There’s an interesting moment in the 2010 Lemmy documentary where Dave Grohl is recording a cover of Run Rudolph Run and he says, “You know what’d be helpful? If I could get one of those lyric sheets.”
He messes up the structure while recording the take and rather than ask for anything else, he wants a copy of the lyrics.
Various sources have said that when John Lennon was recording a song (post-Beatles) he wouldn’t tell the drummer what to play, he would give them the lyric sheet prior to the recording session.
The reasoning is that by connecting with the emotional content of the song your musical choices with align with what’s required to support the song.
I struggled to pick up on the emotional nuance of Lemmy growling through Run Rudolph Run but I’m sure it’s there someone. In this instance, the lyrics serve as an orientation point in the music. Structures can change, singers can miss cues. Whatever happens, the lyrics guide the music.
Without knowing what a song is about, a drummer could unwittingly over- or under-play, crushing the dynamics of the song, or not supporting it enough. With lyrics in mind, and clarity over the emotion the singer wishes to convey, a drummer is well-informed to make decisions that lift and serve the song.
Where possible, at the very least read the lyrics of the songs you’re playing. At best, learn every word and sing along. When you have a good time on stage, the audience has a good time. Singing while playing also forces you to internalise all your rhythms.
Just remember, you’re a drummer first-and-foremost, and a backing vocalist second!
How to Learn Lyrics