Plenty of poets who only learned English later Have plenty of English to tell, Which makes their poems all the greater – Using their step-mother tongue so well. But usually, only in free verse, it must be said, Not often in rhyme – (Unless they are writing in pop instead, Cos that happens all the time !)
Shoegazing wallflowers, Hairy spotty kids – Mopey little herberts, Or chirpy katydids. We were far too cool to dance, And far too lefty-footed, Musoes looking for a cause With ranks in which to put it. But over time, we finally admit That half of it was crap, And pack it up in boxes in the attic, Never looking back. And maybe even grudgingly confess That pop is not that bad, And songs that make us happy Are more fun than songs that make us sad. Until…a chance half-hearing From a car or through a door, Brings us beautif’ly-scored misery In loping seven-four. Suddenly-remembered lyrics Catch in our quivering throat – And we’re back in adolescent gloom, Reloving ev’ry note.
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…?
Violins are slim and light To perch upon the shoulder so – They mustn’t pile on extra wood, Or lose their cinched-in waist for good. For no-one wants to see the sight Of a bloated bridge beneath the bow – Don’t let the fretboard become baggy, Stop the strings from slouching saggy. Play less heavy, play more bright, And never let the tension go – Work those quavers through their paces, Else they’ll end up double-basses.
Painting’s hard, with all those tiny strokes, And poems are endless rhymes, And anyway, they’re the preserve of snooty folks And so behind the times. And architecture’s super-hard to build With all that carving and stuff I mean, who’s got the time to be that skilled ? Let’s keep it brutally rough. And music’s hard, not worth the perk To learn an instrument – Just sample other people’s work, And pay them not a cent
Creating beauty’s hard, we can’t be arsed, We’re far too lazy – But critics dig our arsey arts, And worship us like crazy. Make it ugly, hard to parse, This public-funded junk – The future finds it vain and sparse, Agog at how we’ve shrunk. We’re sinkholes in the bedrock karst, And ev’ryone knows we’re farces. Amazing how we can’t be arsed, And yet we’re up-our-own-arses.
All of the best tunes are already written, I swear, Before I was even born. I spent my teens so acutely aware I was out of my time and the world didn’t care. So all the best tunes have already bitten me, Hooked me, then left me forlorn, Changed the planet, and now they are history, Un-recreatable, storied in mystery, Came and then went and it’s not even fair – Each time that I sing them I mourn. It’s not my aloofness, it’s not of my choosing, It’s downright confusing why I cannot bear Whatever my peergroup is eager to share – I call theirs noise and they call mine corn, Abusing the ears of the other, with no tune to spare. But that’s just me, ignore my scorn, I guess we each tootle a different horn. So set it to music, and that is my essence – An unrequited adolescence, Only enlivened by songs from the dead and the square. But throw in the Trident piano, and baby I’m there !
My daughter is getting into vinyl, And I wonder why, She can’t have much nostalgia For its world of middle-fi. It ended long before she even started, Dead and gone, Revived by boomer hairshirts Who cannot accept the world moves on.
She’s far too young for this old man’s hobby, Far too poor for these rich man’s toys, She never had to twiddle knobs To boost the signal, damp the noise. She never had the pops and crackles From the deep-down dirt that rocks her records as they roll – She never had to live with scratches, Etched across her far-too-fragile sheened and spiralled soul.
Give me digital to feed me, Give me digital to save, Give me megabytes of songs To last me to my grave. She’ll find out in her own time, And till then, let’s let have her thing – To swing the arm into the secret vault That makes the diamonds sing.
My teenage self would envy all her Easy access to her tunes, With soundwaves at her fingertips For filling busy afternoons – And not just playing them, but finding them, No matter how obscure. And yet, she wants to give it up For the world of the analogue-pure.
But maybe she’s cosplaying other lives, With second-hand vinyl bought-up cheap – I’d gladly give her my old forty-fives, But I long since chucked the useless heap. Music shouldn’t need kid gloves, To tiptoe past, afraid to jive, to keep her groove on track. Let each girl play the songs she loves In beautiful fidelity, unshattered by shellack.
Give me digital to sing to, Give me digital romance, Give me cold hard ones and ohs On which the lasers dance. She’ll find out in her own time, And till then, let’s let her have her bliss – To open up the gatefold gates Of needle-drop and gentle hiss.