole in his heart.
After this, Keith continues discussing his loneliness. His love for his companion causes him to “lose track of the days,” a typical sign of grief. Without the smile he once wore, they all seem to blend together. Again, he considers what they “give” to be the thing that stands out.
With this, Keith kicks into the peak of the song. Instead of reflecting on emotions and experiences, he now delivers a lesson. The moral of the story is this: “It’s not what you got, it’s what you give. It ain’t the life you choose. It’s the life you live.”
It sounds simplistic, but it has depth when put in context. In order to fight against his loneliness, Keith has decided to give love rather than run around looking to receive it. Connection is about reciprocation, so he’s putting his heart out there. The key is that he learned this mentality from his unnamed companion that he misses so much.
He goes on to desire that “forever be forever and nothing more?” This is done to emphasize how much we don’t want to lose our connections once they’re forged. That line is the final new lyric – from here on, the words are repetitive. This detail gives us a clue to the song’s meaning and inspiration, which was reportedly the death of Keith’s dog.
To sum up, “What You Give” is all about the principles that guide love. In order to get it, you give it. The lyrics teach us how we can learn from giving people to be more benevolent ourselves. This positive message has to be a large part of the song’s success.
As previously mentioned, a very specific event inspired Jeff Keith to write this tune. Unfortunately, Keith had to put down his dog prior to coming up with the song. Anyone who’s had to do this can understand the complex emotions that can come with it – Keith was not exempt.
In addition to the normal emotional reactions, one thing in particular reportedly bothered Keith: the people who said, “It’s just a dog.” To Keith, this was diminishing to his experience and to the dog itself. Interestingly, the lyrics to “What You Give,” though inspired by a dog, are written in a way that could also refer to a person. Perhaps Keith was making a point by doing this!
The next time you play this emotional tune, let these pieces of background information make it come to life for you!