Ooh, they’re singing a song… And I think we know this one ? Aren’t we clever ? I say, why not clap along, To show we know this one ? Now altogether ! Ignore the grumps among us Who just think it rather rude – Come on, let’s shout ! I bet the cast will thank us For our effort to intrude And drown them out !
I learned so much of what I know of poetry From the joys of pop – I soaked it up, subconscious, in no hurry, Drop by golden drop. The verse, the chorus, the linking-bit inbetween, And the bridge that would soar – The words were the fuel in the polished machine, In structures as old as lore.
I never knew how I knew it at all, But I knew it all, When I heard the chorus call –
And the songs remained the same, That’s how they’re made, For any old hit you can name – A-B-A-B, occasional C, It’s all a game, Repeat to fade.
I learned so much, I even learned surprise When the form was messed about – I loved it when they threw me, played me wise, From frustration or mischief, no doubt. From starting with the chorus before the verse, Or adding a verse when it ought to end – It felt illicit, and I longed to immerse, In my iconoclastic, mixed-up friend
I never knew how I knew it was wrong, But I knew so strong When I heard that rebel song –
Cos the songs can’t stay the same – We need new tricks Not more of what the past became – A-B-A-B, you’re boring me – Let’s change the game, Let’s re- the mix !
Come on, pop, I’m looking to you For something new, To change your key. So come on, pop, don’t let it be, Let’s tear on through This boogaloo ! I need you, pop, to shake the tree, Rejecting their authority, A-one, a-two, A-set-me-free, That’s what you do – So do it for me !
Are you ready, Ready to leap right off this ridge ? Into the space beyond the dials ? Into our hungry ears ? To see what’s at other end of this bridge, In the unfamiliar miles Of the pregnant years ? Just because we’ve played three minutes, Who says that it’s time to stop ? To push things past the social limits, Isn’t that the point of pop ?
Examples of unusual song structures that struck me over the years:
OMD often used an instrumental hook as a chorus, as does Seven Nation Army. Del Shannon’s Runaway used an instrumental in place of the second verse. The Byrds’ version of Mr Tambourine Man has a chorus, a verse, a chorus…and that’s it ! Does that make the verse more of a bridge…? Except it feels it lasts too long for that… This feels like a cut-down version of AABA (many ‘Great American Songbook’ tunes, like Somewhere Over the Rainbow), where the verses are doing all the heavy lifting with just a single bridge coming in the latter half.
Speaking of verses, repeating the opening stanza at the end of the song is quite common (Nights In White Satin, Annie’s Song), but Paper Planes by MIA repeats all of its four verses as soon as it sings them, so we hear the first verse twice before moving onto the second, which then repeats before the third etc. Killing In The Name uses the same verse (and of course the same chorus) before it’s extended bridge section that you’ll never hear on the radio, and Mr Brightside effectively repeats the entire song in the second half. Not to mention I’m Henery the Eighth I Am…
Sometimes an instrumental would come early, after the first chorus instead of the second (Pipes of Peace, The Importance of Being Idle), followed by a repeat of the chorus which we perceive as the climax, but then proceed with the second unexpected verse while not actually being any longer.
Some songs reduce the chorus to a single line, like The Sound of Silence. Perhaps this is less ‘chorus’ and more ‘refrain’. Conversely, songs that could be thought of as all chorus Love Me Do and There She Goes. Other songs, like many by Def Leppard, deny us the chorus the first time through, moving from pre-chorus straight into the second verse.
Metal has often seen songs as more of a symphony, and not just in terms of guitar solos – they often have more lyrics and parts than three-minute pop – for instance, Metallica’s One develops midway into almost a different song, and doesn’t even circling back to its origins. Even more medley-esque is Happiness is a Warm Gun, where the parts only feel loosely related. Another song which wanders yet finds its way back home is Bohemian Rhapsody, yet keeping us on our toes through the journey (or at least it did when first we heard it, way back when).
Some songs seem to introduce the bridge for the first time, but then forget to repeat the chorus, so we have an outro instead, like Immigrant Song, Flash, or What Do You Want From Me.
But best of all wae the songs which refuse to keep under five minutes, and not just by repeating the chorus too many times. Some like Suede’s The Asphalt World make us think they’re winding down, but the coda turns into an intermission as they kick themselves up again and regain their momentum. I get this sense from I Feel Love as well, as long as you don’t have the bastardised cut-down radio version.
Of course, not every song can have a bizarre structure, nor should it, but neither should we feel compelled to follow the formula when the song wants to go somewhere different. If only, following AAB, the Rainbow had led us to a C instead…?
There’s a poem that I meant to write, Back when I wrote a them ev’ry day, Back when I still had things to say – I should have said it then. And now, I don’t remember quite, Except it would have been a hit – Before it faded, bit by bit, And stayed within my pen.
But humour me and let me quote to you Some lines I almost wrote – Some lines I never got to know, Yet knew were quite the best I’d ever show. Ah well, no point lamenting, Or resenting one that floated off instead – Although, I sometimes wonder At the hundred things that moment might have said.
There’s a poem that I meant to write, Back when the poems wrote themselves, As passionate as magic spells – I should have cast it then. And now, the page is far too white, And now my metre’s far too slow. I had my chance, and let it go – It won’t come round agen.
But sit with me and let me read A few more lines I never freed, Some lines I never knew I knew – Adieu – into the ether with god-speed. Ah well, no point regretting, Or forgetting all the other ones that stay – I wrote too many verses To waste curses on the one that got away.
Street trees, lining suburban streets From Wandsworth to Walthamstow. Planes, of course, and sycamores, Wherever the middle class grow. Full of rustles, full of tweets, From Hackney to Acton Town, To shade the cars and the corner stores Till the council trim them down.
Street trees, lining suburban streets From Kidbrooke to Cricklewood With tear-off strips and missing cats In a vertical neighbourhood. Full of squirrels and parakeets From Hampton to Harringay Then shed their leaves on the garden flats Till the council sweep them away.
Strange to think The Satanic Verses Was ever even published at all. And following the subsequent string of hearses, Who would dare now have the gall ? I don’t like it myself, it’s not for me, But that’s hardly the point – It’s even more vital we keep speech free When it puts us out-of-joint. But the terrorists have won, we all self-censor, And now the Left have caught the bug – Trading-in Marx for Marks & Spencer And sweeping their principals under the rug. The truth is, they admire the power To shut down speech and cancel voices – They’ve fatwa-envy, to make us all cower For daring to stray from the authorised choices. Well, I’m just gonna come right out and say it – Islam and Woke are each a toxic trigger. Not all their adherents, let’s not overplay it, But enough, who pursue their commandments with vigour. So we really need to come down hard on apologists, Stop their political victim-blaming, As they unironic’ly draw-up blacklists, Shutting-down speech while fanning the flaming. But now we’re shocked, that someone attacked The one we attacked with ferocity, Named and paraded and finally sacked For the sin of secular blasphemy. As we clutch our pearls and wring our hands, At what could drive this murderous spate. Then we push to get a comedian banned For saying the Koran is full of hate.
To be clear, the Bible is equally hate-filled – but most Christians have the decency to be embarrassed by theirs. Sometimes this shame is subconscious, but even the most fundamental literalists will inwardly wince if you bring up –
Job 1 (God giving his approval for Satan to kill Job’s ten children for the sake of a bet), or Numbers 25:6-8 (Phinehas murders a inter-racial couple and God is appeased and stops his plague), or Psalms 137:9 (happiness comes from dashing the babies of your enemies against the rocks), and let’s not forget Deuteronomy 20:10-14 (when beseiging a city, offer peace – if they surrender, enslave them, if they resist, slaughter every male (even the male babies), and take the women and girls for yourselves) –
and mutter something about context, and ‘appropriate for their own time’, and change the subject to the New Testament – while ignoring Colossians 3:22-24 (slaves, obey your masters !).
Another atrocity, another round of blame, With the righties claiming they’re all the same, And the lefties burying their heads in their guilt, And our knee-jerk laws that are jerry-built. Another outrage, another assault, And we all us know who’s really at fault, But none of us will say – Mohammad. And Jesus. And Shiva. And Yahweh. And the dozens of others, monsters all – Let’s stop the worship, let them fall. Just why are we honouring the afterglow From the morals of how many centuries ago ? But no, don’t ban them, not a single sect – Just stop any pretence of honour or respect. Laugh at their gods, like we did before, To Zeus and Baal and Ra and Thor.
The tallest, broadest sycamore in Dorset Is a stately tree – Beloved by Lords and Parliament, A pillar of society – He’s tended by The National Trust, As English as can be, In a village with a funny name, And a bloody history.
Yet sycamores are not a native, Bringing European fruits To challenge all the local trees With non-conforming shoots. These upstarts will not know their place, Their seeds are new recruits, And down into the bedrock They have planted creeping roots.
Yet, for all their canopy may shield, And union hold fast, They do not live so long, these trees, Their shelter cannot last. And though the status quo may praise, When safely in the past, They’ll gladly chop his children down And root him out at last.
Things just won’t stop turning into crabs, From claw to carapace – They look as if they’re engineered in labs Or zapped from outer space. Except…the fishes show no squat-wise tug, Nor do the worms or squids – It seems it’s just crustaceans have the bug To spawn more-crabby kids. But as for them, the more derived they get, The more the format grabs – Converging on a winning feature-set, And sideways into crabs.
This meme relies on a fairly liberal definition of ‘crab’ – it seems to come down to three things – caws, an oval fused carapace, and an absent abdomen/tail (it’s actually tucked underneath). So hermit-crabs, for instance, certainly have the claws, but lack the other two (though when in a shell, they give the impression of them).
So, yes it happens, to the extent that the squat-lobster seems to be half-way through the process. But it’s also helped along by our wishful-thinking. Or, as I put is recently, plants won’t stop turning into trees.
Tellingly, other aquatic arthropods like dragonfly larvas and water spiders show no inclination to crab-up.
There Shall the Falcons also be Gathered, Each One with her Mate
Always it’s the peregrines that nest upon cathedrals, Like wanderers and pilgrims, or like animated gargoyles. The buzzards and the owls are a heather flock, it seems, And the pigeons are unwelcome when they perch upon the beams, And the crows about the graveyard are Satanic in their dress – But the peregrines are cherished by the bishop and the press.
Strange, but back in the Middle Ages, They were never seen about the towers – Till they left the cliffs for the factories And the belfries, once they ceased to toll hours.
Yet falcons are not very turn-the-other-cheek, They’re far more Old Testament when preying on the weak, They’re thoroughly un-kosher, yet fitting for an earl, And un-patriarchal, where the stronger is the girl. They’re sharp and unrepentant, defiantly un-bowed, As they kill the dove of peace to the cheering of the crowd.
Perhaps they’re waiting for the day when the Lord Says “Fowls in the midst of Heaven, arise ! Come gather yourselves for my supper on the flesh Of the sinners in my temple, and peck out their eyes !”
According to this page on the Natural History Museum website, the first recorded instance of a peregrine falcon ‘using a building (for its nest ?) was at Salisbury Cathedral in 1864. The title comes from the KJV, except it says ‘vultures’ instead. Many other translations say ‘falcons’, but there’s quite a spread – ‘buzzards’ in the New Living, ‘hawks’ in the NASB, ‘kites’ in the Douay-Rheims…and bizarrely, the Brenton Septuagint has ‘deer’ !