Monday, April 11, 2011

Structure: Popular Song

We continue to look at structure in forms of writing other than novels.  Today: the pop song.  You can analyze the parts of a popular song lyric in various ways.  The three principal pieces that can be assembled into such a song are the Verse, the Chorus, and the Bridge.

Verses rhyme and scan identically with each other but have different lyrics.  The lyrical content of the verses should show progression of some sort (e.g., conceptual twist, change of heart, progression of plot) from the first verse to the last verse.

Choruses are repeated parts, identical or nearly-identical each time, though the progressing meaning of the song may cause successive choruses to have different nuance.  They are the catchy, sing-along part of the song.

The bridge is unique (musically as well as in its rhyme and scan pattern).  Not all songs have bridges, but if a song has one, then the bridge should be the heart of the song.  It communicates the key insight, or recounts the key plot moment driving the change in the singer from the first verse to the last.

Here's an example from my own writing (this is admittedly more folky than pop, but it has all the right parts).  It's "Van Diemen's Land" (an oft-used title).  I'll indent the verses and extra-indent the bridge to make them stand out.

Mother had the fevers, father, he lay dead
It'd been a month of Sundays since baby sister left her bed
I didn't steal no money, it was just a loaf of bread
But there ain't no mercy in a judge's hand

  I'm sailing, sailing away
  I'm sailing to Van Diemen's Land

I knew this girl named Becky, eyes of chestnut brown
She came from golden Kensington, I lived in London town
I had no chance to say farewell when justice sent me down
And the ocean tore me from my native sand

  And I'm sailing, sailing away
  I'm sailing to Van Diemen's Land

     Oh, and that Southern Cross is heavy
     But I bear it all the time
     With a golden girl named Becky
     A girl named Becky on my mind
     A girl named Becky on my mind

Twenty years I've tilled the soil, twenty years I've sown
Twenty years I've harvested these tares that I have grown
Twenty miles of hill is all I have to call my own
Oh Becky, this is not the life I'd planned

  Sailing, sailing away
  Sailing to Van Diemen's Land

Homework: now analyze Mark Knopfler's song "Coyote", from the album The Ragpicker's Dream, in light of the foregoing.

Lyrics here.

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